Consolation-Prize Polish Missiles

You may recall how George W. Bush had big plans for a Europe-based anti-missile shield, mainly aimed against anything that might come flying from Iran. The radar and control installations were to be based in the Czech Republic, while the interceptor missiles themselves would be in Poland. But then Barack Obama became President, considered that such a set-up would be too expensive – and would also probably rile the Russians a bit too much – and so canceled the whole plan, on the symbolically-important date of 17 September 2009.

(Symbolically-important only to the Poles, as that is the anniversary of their invasion by forces of the Soviet Union, back in 1939 when they were already trying to fight off German forces attacking from the West, that effectively sealed their fate and sentenced them to five years of brutal occupation. Apparently not so symbolically-important to, say, the US State Department, which must be suffering from a shortage of anyone with an awareness of modern Polish history.)

So too bad, that’s it then, right? Not so fast, as this recent tweet from the leading Polish national daily Rzeczpospolita reminds us:

Ustawa o ratyfikacji umowy ws. tarczy antyrakietowej podpisana: Prezydent Bronisław Komorowski podpisał ustawę u…


This tells us of the recent signing by Polish President Bronisław Komorowski, following ratification by the Polish Parliament, the Sejm, of the US-Polish agreement initialed back on July 3, 2010, to let Poland station some US-made, US-controlled interceptor missiles after all. For when it comes to US allies and American missiles, everyone is a winner and all must have prizes!

Still, it seems very much a consolation prize. The original Bush plan called for land-based ballistic-missile interceptors fancy enough to require that separate radar and command-and-control installation (which even could be located in another country, as it happened). Now the Poles will just host a bunch of SM-3 missiles, a sort of jack-of-all-trades interceptor up until now based only on US Navy (and Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force) ships of the “Aegis” air-defence type. Rumania will also get to host these missiles – but not the Czech Republic – and the missile base there is supposed to be operational by 2015, while the Polish one will be ready only by 2018.

Then again, that eventual Polish base will be right on the Baltic Coast, at an old airbase in a place called Redzikowo, and the SM-3 is versatile enough to attack enemy ships as well as shoot down ballistic missiles (and even low-flying satellites, it is alleged), so NATO is gaining that extra capability that it would not have had with the interceptor missiles of the original plan. Plus, the SM-3s are known actually to work, and even rather well (at least in tests), likely better than those higher-prestige devices envisaged in the original Bush plan. (But since when has actual military effectiveness been any sort of priority consideration in this sort of geopolitical gesture?)

An additional key aspect of this US-Polish interceptor-missile plan, from its very first incarnation, was the stationing in Poland of Patriot missile batteries also manned by American troops – sort of missiles-to-protect-the-missiles, but really more that classic American “skin in the game” military presence every country under threat wants, since an attack on them will now presumably also involve genuine American casualties and therefore a greater likelihood of some substantial American response.

This Patriot deployment has been ongoing for some years now, with a new battery (meaning “military unit”) coming in to replace an old one once per quarter-year, although there was a minor scandal – whipped up by Polish commentators evidently not familiar with that “skin in the game” rationale – when it was discovered that the US Army was using these deployments just for training, with only dummy training missiles that would not be able to actually shoot down any incoming airborne threat. So the new agreement signed by the President fixes that: for this year, at least, three out of the four rotations will wield combat-ready Patriot missiles.

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