By Xinhua writer Ding Yi
One year after the United States and Poland signed an agreement to deploy parts of an American missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, the project has become a bargaining chip during talks between the U.S. and Russia on nuclear weapons reductions, observers say.
Although Poland and the Czech Republic, which was also included in the anti-missile system, were eager for the implementation of the project, Russia's sharp opposition, the Iran issue and a different voice in the U.S. Congress have added uncertainties and complications to the plan, analysts say.
The anti-missile defense system has been part of the U.S. strategic deployment in the world for a long time.
Washington planned to install a base for 10 interceptor missiles in northern Poland and a radar base in the neighboring Czech Republic to protect the United States and Europe from possible attacks from what it called "rogue" states.
The Polish government and the Bush administration signed an agreement on the project on Aug. 20, 2008. Two U.S.-Czech treaties on the missile defense system were sealed later that year.
However, as the United States and Russia revived bilateral relations and attempted to break a deadlock over nuclear weapons reductions, the missile plan has become a bargaining chips during the negotiations, observers said.
Russia has linked the START I treaty, which, among other things, banned the production, testing and deployment of air-launched ballistic missiles, with the U.S. defense project.
The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), signed by the United States and the former Soviet Union in 1991, places a limit of 6,000 strategic or long-range nuclear warheads on both sides.
A subsequent 2002 treaty signed in Moscow called for a greater cut in nuclear warheads to between 1,700 and 2,200 by the end of 2012, but fell short of deals on verification. If START I expires in December without a follow-up, the Moscow treaty would be left with no legally binding system for verification.
Nikolai Makarov, Russia's chief of staff, said in June that Moscow would not cut the number of its nuclear weapons until U.S. intentions for its missile defense in Europe are clarified.
Russian media reported earlier this month that the United States was considering a proposal by Russia that the two countries jointly use a radar facility in Azerbaijan.
However, the U.S. rejected giving up its defense system in Europe in return for use of the Azerbaijan facility.
Eastern European countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic, which have been caught in the middle during the super powers' competitions, have long tried to extract payouts from the big countries in the fields of politics, economy and security, analysts said.
The signing of the U.S.-Polish agreement on the anti-missile shield, for example, was accompanied by a declaration providing for the deployment of a Patriot missile battery in Poland.
The declaration also specified that by the end of 2012 a garrison will be set up in a location selected by Poland in accordance with its defense needs.
The U.S. also promised that it would carry out military cooperation with Poland to protect the security of the country.
However, no more than one year since the signing of the American-Polish agreements on the anti-missile plan, Poland has asked for more from the U.S.
Poland said in June that it wanted the Patriot missile batteries in its country to be armed and stationed permanently.
In addition, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said that his country wanted the missiles "not only to arrive here armed, but also to be incorporated IT-wise into our air defense system."
Michael Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the installation of Patriot missiles in Poland would be possible after the signing of a Polish-U.S. SOFA accord on the stationing of U.S. troops on Polish territory.
But Mullen added that the missiles would be armed only for training purposes.
The same situation occurred in the Czech Republic. The Czech government has sought cooperation with the United States in the fields of science and technology in exchange for permitting the location of the planned U.S. radar base on Czech soil.
The United States was to offer millions of dollars to fund scientific research in the Czech Republic, mainly in the armament industry, as part of the radar base talks between the two countries.
The fact that the missile defense plan is related to the Iran nuclear crisis and U.S.-Russia cooperation has added complications and uncertainty to the project, analysts said.
U.S. President Barack Obama said in Prague in April that the missile defense system will go forward "as long as the threat from Iran persists."
He added that if the Iranian threat was eliminated, the driving force for missile defense construction would be removed.
A joint analysis by U.S. and Russian scientists said "the missile threat from Iran to Europe is thus not imminent."
Moreover, if Iran were to build a nuclear-capable missile that could strike Europe, the proposed defense shield would be ineffective, said a report produced by the East West Institute, an independent think tank based in Moscow, New York and Belgium.
The urgent task is to seek a resolution of the Iran nuclear crisis, the report said, adding that the anti-missile plan needed more cooperation between Washington and Moscow.
Shen Yi, a Chinese researcher from Fudan University in Shanghai, said Russia and the United States have an important consensus on the issue of the anti-missile project.
The proliferation of ballistic missiles threatens the security of the world's big powers such as the United States and Russia, the Chinese analyst said.
Furthermore, the Obama administration faces pressure from hawkish politicians and Republicans, who have warned against concessions, particularly on missile defense, that America might have to make to conclude a new nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia, Shen said.