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Pentagon Presses Case For European GMD System; Czechs May Be Given Contractor Work

By | January 21, 2008

      Gates Meets With Polish Counterpart Klich; Poland May Gain U.S. Air Defense Aid

      U.S. Argues The System Would Benefit Europe

      U.S. military leaders are urging Poland to approve U.S. plans to construct a ballistic missile defense system that would include interceptor missiles and ground silos in Poland, and an agreement is emerging between the Czech Republic, where radar would operate, and the United States that would give Czech firms a role in the project.

      Americans participated in negotiations in the Czech Republic and Poland, and the United States may sweeten the deal for Poland by providing assistance in bolstering Polish air defenses.

      Separately, in the United States, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates met at the Pentagon with Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich to press the American argument that the missile defense system would benefit all of Europe, rather than being designed to serve solely U.S. interests.

      Klich in turn sought assistance for Polish air defenses.

      The Gates meeting comes after Congress stated that it wishes to see Poland and the Czech Republic agree to host the U.S. Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system before funds are spent on actual construction of facilities there, rather than program facets such as development work. The Boeing Co. [BA] leads the GMD contractor team.

      Also, a new Polish government has taken office, and it is considerably cooler toward the GMD proposal, asking whether it would be in the best interests of Poland, responding to some Polish citizens who ask why Poland should host the U.S. ballistic missile defense system and its 10 interceptors in silos, and how that benefits Poland.

      "I think we are now at the point where they (Polish leaders) understand where the previous government has negotiated" on the missile-defense issue, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters, referring to Polish leaders. "They have some domestic concerns which they are trying to address."

      Further, Russian leaders, up to and including President Vladimir Putin, have railed against the proposed GMD construction plan, vowing to use military force to annihilate it if it is built, threatening to aim Russian Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) at European cities, and otherwise using extensive leverage against the plan.

      One key Russian argument has been that the GMD interceptors, once installed, could be used to knock Russian ICBMs out of the air.

      But U.S. leaders have said this is ludicrous, because the GMD interceptors wouldn’t have the speed to catch Russian ICBMs.

      Rather, the GMD system is designed to intercept and defeat missiles that Middle Eastern nations such as Iran might aim at European nations, Gates, President Bush and other U.S. leaders have argued.

      They ask how European or NATO leaders would ever wish to see European cities exposed to the threat of incoming missiles tipped with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

      A proposed anti-ballistic missile defense site in Poland would benefit all of Europe, Morrell said.

      The GMD European installation is "of vital importance, not just for us, but really for Europe, and that’s the key here," Morrell said. "Putting these interceptors in Poland does far more to benefit Europe and our allies there than it does for us."

      Gates and Klich "had a discussion about a range of issues," Morrell reported, stating that most of the meeting was consumed with discussion of the GMD issue. The European GMD asset would be the third site in the GMD system, with the other two being existing installations in Alaska and California.

      American officials also are negotiating with the Polish and Czech governments, attempting to win their permission to install the GMD system.

      If that authorization is won, the GMD system would handle longer-range threats, while an emergent NATO system would address shorter-range incoming enemy weapons. The thought is that the two systems would be complementary, working together to form a unified shield.

      "This is an issue for NATO," Morrell said. "Deploying interceptors in Poland will provide NATO with the ability to protect itself from a missile threat virtually everybody recognizes exists today."

      For example, Iran has acquired progressively longer-range missiles. It has fired a series of missiles in a single massive test. It has launched a missile from a submerged submarine.

      Further, Iran has refused demands of developed nations and the United Nations to cease its nuclear materials production program, which Iran claims is for peaceful electrical generation purposes but which Western observers fear will lead to Iran building nuclear weapons.

      Finally, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said that Israel should be wiped from the map. And Iran has refused to abandon its nuclear materials production program, even when Russia stepped in and said it would supply such materials, so that Iran wouldn’t need its own production program.

      Gates and Klich also discussed other issues, such as Polish plans to reduce its forces in Iraq while increasing its troop force in Afghanistan. According to the Pentagon, there are now about 900 Polish troops in Iraq and about 1,200 in Afghanistan.

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