A team of U.S. military experts arrives in the Czech Republic next week to examine potential sites for a new missile defence base. The United States is said to be considering either the Czech Republic, Poland or Hungary for the new facility, but a Polish newspaper reports that Washington has already reached agreement with Warsaw. Rob Cameron has the following report.
It began as a rumour, but is now beginning to take shape. The United States, it seems, is serious about plans to build controversial new missile bases in Central Europe. The Americans reportedly have their eyes on a number of potential locations, and several Czech politicians have already given the idea their support. But the timing of the project could not be less fortunate - with so much uncertainty over the future government.
The lead candidate for prime minister, Mirek Topolanek of the Civic Democratic Party, has told reporters that he would support the establishment of an American anti-missile base in the Czech Republic. Mr. Topolanek says that such a move would not only contribute to alliance agreements that the Czech Republic has, but would also add to the safety of the Czech state. Mr. Topolanek told the daily Mlada Fronta Dnes that details pertaining to an upcoming visit by a NATO delegation are currently being ironed-out, and that he sees no need for a national referendum on the issue—according to the Civic Democratic leader, the government should decide whether or not to establish the anti-missile base. The matter will be decided within weeks, as the Americans are awaiting an answer by the end of September; Congress will discuss the possible base in the autumn sitting, and construction could begin in 2007. Poland and Hungary are the other possible candidate countries in the running to house the anti-missile base.
NATO has expressed dissatisfaction with part of a Czech law on the protection of secret information. The Alliance opposes the fact that Czech MPs and Senators can gain access to secret materials without going through a security vetting procedure at the National Security Office (NBU). In a television debate on Sunday, NBU head Petr Hostek said NATO could deny the Czech Republic access to the Alliance's secret information if the law is not amended.
The media has been full of reports in recent weeks of plans by the US to build a missile defence system in Central Europe - largely a response to Iran's sabre-rattling over its nuclear programme. This summer - according to the New York Times - the Pentagon will choose between two countries: Poland and the Czech Republic. Rob Cameron spoke to Radek Khol, head of the Centre for Security Analysis at the Institute of International Relations in Prague.
The Senate has approved the participation of ten Czech officers in NATO's rapid reaction force from July of this year to January 15th of 2007. Defence Minister Karel Kuhnl said the Czech Republic had opted to participate symbolically in the upcoming period since it would have a leading role in the 8th rotation of the rapid reaction forces in the first half of 2007, contributing 400 troops. The ten officers will most likely remain in the Czech Republic during their mission.
The Czech Green Party says in its election programme that at some point in the future it would like to see NATO replaced by a new European defence system. This new system should be made up not only of combat units but also include police units, firemen and emergency forces in order to meet the needs of the present day, predominantly the threat of terrorism. The response to the idea on the Czech political scene has been generally negative. The opposition Civic Democrats dismissed it as utterly naïve, while the ruling Social Democrats pointed out that Europe already had a well functioning defence system.
This week - on March 12th - the Czech Republic will mark the 7th anniversary since the country joined NATO in 1999. Over that period the country's military has changed beyond recognition - investing in new technology, going fully professional, redefining its overall approach to warfare. Later this year, Czech soldiers will be able to serve on key foreign missions with greater impact than ever before.
Thomas McKeever, head of NATO's Security Office, is expected to pay a two day visit to the Czech Republic to discuss the situation at the National Security Office following the resignation of its head Jan Mares. Mares resigned earlier this month over suspected ties with a gang prosecuted for fraud and criminal conspiracy. The Czech Interior Minister Frantisek Bublan said there was concern at NATO headquarters as to possible information leaks. Mr. McKeever is expected to arrive in Prague on Thursday.
Domestic defence contractors want a piece of the NATO pie; The Cabinet agrees a comprehensive plan for promoting economic growth; Additional $60 million earmarked in support of Hyundai car plant project; DHL Solutions to oversee Lego Group toy maker's new European distribution centre outside Prague; New Agriculture Minister named following scandal at Czech Land Fund
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