spokesman for Czech President Vaclav Klaus, fielded questions on July
19 from Radio Farda's Maryam Manzoori about the antimissile shield.
RFE/RL: When did the U.S. government and Czech Republic decide that it was important to construct a missile-defense shield in Central Europe?
Tomas Klvana: It started in the early years of this century with very preliminary contacts between the Czech and U.S. governments. We're talking roughly 2002, under one of the Social Democratic governments here in the Czech Republic. But more intense contacts then continued throughout 2005 when American teams of experts visited the Czech Republic and were in touch with the experts at the Czech Ministry of Defense.
There were three military training areas in question at that time, and they were narrowing it down to one -- which is the final place right now, the military training area [at] Brdy. The U.S. government then analyzed the situation here and they sent a special diplomatic note asking the Czech government to seriously consider participating in the missile-defense shield -- and that happened in February 2007.
Since then, we have official talks on the expert level and the political talks, political negotiations. The substantive negotiations will start either in August or in September of this year.
It has to be negotiated between the two governments, and then whatever comes out of the negotiations -- which basically means two presidential-level treaties. That doesn't mean it will have to be signed by the two presidents, but that's the category of international law, understood by the Czech government. That will have to be ratified by both chambers of the Czech parliament and also signed by the president, and only then we can start with the preparatory work on the side, if that goes well. And that's not predetermined.
RFE/RL: Why it is that the Czech Republic should go ahead and host a U.S. radar base?
Klvana: I'm in charge of two areas. [The first is] communications strategy -- basically talking to the people and explaining to them why the government believes this is in the interest of the Czech Republic if you're able to conclude the negotiations with the Americans successfully. The government's initial position believes that all the arguments that the United States and other allies are using in favor of the missile defense are sound, and we believe that this is important for the protection for the Euro-Atlantic area [and] for Europe and the United States as well.
But of course the devil is in the details. We need to be able to negotiate fair and equitable agreements with the United States, and that will be our deciding factor. If we're able to do that and explain it to the Czech parliament, then we'll participate.
RFE/RL: Several officials, including U.S. President George W. Bush, have claimed this radar system to be a front against the missile threat posed by rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea. North Korea is in the middle of talks to dismantle its nuclear facilities. How big do you consider the threat from the Iranian side?
Klvana: We always argue that the missile-defense shield will be based on capability, not on threats from specific countries. It's capability-based defense, which means that it will and is supposed to protect the continent, the European continent, and the United States from anyone who would threaten it with single ballistic missiles or several ballistic missiles. It cannot protect the area, for example, from an attack by using hundreds or thousands of these missiles -- like for example [the] Russian or Chinese [possess], because that is in their capability.
We're talking theory; we're talking [about] something that will never happen. But this is not aimed against any specific country. It's aimed against unstable areas, possibly terrorist groups in the future, if they were able to acquire the ballistic-missile technology and nuclear weapons or any other weapons of mass destruction. We need to be protected against that.
At this time, none of those countries, of course, has the capability of reaching Central and Western Europe with those missiles, [or] the United States. But they're working on that capacity. We know that Iran is developing longer-range ballistic missiles. We have to ask why they need this [capability]. And we also know that there are at least 25 or 30 countries in the world that are working on improving their ballistic-missile capabilities. So we need to be protected.
Europe and the U.S. have to be protected against any kind of threat in the future -- in 10, 20, 25 years. I don't know what's going to happen in North Africa, what's going to happen in the Middle East, what sort of threats we'll be facing. But we want to be sure that we'll be protected against any kind of threat with these single ballistic missiles.
RFE/RL: Iran's nuclear activities were not started recently. Iran's nuclear activities have been around for years. Why you decided to have this missile shield at this point in time?
Klvana: Well, we believe that Iran possibly will be capable of reaching or having the capability of striking Western Europe and later even the U.S. with intercontinental ballistic missiles. Those threats are estimated at about 2015. If everything goes well, the missile-defense shield will be ready and operational about two [or] three years before that date.
So we don't believe that we're acting well ahead. We just want to be ahead of any kind of threat -- [or] possibly even to deter some of the terrorist groups or unstable or even rogue regimes from acquiring such capabilities and threatening us with such capabilities. This is only defense, nothing else. We don't want to threaten anyone else with that.
