Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Lithuania looks to sign up for US missile shield

It looks increasingly likely that Baltic nation Lithuania has signed up to take on the US’s missile interceptor shield. The system is part of the US’s belligerent offensive policy and they have already threatened to use it on Iran. The US has already signed a deal with the Czech Republic to one half of its missile interceptor system and was initially dealing with Poland to site the second half. But after talks stalled with the Polish government, Lithuania moved in.

Poland President Donald Tusk wanted $1 billion in compensation for hosting the missile shield but Washington baulked at this demand. The US put a deadline of mid July for Poland to lower their price but Tusk has shown no interest in changing the Polish position. He said the American proposals were not satisfactory from a Polish perspective. “The United States, our ally, is completely free to make decisions,” he said. “We have the rights and we will exercise the right to formulate our own conditions, our expectations.”

Now it seems the US have found a willing alternative in Vilnius. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates travelled to Lithuania in February for a NATO meeting and has since met Prime Minister Kirkilas to discuss the shield deal. Pentagon press secretary, Geoff Morrell, said Lithuania was willing to consider hosting the interceptors” But he said the US preference was still to work out a deal with the Poles. “But prudent planning requires that we simultaneously look at backups, if necessary,” he said. “Lithuania would geographically serve as a good alternative.”

Polish diplomats were in Washington on Monday still aiming to hammer out a deal. Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorki met Condoleeza Rice to talk about hosting the interceptors a day before she was due to fly to Prague to sign the Czech end of the deal (an early warning radar). Sikorski wants to use the billion dollars he hopes the US will pay in order to modernise Polish air defences. He played coy with the media after the meeting saying the deal was still on track. Asked if he could salvage a deal, Sikorski said, "There is no need to salvage, because talks have continued all along and will continue."

The US insists the missile interceptor system is for dealing with what it euphemistically calls “rogue nations”. However nearby Russia is unimpressed. It rightly argues that if the intended target is supposedly Iran, then the missile site should be in Turkey or somewhere else nearby. Russia says the real purpose of the shield is to neutralise the Russian nuclear arsenal, and tilt the nuclear balance which exists in Europe in favour of Washington. New President Dmitri Medvedev criticised the shield on a recent visit to Berlin. He said American military expansion worried Moscow and could destroy relations between East and West "in a radical way, for a long time".

Lithuania, meanwhile, would need very little encouragement to rattle Moscow. Even before independence in 1990, then Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis needed very little prodding to provoke the Soviet Union. Gorbachev wrote in his memoirs how the Soviets acknowledged Lithuania’s right to self-determination and the desire to leave the Union. But, they were not interested in Gorbachev’s request to “respect legal procedures and a proper timetable for the divorce”. His heirs appear to want to continue to thumb their nose at its big neighbour, and likely at a much cheaper price than the Poles.

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