The head of the U.S. Missile Defence Agency was in Brussels this week to argue the case for placing part of its missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. Lieutenant General Henry Obering said the U.S. would press ahead with the plan, with or without the approval of America's NATO allies. The Czech government has said yes in theory to hosting a radar station about 70 km from Prague, and the two sides are about to embark on detailed talks on what is becoming a highly divisive issue. We spoke to U.S. ambassador Richard Graber.
"We're talking about the safety and security of not only the Czech Republic but Europe and the United States. It's a difficult world right now, we face threats and potential threats from countries such as Iran and North Korea, and the United States believes it's very important to proceed with this facility."
The United States has certainly spent a great deal of money and effort and time on this system. Not everyone is convinced it really works. Are you convinced?
"I'm convinced it works. This system has been tested many, many times. Fourteen of the last fifteen tests have been successful, and with any technology, it improves with time too. It will take several years for this system to be installed. I have no question at all that by the time it's complete it will work very, very well."
I visited the Brdy hills last week, and spoke to some of the officials and people who live in the villages and towns around where the proposed radar station will be located. There was a great sense of uncertainty and certainly a sense that they don't have enough information about this to make up their minds. Whose fault do you think that is?
"Well, it's important to understand that we're at the very beginning of the process. Discussions are just about to begin between the Czech Republic and the United States, and I think through this process, which will take many, many months, a lot of these issues will be discussed. Issues such as the environment, issues such as health. Issues such - as will my everyday life will be affected? Will my TV work? Will my cell phone work? I think the answers to all those questions will become clear. The very short answer is - past experience has been that there is absolutely no health consequence to the radar. Life does go on as normal. TVs work. Cell phones work. And the environmental will be a very strong consideration as the facility is constructed."
And what about the more general fear that placing such a sensitive military installation 70km from Prague creates a big military target for a terrorist attack or even a conventional attack?
"First of all, it's not a huge installation in the first place. It will be located in a very small portion of the Brdy military area. But in terms of increasing the risk of terrorist attack, I don't think that's the case at all. When the Czechs decided to join NATO, when the Czechs joined the United States and other allies in the war against terrorism in Iraq, in Afghanistan and other places around the world, the Czechs assumed a risk. Placing a small radar facility in the Czech Republic does not in any way materially increase that risk."
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