Missile Defense: Shield or Dartboard?

Robert Szmigielski is against the missile shield project, while James McNulty defends the defence of Poland.

Against: Wherever George Bush struts, controversy follows. Our favourite chest-bumping, frat-boy President, who had hoped an agreement would be reached regarding his missile shield, has been left with a bitter taste in his mouth; a combination of dissent and disobedience being a flavour he is not accustomed to. Prime Minister Tusk is obviously unaware of unilateral compliance to military objectives proposed by the United States, and as such, negotiations for the long-debated defence shield have stagnated, and the deal abruptly halted ? even with President Kaczyński buzzing around like an irritable fly you just can’t swat.

The world’s wealthiest country claims that the deal is primarily concerned with Poland’s security. A laughable notion from an administration with policies that exclusively follow their own agenda, and who still pursue the most disastrous and divisive foreign policy ever implemented by a U.S. government. If Poland’s interests are indeed the priority, why was Foreign Minister Sikorski’s initial request for an upgrade of Poland’s missile technology and adequate financial aid to strengthen defences, in exchange for a target being slapped on the country, unequivocally turned down?

And if the Polish-American relationship really is that special, what of the refusal to ease visa constraints, in return for blindly following Bush into Iraq? As Defense Minister Klich correctly observes, the Americans treat Poland more like “a distant cousin” than a serious partner.

But let’s say a compromise is reached – in the twilight of Bush’s term, or during a McCain/Obama presidency. The move would undoubtedly heighten the risk of an attack on Polish soil. Al-Qaeda’s Jihadists, already infuriated that Polish soldiers patrol the streets of Diwaniyah, need no further incentives to carry out a Madrid-style bombing in one of Poland’s cities. The Russians, swiftly denouncing the plans, declared that missiles would be promptly pointed towards Poland, and the shield would be considered as a legitimate military target.

Surely a more effective way to safeguard Poland would be to scrap plans for the shield, pull out the remaining troops in Iraq, and concentrate on mending diplomatic ties damaged by the impotent Kaczyński Bros. leadership?

Jumping into bed with the most unpopular American president in history with a few months left in office is akin to walking over a minefield. What if Tusk was to submit to his demands, and the victor of the U.S. presidential run-off in November re-assessed America’s foreign policy and decided to abandon the missile shield plans? Poland would have succeeded only in antagonising the Russians, provoking others, and, equipped with archaic military technology, left to bear the consequences that collaboration with Bush entails – while he suns himself on a tropical island with his pal Tony.

Then of course, there’s Iran – which, according to Bush, is what this saga is all about. In rhetoric similar to that prior to the invasion of Iraq, Bush claims that Iran poses an imminent threat with their nuclear enrichment programme, despite the numerous denials from President Ahmadinejad, and UN watchdog visits reporting that bomb-development is many years away. Of course, assurances from a president who wants Israel wiped off the map must be taken lightly, but so should words from a president who led an entire nation, and her allies, to war based on blatant lies. Nevertheless, this is not Poland’s fight to pick.

The bottom line is: should Poland compromise her safety just to appease a trigger-happy president who, in a final act of aggression, may decide to launch another misguided assault in the Middle East? The answer is obvious, and the consequences potentially disastrous.

Regardless, it’s time for Poland to step out of America’s shadow, and show that this country is no longer a docile sheep from an incompetently-led flock, but a nation capable of making bold and independent decisions; especially if we are to be taken seriously in Europe. And with Donald Tusk at the helm Poles should be proud that they finally have a Prime Minister that refuses to be bullied and intimidated – let’s just hope it continues.

For: “There are no permanent allies, only permanent interests.” Lord Palmerston?s dictum should be kept in mind by Polish politicians during the debate about American plans to install a missile defence system in Eastern Europe. For no matter how much Poland feels herself a part of the newly enlarged Europe, or how much she wishes to become a primary American ally, the decision to have the shield clearly goes beyond Warsaw’s role in Euro-Atlantic relations.

The physical security of a country has always been the primary interest of every state, and thus it should remain the central purpose of every sound policy. That is why the single most important question in the debate is whether the instalment of those American rockets/interceptors will make Poland more or less secure in contemporary international relations.

Having considered arguments against the missile shield, it remains reasonable to claim that there are more pros than cons in Poland’s support of the project.
The first reason is simple, if not simplistic. The United States is still the biggest kid on the block and though its influence has diminished lately (primarily over Iraq), Washington is likely to play a pre-eminent role on the world stage for several decades to come. This argument does not imply that Poland should be the next American client state, or “another poodle,” as the French minister once referred to the British prime minister. It just suggests that jumping on the bandwagon ? that is joining the strongest power, has been one of the most popular strategies in the history of homo politicus. In other words, if played wisely, Poland?s participation in missile defence might bring Warsaw closer to the U.S. and therefore, to the power centre of contemporary global politics.

Secondly, the reason for Warsaw going for rather than against the concept of missile defence concerns the nature of Polish strategic culture and the experience Poland had with European allies in the first half of the 20th century. To put it bluntly, Europe failed to be Poland’s military ally when the hour of reckoning arrived. The United States obviously did not save Poland from falling into either Hitler’s or the Soviet Union’s dominion, but Washington did in fact not only prevent Western Europe from the lurking brown-red disaster – a fact that present anti-Americans hate to admit – but it established its military superiority worldwide for years to come.

Of course this is a very one-sided picture, but at the same time this is the picture of the U.S. that many Poles love to have before their eyes. This historical experience explains some of Poland’s foreign policy manoeuvres. If Europe today had the means to defend itself against any serious threat, Warsaw would probably dismiss the idea of having any part of the missile shield on Polish soil.

Yet the case for an agreement does not indicate that Poland has or should have an anti-European Union attitude. Indeed, by now there is little doubt on both sides of the Atlantic that Poles have become more pro-European than pro-American. Besides, the missile shield — if it is to be created with the co-operation of NATO’s European countries – might be another (final?) wake-up call for those European nations which share the equally post-modern and naïve belief that war and military instruments of foreign policy can be dispatched to the dustbin of history. It doesn’t take a strategist to figure out that if the EU is ever to become a force to be reckoned with on the global stage, Brussels needs to create and implement policy that provides its member countries with a fundamental sense of security.

What is more, a project aimed at establishing elements of the United States’ missile defence system in Poland may provide Poland with a perfect strategic balance: on the one hand, the shield will be a small reminder to Russia that the times when Poland was seen in Moscow as a satellite are gone for good. It can also be used as a reviving point for Polish-American relations, which have recently suffered from numerous misperceptions in Washington and Warsaw.

Last but definitely not least, a missile defence shield built on Polish soil might send a message that states that Poland has just gained an extra security guarantee. Although Article 5 of the Washington Treaty states clearly that Poland is secured by a collective defensive agreement, the bilateral agreement between Warsaw and Washington would doubtlessly reassure some of the greatest sceptics in Poland. In the era of incoming geopolitical change in international dynamics, this might be just what Poland needs.

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