Czech vote dooms BMD defense against Iran

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst   |   March 26, 2009 at 10:14 AM

WASHINGTON, March 26 (UPI) -- The pro-American Czech government of Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek fell Tuesday after being defeated in a vote of confidence in Parliament. That event may have sounded the death knell for U.S. plans to defend the Eastern Seaboard of the United States from Iranian intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with nuclear weapons.

The U.S. plan, formulated by the Bush administration, was to build two ballistic missile defense bases in Central Europe. One was to be located in Poland and house 10 Ground-based Mid-course Interceptors, known as GBIs, that could shoot down Iranian-launched ICBMs in flight. The other base was to be in the neighboring Czech Republic. It would have housed the very advanced radar tracking arrays that were needed to guide the super-fast GBIs -- flying at 20,000 to 25,000 miles per hour -- to their ICBM targets.

Topolanek supported the plan to build the radar base in his country. He led an unlikely and unstable coalition of the Civic Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the Greens. But on Tuesday, his government fell in a no-confidence vote in the Czech Parliament by the narrow margin of 101 votes against the government to 96 in support of it. Opposition criticism of the BMD radar-base project was a major issue in the vote.

The deal to build the base was only signed on July 8, 2008, by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg. Tuesday's vote was the first time a government in Prague had been toppled by a vote in Parliament since the Czech Republic and Slovakia became independent, separate states in 1993.

The Social Democrats, who have consistently fiercely opposed the BMD radar-base plan, look likely to win any new parliamentary elections. They enjoyed sweeping successes in local elections and elections for the Senate, the upper house of the Czech Parliament, last fall.

Topolanek's fall is a huge strategic and diplomatic victory for Russia, which has fiercely opposed the BMD bases in both Poland and the Czech Republic. Under both current President Dmitry Medvedev and his predecessor Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin has charged that they could give the United States the chance to wipe out any Russian survivable second-strike capability if the United States ever launched any attempted annihilating first strike against Russia's strategic missile forces.

Dmitri Rogozin, Russia's ambassador to NATO, was quoted by the official Czech news agency CTK as saying Topolanek's fall had caused an "insurmountable problem" for the BMD radar- and missile-bases plan. He welcomed the anticipated formation of a new government led by the Social Democrats and backed by the Czech Communist Party as being likely to be much more favorable to Russia.

"The forces that have removed Topolanek's government categorically stand up against the stationing of a radar on Czech soil. However, without the radar, the U.S. missiles in Poland would be blind," Rogozin said, according to the CTK report.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush and his administration would have tried to use their influence to prevent the no-confidence vote from being carried or to try to support Topolanek in efforts to form a new government. New U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Prague soon. But he and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, may privately welcome the vote as removing an embarrassment for them.

The Obama administration, the Democratic leadership in both chambers of Congress and the Democratic foreign policy establishment have all been highly critical of Bush's plan to deploy the 10 GBIs in Poland because it angers Russia.

The Democrats want to focus on concluding a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia to replace the old 1991 START-1 treaty, which runs out at the end of this year. But the Russians have made clear that their price for agreeing to negotiate on a new START agreement was going to be the scrapping of the two BMD bases in Central Europe.

Obama and the congressional Democrats had cold feet about doing that themselves. But with the Czech Parliament torpedoing the plan, they are unlikely to try to revive it by seeking a new location for the radars in Lithuania or Poland.

The bottom line, however, is that if Iran ever fires one or more nuclear-armed ICBMs at New York, Washington or any other major urban target on the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, there won't be any GBIs based in Central Europe that can be fired to intercept them.

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