Mismanaging Missile Defense

Missile defense has suddenly emerged as a divisive issue in Europe. Rather than enhancing European security, the Bush administration’s plan to deploy elements of a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic threatens to increase strains with Russia and deepen divisions with America’s European allies, particularly those in Eastern Europe, where support for US polices has been strongest.

The growing opposition to the US missile defense deployment is rooted in the way in which America has managed – or rather mismanaged – the presentation of its deployment plans.

First, US officials did not lay the political and psychological groundwork for deployment. They assumed that Czech and Polish leaders – who were strongly pro-American – would willingly agree to deployment, and that public opinion in both countries would go along with whatever the governments decided.

But America failed to develop a coherent public rationale for its planned deployment of a system designed to destroy a missile fired by a rogue regime. As a result, the Czech and Polish governments were unable to answer fundamental questions about the costs and benefits of the deployment for Polish and Czech national security. This allowed skeptics and opponents of missile defense to gain the upper hand in the internal debates in both countries.