The Bush administration wanted to deploy at least 10 Ground Based Interceptors in Central Europe capable of shooting down any future Iranian intercontinental ballistic missiles that might be fired with nuclear warheads against American cities.
The previous, pro-American Polish government of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski was all in favor of the idea, but it was voted out in general elections held late last year, and new Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski have put greater priority on repairing relations with Russia. They have been dragging their feet in the negotiations with Washington and have upped their demands as the price for housing the interceptor base, to be built by Boeing.
Some of the Polish demands are reasonable: Since Russia has threatened to target the base -- and probably other Polish facilities or cities -- if Warsaw allows it to be built, it certainly would make sense for the United States to deploy, or equip the Polish armed forces, with Patriot PAC-3 interceptors that could shoot down the intermediate- and short-range ballistic missiles that Russia might deploy.
But the Poles are also holding out for more than $1 billion per year in extra military and foreign aid -- a sum comparable to what the United States gives Egypt and Pakistan to keep them stable and out of the control of extreme Islamists.
However, Poland is neither an impoverished Third World nation nor is it in the least danger, obviously, of going radical Muslim. And the Bush administration, facing an economic crisis at home and a Democrat-controlled Congress that this year slashed funding for the Central European GBI deployment plan by one-third, is in no condition to push through anything like the aid levels that Tusk and Sikorski have demanded.
Ironically, Sikorski was a longtime Washington resident at the American Enterprise Institute and also ran the New Atlantic Initiative, where he was famous for urging the United States to expand NATO into Central and Eastern Europe to protect Poland and its neighbors, even if this dangerously strained U.S. relations with Russia -- which it did. But when it now comes to approving Polish-based U.S. missile installations to protect the American people, his enthusiasm has vanished.
The negotiations to put the base in Poland are not quite dead yet. The Polish newspaper Dziennik reported this week that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met Monday to assess the current state of the talks.
However, Tusk, Sikorski and his colleagues appear determined to play for time in the talks until Bush leaves office, when their expectation is that Obama will do the dirty work of canceling the base plans for them, even though that decision may leave Washington, Boston, Philadelphia and New York City vulnerable to future Iranian nuclear attack.
The Tusk-Sikorski policy is currently popular in Poland, where support for the United States has been waning and fears of angering Russia have been growing. But it could backfire disastrously in the future. It is very possible that an Obama administration, or a subsequent one that takes office in 2012, will want to pull its remaining military forces out of Europe as well as the Middle East. Since the end of the Cold War, U.S. troop levels in Western Europe have fallen from 300,000 to 50,000, and they are widely expected to fall further.
A Polish government that has agreed to house crucial U.S. missile defense installations will have an excellent chance of getting future U.S. administrations to continue protecting Poland in a dangerous world. A Polish government that is on record as having refused to host a BMD base critical to protecting tens of millions of American lives will not.