The plan has infuriated Russia, which claims that both the 10 Ground-Based Mid-course Interceptors to be deployed at a base in Poland and the advanced radar system to guide them from the neighboring Czech Republic could seriously threaten Russia and upset the nuclear balance between Washington and Moscow.
However, Russia has at least 2,400 nuclear warheads in its Strategic Missile Forces, many of them fired from missiles carrying up to 10 multiple-independently targeted -- MIRV-ed -- warheads each. The 10 GBIs to be deployed in Poland can pose no significant threat against them. And the radar arrays in the Czech Republic will confirm no appreciable advantage for warning of any possible massive Russian pre-emptive strike that U.S. intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance -- ISR -- satellites do not already provide.
Nevertheless, Russia's fierce opposition to building the bases has won widespread popular support in both Poland and the Czech Republic. Some Czech polls over the past year have found as many as 70 percent of the population against it. And the strongly pro-American government of Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski was defeated late last year in a general election. He was then succeeded by current Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who has proved far more reluctant to build the ABM bases. He has focused on improving ties with Russia.
Tusk even dragged his feet on the BMD issue in Bucharest at the NATO summit this week, but President Bush won the approval of Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek to build the radar base.
What was far more important, however, was that the U.S. president won approval from major Western European leaders, especially Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain, to build the bases.
That means that the plan to build the bases, which was floundering a few months ago, has now received a new head of steam. Ballistic Missile Defense can be made a credible sell to the publics of Western European nations, especially against a so-called rogue nation like Iran whose current leader, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has openly threatened to annihilate the state of Israel and has issued almost as bloodcurdling threats against the United States. The need is clear for technologically practical missile interceptor systems that could destroy nuclear armed missiles fired by such a leader.
Now that the main Western European governments have come on board the BMD bandwagon, they are unlikely to reverse course for the foreseeable future. Sarkozy has more than six years left in his term of office, and Brown does not have to call a general election until May 2010. Even Merkel, who has been struggling with a popularity slump, looks good to stay in power for a while yet.
That means Tusk could not count on the support of the most powerful nations in the European Union if he tries to defy the NATO consensus on BMD.
Next: How Democrat infighting boosts Bush's BMD plan