Tag: Czech Republic

The Czech Republic: when a gaffe isn’t a gaffe


I have a very difficult time getting worked into a lather because John McCain has, on more than one occasion, referred to “The Czech Republic” as “Czechoslovakia” (video).

I’m less than half McCain’s age, and I often slip (during lectures no less) and call Russia the “Soviet Union” and substitute “Soviets” for “Russians.” Shockingly enough, I almost always do this, like McCain, in contexts when I’m discussing nuclear deterrence, ballistic missile defense, and other issues that were, um, rather salient during the Cold War.

In fact, Howard Dean made the same mistake at a session of Hardball, filmed at Harvard’s Kennedy School, during the 2004 campaign for the Democratic nomination.

(And yes, right-wing bloggers excoriated him for it.)

Regardless, I’m especially willing to be indulgent of the “Czechoslovakia” slip because the phrase “The Czech Republic” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Its not like politicians–or even ordinary people–routinely use the phrase “the German Federal Republic” or “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” Most of us just say “Germany” or “North Korea.”

My wife, in remarking upon this, pointed out that the lack of a similar shorthand for the Czech Republic in the English language (and German and French, from what I can tell). In Czech, one just says “Česko.” In Russian “Чехия.” There’s no good reason we can’t call the Czech Republic “Czechia.” We just don’t; I submit that makes it harder, at least for those of us with vivid political memories dating back before 1993, to avoid this particular slip of the tongue.

Image source: wikipedia commons.

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Russia and BMD: The BFD

Even the most causal observers of US-Russian relations must have realized by now that the Kremlin is apoplectic over the prospect of US ballistic missile defenses (BMD) in Eastern Europe. How has the Kremlin responded to news of the US-Czech radar deal? They’re not happy.

Reuters:

Russia warned after the signing on Tuesday it would react with unspecified military-technical means if the shield is deployed.

“The Czech side… voiced concerns over continued excessive rhetoric of the Russian Federation towards the Czech Republic and threats by some Russian official representatives in this sense,” the Czech defense ministry said in a statement after a visit by Russia’s defense ministry official Yevgenyi Buzhinsky.

“Some of the statements and the form of their presentation are perceived in the Czech Republic as an interference with internal political affairs,” the statement said.

Although, to his credit, President Medvedev says that Russia won’t get “hysterical” over the matter:

Russia will respond to U.S. missile shield plans in Central Europe, President Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday, pledging at the same time that Moscow would not resort to ‘hysterics’ over the issue.

“I repeat once again, we are not satisfied with it, and I have said this to my counterparts. Of course, we will not get hysterical over the issue, but we will consider what steps to take in response,” Medvedev told journalists after the G8 summit in Japan.

Medvedev also said Russia was dismayed by the Czech Republic signing on Tuesday a missile shield treaty with the U.S., but added that Russia was ready for further talks.

Whether this is more of the new Medvedev-Putin good cop-bad cop routine we’ll have to wait and see; Russia’s NATO envoy made a rather less measured statement:

Dmitry Rogozin… said the U.S.-Czech deal undermines Euro­pean security and pushes the world toward a new arms race.

“Missile defense systems in the Czech Republic and Po­land are a totally destabilizing element between the East and the West. The Czech authorities have surrendered their people to nuclear slaughter in favor of the interests of military and industrial groups,” he said.

The United States insists, of course, that the BMD deployments are meant to deal with rogue states, like Iran. The Russian’s don’t see it that way:

Russia, for example, sees the installations in Eastern Europe as containment aimed at them, not Iran..

It isn’t hard to understand why the Russian’s think this way. Just look at the maximum-ranged missile among those Iran has been (selectively) showing off lately:

A reasonable person might point out that the US cares about future threats; Iranian missile technology is unlikely to stand still.

But consider the Russian perspective. Their nuclear arsenal is in terrible shape. Their ballistic missile subs (the most survival platform for second-strike retaliation) barely ever leave port. While Putin has made plenty of noise about modernizing and repairing Russia’s nuclear deterrent–a development that the Pentagon has flogged a bit lately–there’s also significant evidence that this won’t amount to much for quite some time.

