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PRAGUE — And now the world makes sense again — or at least one small part of it. My reporting on NATO's strategic concept review has helped bring clarity to the missile defense issue. (Ground truth, as they call it at GlobalPost HQ).
For nearly two years the Bush administration — in conjunction with a right-wing Czech government — sought to deploy a radar base here as part of a missile defense system. That system, which included 10 interceptor rockets to be based in Poland, would supposedly protect the Eastern seaboard of the U.S., as well as much of Europe from a long-range missile strike from Iran. But as I reported last year for GlobalPost (as well as the year before for The Washington Post) there were two fundamental problems with this plan. Problem 1: the stated threat does not exist. Problem 2: the stated cure does not work.
Oh sure the Mullahs in Iran hate America, and undoubtedly they are at work trying to develop a nuclear bomb. Less certain is how much time and money Iran is devoting to developing inter-continental ballistic missile technology, which would enable them to hit New York. By all appearances they are devoted to spending considerable resources to enhancing their medium range missile capabilities, which would enable them to strike their neighbors in the Middle East — most notably Israel, but also Arab states — as well as Turkey (a member of NATO) and, perhaps, Bulgaria, which in addition to NATO is also a member of the European Union. (And this is why President Obama rightly scuppered the ill-conceived plan of his predecessor — in order to focus on the threat that is at hand; Iran striking one of its closer neighbors.)
As mentioned, in addition to Iran posing no conventional threat to the U.S. by virtue of its inability to strike, the missile defense system offered up by the Bush administration was equally impotent. So the big mystery was why-o-why was the Czech government so eager to sign on to this boondoggle?
At a cocktail party two years ago a conservative MP gave me the first clue. I asked him why they needed additional security guarantees when they already belonged to NATO. (The alliance's charter included the coveted Article 5, which states that an attack against one member-state shall be deemed an attack against all.) He scoffed and said, 'What the hell is NATO?!')
I was floored. 'What the hell is NATO?!' Well, besides being the military alliance that ensured peace in Europe since shortly after the end of World War II, it more importantly (for the purpose of this summation) was considered the gold-standard for security guarantees here in the 1990s. It is what the central European countries were striving for in the 1990s.
So when and why did this cease to be the case? Despite my efforts I was never able to get a satisfactory answer from this conservative MP, or others. But my reporting for this week's story now makes it clear.
For right-wing Czech politicians the loss of faith in NATO's security guarantees came in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack in the U.S. When then-President Bush refused to invoke Article 5 of the NATO charter. Instead, the military response was a coalition of the willing, led by the United States. While NATO is active in Afghanistan now it was reduced to patrolling U.S. Air-space at the time of the invasion of Afghanistan.
And trepidations here were further exacerbated in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Turkish government sought to invoke Article 4 of the NATO charter — calling for consultation among member states. They feared Iraq would respond to the U.S.-led assault with a counter-attack against Turkey. This despite Ankara's steadfast refusal to participate in the U.S.-led invasion, or even to allow U.S.-led troops to enter Iraq from Turkish territory in the north. When Turkey's request was stone-walled the message became clear — NATO's security guarantees are all but meaningless if the United States doesn't go along. Thus if one wants real security guarantees, they had better seek to curry favor with Washington. And the Czech and Polish governments sought to do just that via the missile defense plan. Thus it became irrelevant that the system doesn't work, and that the threat doesn't exist.