Poland reluctant to give America sovereignty
over missile base
Ian Traynor, central Europe correspondent
Thursday July 27, 2006
Poland's president has expressed reservations about surrendering sovereignty to the US at a site being touted as the sole European base for Washington's controversial missile defence programme.
Concerns have been raised over America's insistence that the base would be a sovereign US installation on Polish soil, and beyond the scrutiny of local legal and defence officials. "I approach the problem of extra-territoriality with reserve, I won't hide that," said the president, Lech Kaczynski.
The Warsaw newspaper Rzeczpospolita reported this week that Poland's government would be kept in the dark about the US base's operations and would not be consulted about missile launches.
Poland, a staunch American ally which is increasingly at odds with its European neighbours and partners under a national-conservative government, is the frontrunner to host the sole national missile defence site outside the US.
A site in north-eastern Poland is being touted as the most likely place for the multibillion-dollar project, which would entail the stationing of 10 interceptor ballistic missiles claimed to be capable of neutralising a ballistic missile attack on Europe from the Middle or Far East.
US officials wound up a tour of Poland and the Czech Republic this week, scouting for sites for interceptors the Pentagon plans to have in place in five years' time. They are expected to propose their site for the installation within six weeks.
A senior Polish defence official said earlier this year that Polish assent hinged on calculating the benefits and risks to national security. "We're not absolutely forced to accept this offer if we judge that it's not advantageous for us."
The Polish defence minister, Radek Sikorski, a former scholar at the Washington American Enterprise Institute - viewed as a thinktank for neo-conservatives in the Bush administration - said Warsaw had tabled a list of questions on the proposed "Son of Star Wars" site and was waiting for the US response.
It may be that the reservations being voiced in Warsaw are a bargaining chip aimed at securing the best deal possible from what would be the first permanent US military base in Poland.
With relations between Poland and Russia perennially poor, the siting of the base also has the potential to trigger a Russian backlash. The Kremlin is convinced that the project is directed not at "rogue states" such as Syria, Iran and North Korea, but in the long term against a stronger Russia.
The US has budgeted $56m (£30m) for work on the European site this year and will double that for next year.
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