Poland and the Czech Republic have voiced willingness for the US to install parts of a global missile defense system on their territory. Experts say the project is technically underdeveloped and politically risky, according to Deutsche Welle.
"We have agreed that our response to the (US) offer will most likely be positive," Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said on Monday at a joint news conference in Warsaw with his Polish counterpart, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
According to Deutsche Welle, the US had asked for permission to station parts of its global missile defense system in the two countries to hinder attacks from "rogue states" such as Iran and North Korea.
Kaczynski defended the plans, saying that the missile shield would not be "aimed against any `normal` country." Instead the system would be directed against countries "that don`t want to follow the rules of the modern world," he added.
The plans have provoked a rain of criticism from all over Europe. Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed outrage at the Munich Conference on Security Policy over the missile shield. Moscow sees it as a threat. General Yuri Baluyevsky, Russian army chief of staff, speculated publicly about whether to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, which had led to the disarmament of medium-range missiles.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung had criticized the US over the weekend for failing to discuss the plans with Moscow. Iran didn`t possess any intercontinental rockets that could reach the United States, Steinmeier added.
But the foreign minister took some of the edge off his comments on Monday during a visit to Azerbaijan.
"As always when a new strategic system is introduced, it`s good to create transparency and to start a dialog as early as possible with those who will be affected," he said in the Azeri capital, Baku.
Washington had subsequently started talks with Moscow, he added.
Meanwhile, the plans are being hotly debated in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Two-thirds of Czechs are opposed to a missile base, though they aren`t particularly averse to having a radar station set up in their country.
Polish Deputy Prime Minister Andrzej Lepper has rejected the project. So far, the Poles have too little information to go on, he has said. Lepper has also warned that the Poles should not ignore the fears of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. He has called for a referendum on the issue.
The United States wants to build 10 silos for interceptor missiles in Poland and an early warning radar station in the Czech Republic that would also supply intelligence.
The National Missile Defense System (NMD) is a leftover from the Strategic Defense Initiative, also known as "Star Wars," that President Ronald Reagan wanted to use to destroy oncoming enemy rockets in outer space. The project never got off the ground due to technical hurdles and exorbitantly high costs. In 1999, President Bill Clinton breathed new life into the project, focusing on shooting down missiles from the earth. George W. Bush has been a committed backer of the system since even before the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
With a budget of at least $10 billion (7.6 billion euros), NMD is the most expensive military project ever. The rockets are supposed to destroy enemy long-range missiles in the earth`s atmosphere or in space. The United States have already set up bases in Alaska and California for the system to stop rockets from North Korea. Poland and the Czech Republic, which would host the first NMD bases outside the US, would be the outposts against intercontinental projectiles from the Middle East -- that is, Iran.
The system is supposed to be ready to use by 2011. But only half of the one dozen tests carried out have been successful. Even former Defense Minister Donald Rumsfeld admitted there were weaknesses.
The NMD program is also risky politically. Otfried Nassauer, director of the Berlin Information Center for Transatlantic Security, said he could understand Russia`s displeasure.
The missile defense system could "cover parts of the possible flight paths of intercontinental missiles that are stationed in southern and southwestern Russia," the armaments expert told DW-WORLD.DE.
As NATO planned its expansion to the East, the alliance had guaranteed Russia it would not station any important military capacities on the new members` territory for the long-term, Nassauer said.
"Now Moscow feels betrayed because the biggest NATO state doesn`t feel bound (to that guarantee) and wants to station national rather than NATO capacities," he said.
Steinmeier, too, recognizes that the United States unilaterally veering away from that guarantee could strain the political climate between the EU and Russia, Nassauer added.
In a joint article published in Polish daily Rzeczpospolita on Monday, the Polish and Czech premiers pleaded their case for the controversial project.
"Joining the missile defense system will serve as passive protection from attacks … for all members of the transatlantic community," they wrote.
It`s a daring theory. Germany`s Steinmeier stressed that the current discussion was only an issue of protecting US territory, and NATO sees it that way, too.
Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer described the defense system last week as purely a bilateral matter between the United States and the Czech Republic or Poland.