WASHINGTON, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- The dramatic progress posted by nations such as the United States, Russia, Israel, Japan, India and even Iran in ballistic missile defense was balanced by the complacency for loss of political will on the issue in many other countries. For every "hare" nation on BMD in 2007, there was also a "tortoise."
Britain threatened to become even more of a "tortoise" nation and France remained one. Both countries pushed ahead with their versions of PAAMS, the Principal Anti-Air Missile System, a ballistic missile defense program to defend Western European nations against intermediate range ballistic missiles. But Nicolas Sarkozy won election as president of France, and so far he has shown no interest in trying to transform or prod the extremely cautious policymaking consensus he inherited from Jacques Chirac. Unlike Junichiro Koizumi during his five years as prime minister of Japan, Sarkozy showed no signs of transforming his country from a tortoise into a hare on BMD.
In Britain, the cautious policies on BMD of Prime Minister Tony Blair looked like becoming even more cautious under his successor, Gordon Brown. Both in temperament and in key top governmental choices, Brown appears far more problematical about his nation's traditional special relationship with the United States than Blair did. Brown's choice as foreign secretary, David Miliband, achieved notoriety a year before by objecting to allowing the U.S. Air Force to use British air bases to refuel when it was flying needed military supplies to Israel during its July 2006 mini-war against Hezbollah. By the end of 2007, Brown had not taken any steps to cut any of Britain's relatively small-scale and cautious BMD programs, but it appeared increasingly likely he would take no steps to boost them either.
Conservative, pro-American governments that had been dedicated to developing BMD fell in Poland and Australia during 2007.
The change of government in Warsaw loomed as especially epochal. The Bush administration was already running into trouble with the Democrat-controlled 110th Congress on getting sufficient and rapid funding to allow Boeing to start constructing its proposed base in Poland to hold 10 anti-ballistic missile interceptors to guard against an eventual threat to the United States that could be posed by nuclear-armed Iranian intercontinental ballistic missiles. Given the extremist language of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his threats against the United States and to wipe Israel off the map, and given Iran's established close technical ties with North Korea, which is still striving to complete its own workable Taepodong-3 ICBMs, such a threat seems extremely feasible in the foreseeable future.
The pro-American Polish government of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski certainly thought so. But his successor as prime minister, Donald Tusk, and new Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich see things differently. On Nov. 19, Klich was reported in an interview published in the Warsaw newspaper Dziennik to be skeptical about the need for the base. Given Tusk's priority of repairing strained ties with Russia, which has furiously opposed the U.S. BMD base plan for Poland, the year ended with the prospects of seeing that base built declining by the day.
The change in government in Australia was less central to U.S. strategy, given Australia's "point of the way" location. But the new government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd that took power on Dec. 3 lost no time in reviewing plans to buy expensive new combat aircraft from the United States. Also, Rudd certainly did not share the enthusiasm for BMD of the previous government led by veteran Prime Minister John Howard. Australia's contribution to the U.S.-led Western BMD program was relatively small in scale but important in quality.
Australia has been developing its Jindalee high-frequency, over-the-horizon radar -- a system more advanced than anything comparable in the world. The close partnership Howard cultivated with President Bush allowed the United States to use that technology. It remains to be seen if that level of cooperation will be sustained under Rudd.
During Howard's last year in office, the scale of U.S.-Australian cooperation on BMD dramatically increased. On March 31, 2007, it was announced that Australia would buy three Aegis radar tracking systems for its warships, and on May 23 Australian Foreign Secretary Alexander Downer pledged to significantly boost his country's investment in BMD.
There was a widespread expectation that if it won re-election, the Howard government would push ahead with plans equip two or three warships not just with Aegis radars but also with U.S.-made Standard Missile 4s to defend the nation's population, largely concentrated in the major cities of the southeast. But that plan too now looks increasingly problematic. Having looked increasingly like a hare on BMD, Australia ended the year suddenly transformed into a tortoise.
(Next: South Korea's BMD ambiguity)