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Why U.S. Wants Missiles In Poland


NPR's senior diplomatic correspondent, Mike Shuster, is covering that NATO meeting in Brussels. Mike, welcome back to Day to Day. I know that you are working on a series of reports on this entire missile defense system. What is it that the U.S. is going to build in Poland?

MIKE SHUSTER: Well, the United States wants to build. It hasn't gotten full agreement yet, but it wants to build a missile field where it will then place 10 missile interceptors that are capable - the United States and the Bush administration hope will be the case - that are capable of intercepting intercontinental ballistic missiles that might be carrying nuclear weapons that are fired from that part of the world.

CHADWICK: So the U.S. has said it thinks the threat here is Iran, that this is not about Russia. Would this missile defense system be used against Iranian missiles or Russian missiles or both?

SHUSTER: Well, the United States has been very explicit that this is all about Iran, and the United States has been discussing this since last year with the government of Poland and also with the government of the Czech Republic because, in addition to the 10 missile interceptors that the United States wants to put into Poland, it wants to put some kind of advanced radar near Prague to be part of this whole system.

And the explanation for the Europeans has totally been all along that this is about Iran. There's been some skepticism in Europe about that, but nevertheless, that's the reason that the United States has been giving. What's interesting now is that, as a result of this crisis in Georgia and the actions of the Russian government, the Russian military - now there seems to be not an explicit, but a suggestion nevertheless that the United States and Poland might be doing this in response to what's happened in Georgia. And therefore, that suggests that this is somehow about Russia, as well.

I should add that there are critics of missile defense in the United States who don't believe that it will work. But the Russians do, and the Russians say over and over again - well, maybe not the initial 10 interceptors placed in Poland, but over the course of years, in the future, they fear that the United States would acquire the technology to beef this system up, that it might actually challenge Russian missiles some time in the future.

CHADWICK: The foreign minister of Poland just told us that the agreeing to this deal last week is a coincidence. People there buy that?

SCHUSTER: It's hard to believe that that's a coincidence. The Polish public opinion polls has been against it until Russia invaded Georgia. Now, there is a majority, according to the most recent polls in Poland, that favor it.

The Polish government had said that it was willing to consider the deployment of these missiles in Poland, but they wanted a better deal from the United States. They wanted more money, and they wanted the United States to deploy to Poland patriot missiles, the most advanced version of Patriot missiles, in case Russia should look upon Poland unfavorably. And, in fact, it has looked upon Poland unfavorably once Poland agreed to this.

CHADWICK: The U.S. defense secretary, Robert Gates, said over the weekend that this very tough Russian language, this could lead to a nuclear attack on Poland, putting these missiles in, that this is empty rhetoric. Is there a sense there that Poland may be placing itself in a very dangerous situation?

SCHUSTER: I think that there's a sense in Poland that they feel that they may be in a dangerous situation. This is a state with a history of trouble with Russia for more than 200 years. The secretary general of NATO made reference to that rhetoric about targeting Poland with nuclear missiles from Russia. He called that rhetoric pathetic today.

CHADWICK: NPR diplomatic correspondent Mike Schuster reporting from the emergency NATO meeting in Brussels, Belgium. Mike, thanks.

SHUSTER: You're welcome, Alex. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Alex Chadwick
For more than 30 years, Alex Chadwick has been bringing the world to NPR listeners as an NPR News producer, program host and currently senior correspondent. He's reported from every continent except Antarctica.
Mike Shuster is an award-winning diplomatic correspondent and roving foreign correspondent for NPR News. He is based at NPR West, in Culver City, CA. When not traveling outside the U.S., Shuster covers issues of nuclear non-proliferation and weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and the Pacific Rim.