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Obama backs up pledge to reduce nuclear arms

A year after his announcement in Prague, Obama returns to sign treaty with Russia.

Tomas Weiss, a defense expert at the Europeum Institute here, said the former Soviet bloc countries that have joined NATO over the past 11 years were taken aback after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, and the U.S. refusal to invoke the all-important article 5 of the NATO charter in response to the attack.

Article 5 says that an attack against one member-state is an attack against all, and Weiss said the new member states took that as the ultimate security guarantee.

But a closer reading of the article shows alliance members have some wiggle room in how they respond. Member states have the right to take “... action as [they deem] necessary, including the use of armed force ...” but do not guarantee the use of an armed response to a military invasion.

Weiss said the previous right-wing government pursued the bilateral missile defense treaty with the United States because it would have included a limited number of U.S. troops on the ground here.

“Politics isn't real [tangible], it's just a construction,” he said. “But American troops on your soil — that's tangible.”

Thus if the country were attacked and U.S. troops were already on the ground, in the line of fire, the U.S. would be compelled to defend its soldiers by all means available.

In scrapping the Bush missile defense plan, Obama cited a system that performed poorly when tested, and a threat — a long-range, nuclear missile strike from Iran — that remained far-off and uncertain.

While many believe Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapons capability it is thought to be years away from such a development, and even more removed from developing a long-range missile that could potentially strike Europe. Yet, its short- and medium-range missile capabilities have advanced more significantly in recent years, and Obama's missile defense system is geared toward thwarting that threat.

Some here are so wary of Russia's ambitions in the region that they objected to the summit being hosted in the Czech Republic at all, saying that historically such treaties have been signed on neutral territory.

But even the hawkish senator Vondra acknowledged that Prague was a logical choice for the ceremony.

“President Obama was interested in signing this in Prague, mostly as a symbolic reason,” he said. After “he made the announcement one year ago in Prague castle.”

But many people — like Milos Calda, who heads the American studies department at the Institute of International Studies at Charles University in Prague — who are otherwise wary of Russia, recognize the value of good relations between the two big nuclear powers.

“Of course, who wants war and great tensions?” he asked. “I'm glad this sort of detente takes place and I think this country will benefit from that.”