RFE/RL: About a year ago, Russia sold Tor-M1 missiles to Iran that were tested successfully by the Iranians. What is your opinion of Russia's behavior?
Klvana: We're not happy about that, of course, and the U.S. is not happy about that. But it's something that Russia does.
RFE/RL: What do you think of possible Russian participation in this matter of missile defense?
Klvana: We would love for them to participate. They have offers to participate in several ways. The Americans have been talking with them for several years on this. There were several specific offers to participate on this. Recently, President Bush sent a letter to Putin suggesting that a group of experts be created both from Russian and American experts, and they'll be studying some of these proposals. And they might become complementary to the European side.
We don't know how serious [the] Russians are because they have not responded, at least to my knowledge recently. They have not responded to these proposals in any specific way. But we hope that eventually Russia will understand that this is not aimed against Russia; and, if they participate, it would only enlarge the zone of stability and protection in Europe and the greater Euro-Asian region.
RFE/RL: According to polls in the Czech Republic, 65 percent of the population disagrees with the implementation of the missile shield on Czech soil. How do you justify the government's interest in this project [in light of] negative public opinion?
Klvana: I believe that the steadily negative public opinion about the radar is due to several factors. One is emotional. We're talking about maybe 100 foreign troops, foreign troops stationed on Czech territory; and this country, of course, doesn't have good memories of foreign troops being stationed in Czech lands.
This is an emotional argument, of course. From the rational point of view, it makes absolutely no sense because we're talking about allies and friends; and if they're invited, they'll be invited by the Czech parliament. This is very different from any other foreign troops being present in the Czech lands in the past. But there are still people who remember the Russian or German troops. They don't have good emotional attachments to that kind of -- you know, they envision foreign troops in that kind of way, they cannot imagine any other type of military cooperation. So this is mostly about emotion management on our part. Although we also have to use rational argumentation.
The other reason is that the government has overslept a bit, and should have started the active participation -- especially in the public-explanation process and public diplomacy -- much earlier than it has started. My office was started only about a month ago. I'm in charge of public communications, but also of developing and executing the legislative strategy -- which means that I'll be talking to the Czech [lawmakers] and senators, and I'll be explaining to them the government position and trying to get their support. Such an office should have been established a few months ago. We have serious catching-up to do now.
There are opposition groups, some of them funded from abroad, who are spreading all kinds of disinformation and myths about the radar -- for example, that the radar is harmful for health and the environment. None of this is true. We have serious scientific information available that we'll communicate to the public. But that's reaction; we have to react; we have to be in a position of being able to make a positive argument, and I hope we'll be able to do it during the fall.
RFE/RL: A large number of Czechs don't have a problem with the radar base if it is under the NATO umbrella.
Klvana: These are bilateral negotiations, but we also consult very closely with our allies in NATO. As you know, the Washington treaty, Article 3, enables us to develop any defense system between any two countries of NATO that then can be used for the entire alliance. So we are fully in compliance with the Washington treaty.
We want this system to be part of the entire NATO defense architecture as soon as possible. So we are basically in agreement with our friends in the [Czech] Green Party and also with some [opposition] Social Democrats that want this to be part of the NATO structure. Some of those people, however, don't understand how NATO works. NATO has no army, no NATO armaments; they have no NATO tanks, no NATO missiles. Everything is in the possession of individual nation-states that are part of NATO.
And so I believe [that] in the future this is going to work, and that is our goal, that this is complementary with other systems within NATO -- that, for example, the radar and whatever the radar is able to see and calculate at the same time in real time be part of the picture in the Czech Army headquarters and in the NATO headquarters, not just in Colorado Springs [home to Cheyenne Mountain Air Station and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), a component of America's missile-defense system].
But as far as I understand, [the] radar, from the very beginning, has been constructed so that it is and it will be compatible fully with any operational structure of NATO. So there is absolutely no substantive operational or technical dissonance, there is only [the] political issue that has to be resolved by NATO states. In that regard, I think the last round of defense-minister talks about this has been encouraging. They decided to study this issue seriously, and there will be more important developments on this next year in Bucharest during the NATO summit.
Missile Defense: Not In My Backyard?
AN RFE/RL VIDEO PRESENTATION: The Czech Republic responds to the U.S. missile-defense proposal.