In other words, the US is expanding its BMD program–and seeking to place BMD installations in Europe–during a period in which it has significant advantages in nuclear weapons and reliable delivery capability. It isn’t hard to understand why the Kremlin might see the BMD proposals as amounting to a bid for first-strike dominance: even a limited BMD might be able to seriously undermine the deterrent value of a Russian second strike.

To get a taste of what a big deal this all is in Russia, one only need to peruse Russian news sources. Consider this report in RIA Novosti: “U.S. may secretly deploy ballistic missiles in Poland – expert“.

The U.S. may station intermediary and shorter-range ballistic missiles in Poland under the guise of interceptors, a Russian expert said Thursday.

Moscow has strongly opposed the possible deployment by the United States of 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic as a threat to its security and nuclear deterrent. Washington says the defenses are needed to deter possible strikes from “rogue states.”

Alexander Pikayev, head of the disarmament and conflict resolution department at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations, said there is no way of verifying that the U.S. will really deploy interceptor missiles with conventional warheads.

“These missiles look very much like intermediary and shorter-range ballistic missiles,” he said.

He said that if Russian military officers were not given access to U.S. missile-defense facilities in Central Europe, Russia would be unable to verity what types of missiles were located in silos on Polish soil.

“Therefore, we should make a worst-scenario assumption that ballistic missiles with a very short target approach time will be deployed,” he said, adding it would be naive to believe that U.S. missile-defense elements will not be included in the list of Russia’s legitimate targets.

“This is inevitable, and both the Czech Republic and Poland must know it,” the expert said.

Seem absurd? Well, the Russians have a lot of reasons to distrust the United States: from the US decision–despite promises made at the end of the Cold War–to expand NATO up to the Russian border, to the Orange Revolution, to US support for Georgia, the US has done little to inspire warm and fuzzy feelings in Russia. And a lot of Russians still feel betrayed by what they consider a failure by the US to provide promised assistance in the 1990s.

But there’s also a simpler explanation. The Russians probably ask themselves what they would do if they were in America’s shoes. And you can damn well bet that, if the situation were reversed, the Russians would be seeking first-strike dominance… and working on the best way to hide them some nuclear missiles in BMD sites.

UPDATE: Does the Russian Foreign Ministry read the Duck? I doubt it, but they clearly looked at some maps:

The results of recent Iranian missile tests prove that US plans for a defence shield in Europe are unnecessary, says Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

He said the tests confirmed Tehran had missiles with a limited range of up to 2,000km (1,240 miles).

And what conclusion does Lavrov draw? Not a particularly surprising one:

“We continue to be convinced of the invented nature of discussions about the Iranian rocket threat as a motive for the deployment of the missile shield in Europe,” Lavrov said after talks with Jordanian Foreign Minister Salaheddin Al-Bashir.

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Base bargaining in the shadow of the 2008 election

Social-choice theory (or, in this context, public-choice theory) suggests that leaders sign international agreements as a way of “locking in” their preferred policies. Once a state signs such an agreement, the logic goes, future leaders will face greater costs if they want to change their predecessors’ policies.

It doesn’t take a fancy degree to recognize that’s what the Bush Administration has been up to in a number of arenas. Iraq is one of the most important, which is why they can’t be pleased that Maliki has, apparently, demanded a timetable for a US withdrawal from Iraq.

Iraq will not accept any security agreement with the United States unless it includes dates for the withdrawal of foreign forces, the government’s national security adviser said on Tuesday.

The comments by Mowaffaq al-Rubaie underscore the U.S.-backed government’s hardening stance toward a deal with Washington that will provide a legal basis for U.S. troops to operate when a U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year.

On Monday, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appeared to catch Washington off-guard by suggesting for the first time that a timetable be set for the departure of U.S. forces under the deal being negotiated, which he called a memorandum of understanding.

Rubaie said Iraq was waiting “impatiently for the day when the last foreign soldier leaves Iraq”.

