14th Apr 2024

France 'overstepped mandate' on missile shield moratorium

Prague and Warsaw have poured cold water on French calls for a moratorium on a planned US missile shield in Europe, with both capitals saying that president Nicolas Sarkozy overstepped his mandate.

"I don't think that third countries, even such good friends as France, can have a particular right to express themselves on this issue," Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on Saturday (15 November).

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  • At the NATO summit in Bucharest in April this year, the entire 26-nation Alliance - including France - backed the planned US missile shield in Europe (Photo: Wikipedia)

The Polish leader described Mr Sarkozy's comments as his "own point of view, [with] no impact of the future of the project," according to AFP, adding that "The question of the anti-missile shield is governed by an agreement between Poland and the United States."

A similar message came from the Czech republic, with the country's deputy prime minister Alexandr Vondra saying he was taken by surprise.

"France did not discuss its viewpoint with us ... As far as I know, the French presidency mandate for the EU-Russia summit did not contain a position on the US missile defence system," he said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy - currently chairing the 27-nation EU - had spoken alongside his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev on Friday (14 November), following the top level EU-Russia meeting in Nice.

He suggested that the EU, Russia and the US meet in mid-2009 in the framework of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe in order to lay foundations of future pan-European security. "Until then, please, no more talk about deployment of missile and anti-missile systems," the French leader said.

His remarks no doubt pleased the Russian ear.

Moscow sees US plans to place components of a missile shield in Poland and the Czech republic as a direct threat to its security and the broader military balance. Earlier this month, the Kremlin threatened to deploy short-range missiles in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave between Lithuania and Poland, if the shield gets up and running.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev defended the standpoint by saying at Friday's summit that "All [Russian] decisions were in response to the behaviour of nations in Europe, which without consulting anyone had agreed to deploy new systems on their own territory."

"It is better to have a global anti-missile system in which Russia also participates," he later suggested.

According to Mr Vondra - speaking to EUobserver - the Russians are currently testing the US president-elect the same way as Nikita Khrushchev once tested John F. Kennedy, while Prague continues to hope that neither the Europeans nor the Americans will fall into the trap.

The Czech deputy prime minister referred to the Cuban missile crisis of the early 1960s - a risky muscle-flexing exercise during the Cold War - when the Soviet Union stationed its weapons in Cuba in response to the deployment of US ballistic missiles in Turkey.

In addition, Mr Vondra pointed to the NATO summit in Bucharest in April this year, stressing that back then the entire 26-nation Alliance, including France, approved the US missile shield project.

The alliance was tasked to "develop options for a comprehensive missile defence architecture" - something that would allow a NATO-designed short and medium range missile defence system to be bolted onto the American one designed for protection from long range attacks.

The fresh comments by France "differ" from the NATO summit conclusions, Mr Vondra said.

Speaking in Washington on Saturday (15 November), French President Nicolas Sarkozy seemed to back down from his previous comments. "Every country is sovereign to decide whether it hosts an anti-missile shield or not," he was cited as saying by AFP.

But it still remains to be seen how the US project in Central Europe will progress under the new White House chief, Barack Obama, who enters office on 20 January. The Democrat is surrounded by people questioning the military efficiency of the system.

"We don't expect, even for political reasons, any revolution but of course, the new president will take a new look and we know what the position of the president-elect is. He told me that he wanted to make sure the thing worked," Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski said last Friday.

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