The US plan to site an anti-missile defense system in the Czech Republic
and Poland is to be discussed by NATO defense ministers at their meeting
in Spain later this week. Czech Defense Minister Vlasta Parkanova
confirmed the news on Tuesday saying that the issue had been put on the
Seville agenda. "The goal is very clear. We want this issue to be
discussed by NATO member states," minister Parkanova said. Czech
opponents of the US radar base have highlighted the bilateral nature of
negotiations between Washington and Prague and the lack of a NATO
perspective on the proposals.
Under the US proposal, the base located jointly in the Czech Republic and Poland would be part of a planned US global missile defence system. If approved the radar base in the Czech Republic should go into operation in 2011 and house around 200 military and civilian personnel.
Two weeks after the United States officially petitioned the Czech Republic for authorisation to operate a radar base in the country, the matter continues to make headlines. The domestic political scene is divided on the issue. While the governing Civic and Christian Democrats say they support the plan, the opposition Communists and Social Democrats are demanding a referendum on the issue.
Although talks on a possible US anti-missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland have barely begun the idea has already met with plenty of controversy. Russian President Vladimir Putin last week slammed the plan as an attempt to change the strategic balance in Europe, saying that Russia would come up with a "highly effective" response. Many Czechs consider it a threat to national security and some EU members have unofficially criticized the fact that the US missile base would be part of a bilateral defense agreement. Czech MEP Libor
Around 300 people demonstrated in Jince, central Bohemia on Saturday against the construction of a United States radar base. They want the government to reject a US request to build part of its planned global missile defence system on the Brdy military base, around 70 km from Prague. If approved by the Czech parliament the base should go into operation in 2011 and house around 200 military and civilian personnel.
In related news, opponents of the US radar base in the Czech Republic took part in a protest event in Prague on Monday evening. Their march through the city centre went ahead despite a ban by Prague city hall. Some two thousand people are estimated to have taken part. Civic groups and associations who organized the march say that the presence of a US radar base in the Czech Republic would harm the country's security interests. They have called for a referendum on the issue.
A Pentagon official from the US Missile Defence programme has indicated that the United States has other options if proposed radar and rocket installations do not find backing in the Czech Republic and Poland. Speaking to journalists on Monday, Brigadier General Patrick O'Reilly expressed optimism over the plan's implementation, saying that within a number of years the system could be fully-operational. The US is to begin negotiations with the Czech Republic on a missile defence radar site that would complement a proposed rocket base in Poland.
This week the United States officially petitioned the Czech Republic for authorization to operate a radar base about 35 kilometers southwest of Prague. Today the American ambassador, William Graber, is meeting with mayors from the communities in the vicinity of the planned installation. It's the first chance the local authorities have had to ask the Americans about their plans.
With a new government finally in office, the focus has shifted from the country's political crisis to key foreign policy issues. In the coming months the Czech leadership will have to decide about hosting a US radar-base on its territory, consolidate its stand with regard to the EU constitution and start preparing for the country's EU presidency in 2009. The government's foreign policy team is now bigger than ever and on Tuesday President Klaus invited three government ministers to Prague Castle for some foreign-policy fine tuning.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has defended the country's
right to decide freely about hosting a US missile defense system on its
territory. Mr. Schwarzenberg was responding to criticism from his French
counterpart Phillipe Douste-Blazy who said at a meeting of European
foreign ministers on Monday that as an EU member the Czech Republic should
not partake in a US-defense project. The Czech foreign minister also
dismissed claims that the US missile-defense system would pose a threat to
The United States on Monday confirmed its intention to begin formal talks with the Czech Republic and Poland on deploying a US missile-defense system in the two countries. The system, including ten interceptor missiles and a radar is aimed at warding off potential missile attacks from North Korea or Iran.
Formal talks between the United States and the Czech Republic will begin soon on placing part of America's Missile Defence Shield on Czech territory. The Czech Republic will most likely host a radar and tracking station - a controversial step for a country that once hosted Soviet military installations. The move must still be approved by parliament, although no referendum is planned. The Prague-based American peace activist Gwendolyn Albert explained to Radio Prague why she opposed the missile defence system.