Europeans Cool to U.S. Missile Defense Plan The Bush administration says a missile-defense system based in Europe could deflect an attack from Iran and build better relations between the United States and European allies. But many Europeans question the necessity of the program.
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Europeans Cool to U.S. Missile Defense Plan

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Europeans Cool to U.S. Missile Defense Plan

Europeans Cool to U.S. Missile Defense Plan

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Of course North Korea is one of the nations that American officials point to when they're advocating missile defense systems. And the U.S. now wants to base part of its missile defenses in Europe. The Bush administration wants the Czech government to host a radar system. It wants Poland to accept interceptor rockets. If it works as intended, the system would defend Europe as well as the United States, but that does not mean all Europeans are grateful.

NPR's Emily Harris reports from the Czech Republic.

EMILY HARRIS: The village of Trokavek, an hour southwest of Prague, is surrounded on three sides by the former Soviet military base where the U.S. radar is expected to go.

This is a knot of homes with 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.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

HARRIS: On Saturday, 72 of the 90 eligible voters in Trokavek 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.

Seventy-four-year-old Milan Matuska doubts the radar is necessary for Europe.

Mr. MILAN MATUSKA: (Through translator) 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? That's baloney.

HARRIS: Fifty-six-year-old Marcela Dardova fears living next to a powerful radar system will prove unsafe.

Ms. MARCELA DARDOVA: (Through translator) I have three kids and six grandkids and this has to do with their health. We would like to live in this village safely. My father grew up here; so did my mom. They were moved out once when Germans were here. We're afraid that they may want to move us away.

HARRIS: Trokavek mayor Jan Neoral says the vote is an attempt to get local voices heard in an international debate.

Mayor JAN NEORAL (Trokavek): (Through translator) 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.

HARRIS: Prague's point man on the radar, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Vondra, says he is of course concerned about the villagers' views.

Mr. ALEXANDER VONDRA (Deputy Prime Minister, Czech Republic): I think, look, they have to have more information within the time to recognize that, you know, to deploy the radar is not a big deal.

HARRIS: U.S. officials say the installations here and in Poland could help protect the U.S. and all but 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 U.S. missile defense.

Mr. VONDRA: If Europeans say no, then you will inevitably build just a national shield and it will contribute to the transatlantic divide, and that's something that we do not want.

HARRIS: But forget transatlantic for a minute. Europe is already internally divided on this, 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 all NATO members.

Mr. ONDREJ LISKA (European Affairs Committee, Czech Parliament): 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. How should we face it? Is this a step towards more security or less security? Are we not creating more threat by deploying this defense system?

HARRIS: German Chancellor Angela Merkel is among European leaders also pushing for the issue of American missile defense in Europe to be approved through NATO, not bilaterally. Moscow is very publicly 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.

Professor GERHARD MANNGOTT (University of Innsbruck): I think that Germany would very much stall the whole debate within NATO until NATO could accommodate Russian concerns. And I think the United States is not eager to have NATO engaged in that debate, and that could really strain relations of any alliance again, such as the Iraq war has already done four years ago.

HARRIS: 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, Lieutenant General Henry Obering III, says this doesn't have to be divisive.

Lieutenant General HENRY OBERING III (Director, U.S. Missile Defense Agency): I think that what this actually does is it can more unite Europe, if we think of this in the right way. If we focus on the Iranians as being the problem, what we should be doing is using the proposed capabilities that the U.S. would build, along with the Czech Republic and Poland, as the long-range protection under which NATO provides shorter-range protection.

HARRIS: 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 much faster.

Emily Harris, NPR News.

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