Saturday, November 1, 2008

Missile defense may be grounded (again)

The ballistic missile defense shield the United States wants to install in Europe may have hit another roadblock.

The shield is meant to protect the US and Europe against missile attack by "rogue states" and consists of up to ten interceptor missiles based in Poland and an advanced radar site in the Czech Republic. In theory the Czech radar would track any inbound rogue missiles, which would then be shot town by the rockets from Poland. So far the biggest challenge the system has faced has been getting approval from the two host countries.

After initially agreeing to host the interceptors, the Polish government balked at going through with the plan earlier this year until the US offered more cooperation with the Polish military, including an agreement to base Patriot missiles in Poland after a Russian general threatened to target the missile base itself on the ground that it was a threat to Russian security (the Russian have long opposed the missile shield, thinking that it is aimed at countering Russia’s vast nuclear missile arsenal, not some hypothetical rocket shot by a rogue state). Now it's the Czech's turn.

The Czech parliament has to give final approval to the radar site, but the ruling center-right coalition government in the Czech Republic is already on shaky ground and is facing stiff opposition. The radar base idea is not popular with the Czech public (largely because they fear it will sour relations with Russia, and because they question why they need anti-missile missiles in Europe in the first place). Though the opposition doesn't have the votes to block the plan, it's not clear that the government has the votes to approve the radar site either.

The final vote should take place sometime in early December. If the Czechs vote no then the whole system will have to go back to the drawing board, since the advanced X-Band radar is necessary to guide the interceptors to their targets.
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