The recent Iranian missile tests demonstrate the need to
deploy a missile defense capable of mid-flight interception of
Iranian warheads, which in a few years may be able to reach Europe
and the United States.
The United States has been working on developing and deploying
such a system for years. This week, U.S. Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice signed an agreement in Prague, the Czech Republic,
to locate radar, which is the key to such a defense. Washington was
also planning to deploy the first battery of 10 missile defense
rockets in Poland, but the government in Warsaw is balking.
Poland and the United States face dire implications for their
bilateral relations as the missile deal collapses due to diverging
agendas on both sides of the Atlantic. Now only luck - and
outstanding diplomatic talent in Warsaw and Washington - can save
the deal, and the relationship.
It didn't have to be this way. During the Second Bush
administration the United States wanted to cement a key security
relationship in Europe by deploying the global missile defense,
while Poland wanted to become the preferred NATO partner for
Washington. Warsaw needs to modernize its military and was ready to
become a key location of U.S./NATO deployment vis-à-vis
Poland's traditional adversary, Russia.
Under the Kaczynski brothers' conservative and Euro-skeptic
government, it could have happened. Today, however, the diverging
foreign policy agendas in the United States and Poland make a
meeting of the minds much more difficult.
The tandem of Bush and U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney is at the
end of its term in office, usually a bad time for foreign policy
breakthroughs. In Bucharest, America's European allies handed Bush
a bitter disappointment when they opposed NATO Membership Action
Plans for Ukraine and Georgia. The much-desired Middle East peace
deal between Israel and Abu Mazen's Palestinian Authority is more
elusive than ever. Pakistan is an increasingly prickly ally. Now,
Warsaw has given Bush another diplomatic black-and-blue.
While many believe that the missile deployment failed due to
Poland requesting a high price, the reality is different. Prime
Minister Donald Tusk is right: this is not about money - not even
about the Patriots and the THAAD anti-aircraft missiles that the
Polish government requested - for free.
Threats from Russia to aim nuclear weapons at Poland, and
Moscow's trade sanctions against Poland certainly have played a
role in delaying the decision to deploy. Yet, more importantly, the
current Polish leadership has decided that the relations with
Europe are more vital than with the fading Bush administration.
The European Union, which looks askance at U.S. power, including
the global missile defense, pays billions of Euros to Poland every
year in economic aid. Tusk, after the blow-ups of the Kaczynski
era, is mending ties with Berlin and Paris, which oppose the
missile plan. Some personal career aspirations of the Polish
leaders may also have played a role in the Tusk government's
adamant position toward the deal, high level sources in Warsaw
What will happen now? The Bush administration may sweeten the
pill, offering at least some of the hardware the Tusk government
asked for. It cannot, however, provide billions of dollars in
military aid, a la Pakistan and Egypt, as Foreign Minister Bogdan
First, it is demeaning for Poland to be compared with Pakistan
and Egypt, where per capita income is among the lowest on the
planet and illiteracy among the highest. Poland would want to
compete with Italy, if not Great Britain, as a key European ally of
the United States.
Second, both Egypt and Pakistan are anchor countries in the most
unstable areas in the world: The Middle East and the Indian
Subcontinent. Pakistan is fighting an anti-al-Qaida war on its
territory and is a staging ground for the U.S./NATO war in
Third, the United States is broke and overextended worldwide.
The external national debt is $7 trillion; the internal debt,
including mortgage and the private sector credit, is a crushing $35
trillion - this is almost 300 percent of the GDP. The United States
may be happy to sell Poland modern weapons systems and provide
training, but it won't pay for them.
Russian threats may have impressed Warsaw, but if Poland remains
intransigent, Lithuania, Croatia, Georgia, or even Romania and
Bulgaria may be encouraged to allow the missile system deployment.
And under certain circumstances, a military-dominated government in
Ankara may consider allowing a U.S. missile system deployment
The sand in the clock is running out. Nevertheless, a compromise
may still be worked out in the remaining few months of the Bush
administration - if Warsaw is serious about staging the missile
system on Polish soil - and if it wants American defense
The outcome of this deal could also depend on the U.S. election
results in November. If Barack Obama wins, the system may be
effectively dead. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Obama's foreign policy
mentor and Jimmy Carter's former national security advisor, has
said that the proposed missile defense system is unworkable, aimed
at a non-existent threat (Iran), rejected by the Europeans.
A John McCain victory, on the other hand, would be likely to
keep global missile defense alive and kicking, and his
administration could be knocking on Warsaw's door come 2009.
As the champagne corks pop in Moscow, and grateful prayers are
said in Tehran, Poland and the United States are parting their
geostrategic ways. This is a momentous event and should not be
While it is true that countries have no permanent friends, only
permanent interests, at times it seemed that the United States and
Poland were a happy exception to this rule. Yet, Warsaw needs to
remember that geography remains permanent, and 500 years of
Polish-Russian relations are not going to disappear overnight. It
will always need Washington's support.
Many in Poland are quietly celebrating the newly found Polish
assertiveness, while those in Washington who remember Solidarity
and the Cold War wonder if the seemingly true Polish friendship can
And there is nothing to bolster friendship like unity in the
face of adversity, this time, emanating from Tehran.
Ph.D., is senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He
is the author of, "Russian Imperialism: Development and