Europeans Cool to U.S. Missile Defense Plan

The United States wants to expand its missile-defense program to Europe. The Bush administration has asked the Czech government to host a radar system and Poland to accept a bank of interceptor rockets designed to stop missile attacks on U.S. or European targets.

But the plans are antagonizing many in Europe, from national governments to tiny villages.

One example of resistance can be found in the village of Trokavec, an hour southwest of Prague. It's surrounded on three sides by a former Soviet military base that could become the home to the U.S. radar system.

The knot of homes features tiled roofs, big gardens and dogs. There is one pub and a store that opens only a few hours a day. Residents don't want the radar for a neighbor.

On Saturday, 72 of the 90 eligible voters in Trokavec cast ballots in a referendum on the issue. All but one said the town council should do everything in its power to keep U.S. missile defense out.

Milan Matuska, 74, doubts the radar is necessary for Europe.

"Why should I want it here? If they want to guard America why don't they put it there? From here they want to guard America," Matuska says in Czech. "That's baloney."

Marcela Dardova, 54, fears living near a powerful radar system will prove unsafe.

"I have three kids and six grandkids and this has to do with their health. We would like to live in this village safely," she says in Czech. "My father grew up here, so did my mom. They were moved out once when Germans were here. We are afraid that they may want to move us away."

Trokavec Mayor Jan Neoral says the vote is an attempt to get local voices heard. "It is our scream to the government, to stop behaving as it is now, which is with complete indifference and what I call the arrogance of power," he says in Czech.

Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Vondra says he is concerned about the villagers' views. "Look, they have to have more information, to recognize that you know, that to deploy the radar is not a big deal," he says.

U.S. officials say the installations here and in Poland could help protect the U.S. and all except parts of southeastern Europe from incoming missile attacks from places such as Iran. Vondra says Europe needs that. He also says it's good for U.S.-European relations to be part of US missile defense.

"If the Europeans say no, then you will inevitably build just the national shield, and it will contribute to the transatlantic divide and that's something what we do not want," he says.

Europe is internally divided, starting within the Czech Republic. The chair of the European affairs committee in the Czech Parliament Ondrej Liska says if the U.S. wants to protect NATO countries with missile defense, it should get the explicit, collective consent of NATO members.

"Do they want to be protected? Do they want to take part in this defense or not? We don't know, because we have not discussed in depth what is the threat," Liska says. "How should we face it? Is this a step to less security or more? Are we not creating threat by deploying defense system?"

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is among European leaders also pushing for the issue of American missile defense in Europe to be handled through NATO, not bilaterally. Moscow is very opposed to the U.S. plan. University of Innsbruck Political Scientist Gerhard Manngott says since Germany, France and others don't want to antagonize Russia, they have to try to accommodate.

"I think Germany would very much stall the whole debate within NATO until NATO could accommodate Russian concerns," he says. "And I think the US is not eager to have NATO engaged in that debate. And that could really strain relations within the alliance again, such as Iraq has already done four years ago."

The U.S. is a NATO member and U.S. officials say NATO's top decision making body has been fully briefed. But they also say Poland and the Czech Republic have the right to decide on their own what to put on their territory. Director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Lt. General Henry Obering III says this doesn't have to be divisive.

"I think what this actually does is it can unite Europe, if we think of this in the right way. If we focus on the Iranians as being the problem," he says. "What we should be doing is using the proposed capabilities the U.S. would build, along with the Czech Republic and Poland as the long-range protection under which NATO provides shorter range protection."

NATO has concluded a 10,000-page study on building a missile defense system, but has not decided what to do. The U.S. installations in Poland and the Czech Republic are likely to go ahead before NATO weighs in.

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