One of the most puzzling aspects of the proposed plan to site an American missile radar-base in the Czech Republic is the almost total lack of debate. Proponents of the plan, such as the Czech Prime Minister, Mirek Topolánek, spin platitudes about strengthening European security. Those who are opposed stand around outside the proposed site in Jínce u Příbrami waving placards and shouting slogans, but no one seems very interested in analyzing the nuts and bolts of the plan or the various scenarios it might entail in the event of a nuclear conflict. In spite of the fact that opinion polls suggest that 67% of the Czech population is against the building of the base, what active opposition there has been has been limited itself to a strategy of slogans. More than most nations, Czechs have recently become famous for their political disengagement, but this issue brings their apathy, and their strident anti-intellectualism, into full relief.
Not that this is an intellectual exercise for your humble scribe – Jínce u Příbrami is about 200 km west of where I permanently reside.
In defence of the plan, Topolánek has made some predictable noises, saying that “we are convinced that a possible deployment of the radar station on our territory is in our interest.” The Christian Democrat Defence Minister, Vlasta Parkanová, has remarked “I am aware that an allied radar site on our territory is a sensitive issue for Czech citizens. Some threats can be confronted only in cooperation with our partners, and an attack by a ballistic missile is among them�..We should not consider this issue ideologically but consider whether it raises the security of the Czech Republic and all its citizens.” Let’s take them one at a time: first off, you will have doubtlessly noticed the total absence of any argument in Topolánek’s remarks. Argument is not commonly seen as one of his strengths. Parkanová’s little ditty could benefit from a little dissection. Now, it’s usually against my principles to tell people what they mean by what they say – the indignity of such a tactic should be limited to barristers and psychoanalysts, but Parkanová’s argument is so glaringly disingenuous that I really have no choice in the matter. In saying that this is “a sensitive issue” for the Czech people, she really means to suggest that opposition is emotionally driven and therefore irrational. This is the language of therapy – the reason why it’s impossible to conduct a reasoned disagreement with a psychoanalyst. In urging us not to “consider this issue ideologically”, she is delivering a put-down to the majority of those people actively protesting against the plan. They are vulnerable on this level, being commonly motivated by nothing other than a generalized ideological anti-Americanism. Their lack of political pragmatism, and the fact that they have not yet made the real arguments, is what makes it possible for her to get away with it. This rhetorical slight of hand also glosses over the point that the only possible explanation for the Czech government’s willingness to involve this country in a future nuclear conflict, apart from a scenario of kickbacks, is a generalized ideological pro-Americanism.
Popular oppositional movements are usually just as brain-dead as what they think they’re reacting against.
But none of this gets to the central weakness of Parkanová’s argument: There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that any state has, or is likely to have, an interest in firing an ICBM at the Czech Republic, or any other European state.
Unless, that is, that state plays host to some aspect of the United States’ National Missile Defence program. The Russian Strategic Missile Commander, General Nikolai Solovstov, said last week “If the governments of Poland and the Czech Republic take such a step, the strategic missile forces will be capable of targeting these facilities.” Is there a need to make it any plainer just how unpragmatic this is? Why are the Czech and Polish governments so eager to share what is essentially an American strategic problem? If it were down to a package of economic incentives, then at least there could be some kind of risk-benefit analysis, but no such offer seems to have been put on the table, at least not to the Czechs. The German government has also strongly criticized the plan, with the Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier maintaining that the Russians should have been included in the dialogue earlier, and the Defence Minister, Franz-Josef Jung, complaining that the scheme was a threat, not only to Czech, but also to German security-interests. Apparently, no one except the Czech and Polish governments is taking the Pan-European security argument very seriously. Nor should they be? But then again, the uniformly impoverished nature of contemporary political discourse is one of the factors which allow some people to maintain the illusion that these bases are a good idea – instead of prattling on in generalized terms about “our security interests”, Jung could have spelt out a few for-instance scenarios. Let’s look at some:
- The Russians launch ICBM’s against the United States. The Americans launch their missiles from the interceptor base in Poland. These missiles also carry nuclear warheads, which will be detonated in an effort to bring the Russian missiles down. This will, in turn, irradiate the upper-atmosphere above Poland, causing a long term catastrophe throughout central Europe. And that’s unrealistically assuming that the Russian Missiles themselves will not detonate or leak radiation when they come down somewhere in central Europe.
- The Russians simply nuke the Polish and Czech bases with medium-range missiles before they launch their ICBM’s.
- The Russians attack the Polish and Czech bases with conventional warheads, but as the Polish silos contain nuclear missiles, they may as well be nuking us.
It’s understandable that Jung felt he didn’t have the option of explicating any of these scenarios – first rule of contemporary political discourse: don’t scare the children. It’ll alienate them, and they’ll remember that you broke the rules, that you went back on your tacit agreement to implicitly reassure them that everything’s ultimately okay. They will not forgive the shattering of their illusions.
The great irony at work in all of this is that the missile-shield is, at the current state of play, already obsolete. The Russian Topol SS-27, at 17,300 km/hour, is the fastest man-made object ever built. Not only that, but it can be re-maneuvered in mid-flight. All currently existent missile-defence systems work on the premise of ICBM’s which follow a pre-set trajectory. Most ICBM’s can be brought down by detonating a nuclear warhead within a 10 kilometre radius, but the Topol requires that such an explosion happen less than 500 metres away. Given its speed and maneuverability, there is almost no chance of another missile getting that close. Finally, it is almost impossible to stop before it launches because, unlike every other ICBM in history, it does not have to be launched from a silo.
On receiving details of the Topol’s first test a year ago, the defence analyst Scott Ritter wrote that “the Bush administration’s dream of a viable NMD has been rendered a fantasy by the Russian test of the SS-27 Topol-M. To counter the SS-27 threat, the US will need to start from scratch.”
As it currently stands, between oil-revenue, the gradual disappearance of dollar-hegemony, and its unprecedented nuclear potency, the Russians are winning the cold war. Not that the ineffectiveness of the missile-shield will make them less likely to take the Polish and Czech bases out. Never in your humble scribe’s lifetime has he witnessed any national government willing to undertake such a blatantly self-destructive policy. Is Topolánek’s basic motivation, perhaps, one of personal vanity – the chance to be one of Bush’s international courtiers? Offensive though it maybe, there’s no other way to say this: he must be unhinged, or a or a sociopath, or both.