By Natalya Kovalenko and Pyotr Iskanderov
Poland reckons to establish its own missile defence system with the help from France, Germany and other European allies, Polish Minister of National Defence Tomasz Siemoniak said in his interview with the Polish Press Agency.
The Polish leadership’s initiative to create their own missile defence with the aid of European allies can be interpreted as their urge to find some ‘third way’ in the wake of the ongoing Russian-American dispute on this issue. While Russia proposes cooperation with NATO in building a joint missile defence based on common analysis of challenges and dangers, the US insists on its own priority.
Poland is between two fires in this Russian-American dispute. The previous US Administration of George Bush decided to deploy a missile battery around the Polish town of Slupsk, which is less than 200km away from Russian Kaliningrad, by 2015-2016. This move forced Moscow to come up with a response, namely the deployment of Iskander missile systems in the Kaliningrad Region. Polish authorities tried to fish in those troubled waters. They urged the US to invest in overhauling the Polish Army, so that it could effectively resist the ‘Russian threat’.
In the end, Poland only succeeded in persuading Bush’s Administration to deploy one battery of 96 Patriot surface-to-air missiles on Polish territory. The current President Barak Obama reconsidered the previous plans and put a stake on the deployment of mobile systems. In this case, the US missile defence system would not get to Poland before 2018 and then only in the shape of mobile batteries of SM-3 missiles.
Poles interpreted these developments as throwing Poland into the backyards of the US security policy. Polish President Bronislaw Komorowsky expressed an explicit view: “Our mistake in accepting the US initiative was that we did not reckon for the political risk associated with the change of presidents. We have paid a high price for that and we must not repeat this mistake.”
In order to avoid repeating mistakes, Warsaw has decided to build its own missile defence putting a stake on Europe, rather than the US. It is clear that there is more politicking in that than real full-fledged prospects, expert of the Institute of Europe at the Russian Academy of Sciences Vladislav Belov believes.
“I can only pigeonhole this as a publicity move, which is groundless, unexpected and hard to explain. At present, Poland is incapable of establishing its own missile defence which would meet the present-day requirements. Poland has neither money nor technology for this. It can only rely on cooperation with the US.”
At the same time, Washington’s moves were prompted by objective technological and financial calculations, President of the Russian Institute of Strategic Assessment Alexander Konovalov says.
“Americans have given up the idea of the old missile defence system which was to be deployed in Poland and laser-pointed from the Czech Republic. Instead, they have put the main stake on missiles that are so far mostly used at sea. The SM-3 missile has proved to be very effective and ten times as cheap as the interceptors that were meant to be deployed in Poland. In addition, it can be launched from ships. This is a flexible system which could be assembled and used close to the potential source of danger.”
Meanwhile, despite the president’s declarations, Poles remain cautious. The Polish National Security Bureau says that the creation of the Polish missile defence shield does not mean that Warsaw has given up the idea of American missile defence. The reason is clear: the next presidential election in the US is to take place in November this year and Obama’s main rival Republican Mitt Romney, when visiting Poland in July, called Democratic candidate Obama’s actions in respect of missile defence “a sudden betrayal of friends”.