“We can’t have a memorandum of understanding with foreign forces unless it has dates and clear horizons determining the departure of foreign forces. We’re unambiguously talking about their departure,” Rubaie said in the holy Shi’ite city of Najaf.

Dr. iRack argues that:

This reflects Maliki’s newfound (over)confidence in the ISF as well as the growing Iraqi public sentiment against a long-term U.S.-Iraqi pact occurring outside the context of a time horizon for withdrawal.

Another possibility, of course, is that Maliki is (also) playing a signaling game of one kind or another.

1. Given how contentious the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) negotiations have been, this seems like a pretty good way to increase the pressure on the Bush Administration. Both sides know that the Administration may be running out of time to get the kind of deal they’d like to see between the US and Iraq, as the odds right now favor an Obama victory in November. Maliki’s statement also has political ramifications in the United States, and he may very well know it.

2. Any agreement will likely stoke nationalist sentiment in Iraq, as even a favorable SOFA will involve concessions of Iraqi sovereignty to the United States. Iraqi officials might be hoping that strong rhetoric on their part, and floating a parallel agreement for US “troop withdrawals” (whatever that means in practice), will provide them with some political insulation if and when the SOFA is finalized.

3. The Iraqi government almost certainly doesn’t want a total withdrawal of US forces. They are increasingly overconfident in their own forces; the US presence now most strongly serves Sunni interests. But the Iraqis also probably recognize that (a) they can’t defend the territorial integrity of Iraq on their own and (b) the US presence reduces the revenue and resources they need to divert towards defense and security. It is possible (albeit unlikely–or not so unlikely), therefore, that this is a very public signal towards the Obama camp, and the American electorate, at a point when Iraq policy has dominated the election news cycle for the last week or so.

Meanwhile, the US just secured a deal with the Czechs for BMD deployment:

The United States and the Czech Republic signed a treaty on Tuesday allowing Washington to build part of a missile defense shield in the central European state despite opposition from its former Cold War master Russia.

The deal to create a radar station southwest of Prague was marred by a failure to seal a corresponding pact with Poland, where Washington wants to put 10 interceptor rockets that would be guided by the Czech site (the Russians, predictably enough, aren’t happy either).

The deal is wildly unpopular in the Czech Republic:

he shield still faces hurdles, including heavy opposition in the Czech Republic, a country of 10.4 million that the Soviets occupied for two decades after invading in 1968.

It also faces obstacles to ratification in the Czech parliament, where the government has just 100 seats in the 200-seat chamber. Some deputies say they will oppose it along with the Social-Democrat opposition in a vote that could come after a new U.S. administration takes over in January.

An opinion poll last month showed 68 percent of Czechs were against the shield, while only 24 percent supported it.

Negotiations with the Poles, meanwhile, have stalled over the amount the US is willing to pay in rent (the US doesn’t officially pay “rent” as part of its basing and access agreements, but that line doesn’t fool anyone).

The Bush administration is trying to arrange deals with the young democratic governments in the host nations before President Bush leaves office in January.

The proposed U.S. missile defense system calls for a tracking radar in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles in Poland.

Talks with Poland had bogged down recently over Polish demands for billions of dollars worth of U.S. military aid, in part to deter a possible strike from a peeved Russia.

Moscow has threatened to aim its own missiles at any eventual base in Poland or the Czech Republic.

Flying to Prague, Rice said she had laid out the U.S. position at a hastily called meeting in Washington with Poland’s foreign minister. She would not go into details, but Poland is trying to sweeten or shore up U.S. pledges for millions in additional U.S. military aid. Rice said she explained what the United States can do and that the matter now rests with others for further discussion.

The immediate question is whether the deal with the Czechs will put pressure on the Poles to accept whatever is on the table.

On a final note, the politics of US basing remains one of the least-developed research agendas in contemporary security studies. Alex Cooley and I have a piece in peer-review limbo on the subject, but readers should check out his excellent bookon US bases and democratization in host countries.

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