How Moscow changed public opinion in Poland
It was one of the fastest turnarounds on record. For a year-and-a-half public opinion polls showed that less than half and at times as few as 30 percent of the Polish people supported putting a U.S. missile defense site in their country. Then Russian tanks rolled into the Republic of Georgia. Almost overnight the polls changed. In a survey after the Russian invasion 58 percent of Poles said they now favor U.S. missile defenses on Polish soil. Congress also should turn around and fully fund the missile defenses in Europe.
The Polish government, which had been haggling with Washington for months, acted quickly to sign an initial agreement with Undersecretary of State John Rood just two days after the Russian invasion. Then, less than a week later, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in Warsaw signing the formal agreement.
For months the Polish government had been asking for billions of dollars in aid. But this was quickly forgotten when Russia invaded Georgia. Prime Minister Donald Tusk rationalized the turnaround by saying Washington met Poland’s “key demand,” to add a battery of Patriot air and shortrange missile interceptors. The Patriots, manned by the U.S. Army, will be in Poland next year.
Even more important for Poland is the strategic coopera- tion agreement signed by Miss Rice and Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski that commits the U.S. to close cooperation if Poland is threatened by a third party. Any doubt who that third party is was dispelled on Aug. 15 when Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the Russian General Staff, suggested in a press conference that the missile defense site in Poland would be a “first priority” target in a conflict.
All this talk of future war with the United States and Europe shows that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev, despite their denials, remain wedded to Cold War thinking and confrontation with the West. This year’s huge increase in oil and gas revenues enables Mr. Putin to pursue his goal of restoring Russia as a great power, including reestablishing a Russian empire.
Missile interceptors in Poland and a high-powered radar in the Czech Republic will protect Europe and the eastern U.S. against missiles from Iran, Pakistan and elsewhere in the Middle East. But it also cements the close relationship between the U.S. and countries formerly under Soviet domination. With U.S bases in those countries it will be more difficult for Moscow to pressure and intimidate them, which is why Russia’s leaders so strongly oppose such bases.
Now that both the Czech and Polish governments have signed agreements to host U.S. missile defenses there no longer is any reason for Congress to withhold the funds to begin construction of the bases. The 2009 defense authorization passed by the House cuts $232 million from the amount requested for the interceptor site in Poland, another $140 million is cut from construction funds, and use of the funds is limited by a number of conditions.
Even though Iran continues to develop longer-range missiles and Pakistan, already equipped with nuclear-armed missiles, is in political turmoil, some Democrats still want to delay putting missile defenses in Europe. Rep. Ellen Tauscher, chairwoman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee, used to say that missile defenses in Europe would be destabilizing. Now that Russia has taken far more destabilizing military action, she argues for delay on grounds that the interceptors based in Poland must be extensively tested, even though they will be simpler 2-stage versions of a well-tested and deployed 3-stage interceptor.
The Senate is expected to debate the defense authorization this month, but Congress will be going home early this election year so there may not be time to complete action. But if the bill is considered in the Senate it will provide a chance to remove the cuts and restrictions in the House version. The separate defense appropriation bill has not been passed by either chamber and may not be, considering the short time left before recess.
Instead, defense funding probably will be included in the catchall continuing resolution Congress must pass to keep the government operating when the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. But whatever the course of the 2009 defense bills, Congress should remove any impediments and fully fund the missile defense sites in Europe so construction can get underway.
Moscow has shown its determination to intimidate the countries it used to control. The Polish and Czech governments have shown their determination to confront the Russian bear. Now Congress should show its determination to defend both this country and our allies in Europe.
James T. Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times based in Carlsbad, Calif.