The U.S. government, in collaboration with the governments of Poland and the Czech Republic, is very close to sealing a deal for a “defensive missile shield.” According to the plan initiated by the U.S., ten GMD-variant interceptor missiles will be located in Poland, and an X-band radar will be located in the Czech Republic, 55 miles southwest of the capital of Prague. But there is a catch.
In April, an opinion poll showed that two-thirds of Czechs were against the U.S. missile shield plans. Two Czech protesters, Jan Tamas and Jan Bednar, have gone on a hunger strike that has now entered the fourth week. Bednar has been hospitalized once and diagnosed with liver failure. Still, both activists continue the nonviolent protest demanding that the voices of Czech citizens be heard. (June 2 they are expected to announce a chain hunger strike following negotiations with a supporting politician, Head of the Social Democrat senators Alena Gajduskova, who has volunteered to participate.)
Tamas and Bednar occupy a storefront operation in the center of Prague where e-mails and visitations continue on a daily basis. An online petition has garnered over 107,554 signatures from around the globe.1 They will stop the hunger strike when four simple requests have been met: 1) radar base negotiations with the U.S. should be interrupted for one year; 2) the E.U. should issue an official stance on the proposed missile shield; 3) a Czech parliament session should convene around this issue; and 4) a televized discussion of the radar base with four opponents and four supporters of the plan should be organized.
On May 21, the government approved the plans though the basic document has yet to be ratified by parliament and signed by President Vaclav Klaus; the Czech-U.S. treaties are to be signed by July. At this crucial junction, Tamas and Bednar hold out for democracy. They are not alone.
On May 5, an estimated gathering of 1,500 protesters assembled in Prague, marching to the Government Office. Some participants carried banners that read “No to American radar colonization,” and “Say No to radar.”
In April, Greenpeace protesters set up a tent city, referred to as “Spot Height 718,” at the exact location of the proposed radar site in the Brdy forest. They have erected an overhead banner with an image of a large target.
Tamas and his group, the No to Bases initiative, proceeds simplistically and with straight forward demands. Yet what this protest represents is very complex. It is a situation has been upon the human race since the the dropping of the first atomic bomb. We have returned to the scene in history in 1983 where President Ronald Reagan first uttered the words, “Star Wars,” in the world arena.
According to a recent report in Ethics & International Affairs written by Philip Coyle and Victoria Samson, there is one glaring problem, among many, with the proposed missile defense systems: “tests have failed roughly half the time.” 2
Coyle and Samson’s report, “Missile Defense Malfunction: Why the Proposed U.S. Missile Defenses in Europe Will Not Work,” is both a explanation of technical and diplomatic failures. One can extrapolate from its contents that the urgency on the part of the U.S. to establish a missile defense in Europe before the current administration is out of office is predicated on political posturing–with a big emphasis on Iran. The report is clear in enumerating what has been lost so far in the arms race and the militarization of space and why the world has been placed on a precipice of untold consequences by virtue of this unilateral push to locate missiles in Poland and a radar base in the Czech Republic.
Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty. Signed by Presidents Bush and Putin on May 2002. The present proposal is in direct violation of the treaty which calls for joint research and development between the U.S. and Russia on missile defense for Europe.
Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. U.S. unilaterally withdrew from treaty in 2002. The treaty had been signed in 1972 by U.S. President Richard Nixon and Soviet Communist Party Secretary Leonid Brezhnev.
Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. Russia is no longer abiding by the treaty as of December 2007, citing as partial reasons, the U.S. missile defense plans for Europe.3
Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Russia’s threat to pull out of the 1997 INF Treaty is exacerbated by the proposed U.S. missile defense. (The treaty bans a wide range of ballistic missiles and ground-launched cruise missiles.)
The tenuous relationship between the U.S. and Russia over the proposed European missile shield, located in Poland and the Czech Republic, stands to jeopardize a whole host of established treaties as well as block much needed future treaties in regard to the militarization/weaponization of space.
If this plan is a U.S.-centric geopolitical strategy aimed at threatening Iran (with a system that does not work consistently against intercontinental ballistic missiles that Iran doesn’t have), what is possibly gained? At this point in time, it is perhaps more worthwhile contemplating what could be lost.
The foremost treaty among all, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), is put in considerable risk by tensions between the U.S. and Russia. It is possible that Russia would be the strongest negotiator in regard to Iranian nuclear weapons capabilities. 4
Tamas and Bednar are making simple requests that may seem unachievable but there is recent precedent. In 2004, the Canadian government declared it would not join the Pentagon’s missile defense program though it continues in its capacity as a partner in the the U.S.-Canada North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
According to Coyle and Samson: “Canada understood correctly that U.S. missile defenses represent the first wave in which the United States could introduce attack weapons into space—that is, weapons with strike capability. While the militarization of space is already a fact of life—the U.S. military relies on space satellites for military communications, for reconnaissance and sensing, for weather, and for targeting—the weaponization of space has not happened: there are no strike weapons deployed in space.”
While it would be irrational to think that the geopolitical strategizing of superpowers will diminish in favor of the greater good any time soon, citizens compelled to take nonviolent action wherever they may be and in whatever ways they can, offers hope on incalculable levels.
1. No Star Wars online petition
2. Philip Coyle and Victoria Samson, “Missile Defense Malfunction: Why the Proposed U.S. Missile Defenses in Europe Will Not Work,” Ethics & International Affairs, Vol. 22.1, 23 April 2008, http://www.cceia.org/resources/journal/22_1/special_report/001.html
3. see international appeal to “Bring the CFE Treaty into Force,” under “Appeals on Preserving the CFE Treaty,” Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, http://www.pugwash.org/
4. “Russia ships nuclear fuel to Iran,” BBC, 17 December 2007, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7147463.stm
; see also George Monbiot, “The Treaty Wreckers,” The Guardian, 2 August 2005, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2005/aug/02/foreignpolicy.politicalcolumnists
Laray Polk lives in Dallas, Texas. She can be contacted at [email protected]