Europe & world

Central and Eastern Europe: Taking charge of our own security

24 September 2009
Presseurop

We'll see about that shield later. Romanian soldiers on NATO exercises in Novo Selo, Bulgaria, in 2006. Photo : www.skyscrapercity.com

The countries of Central and Eastern Europe feel betrayed by the Obama administration's decision to scrap plans for a missile defence shield. However, the European press argues that this disappointment should herald a rethink in military strategy.

It is time for a review of defence policy. Washington's scrapping of plans for a missile defence shield in Europe has unnerved certain Central and Eastern European countries, which are increasingly worried about the potential threat of Russia – but it will also force them to think creatively about their future security. "Having joined the European Union and NATO, Romania neglected relations with neighbouring countries that do not belong to the transatlantic alliance," points out Adevarul. Bucharest's political relations with Russia are poorly defined, and collaboration with Moldova and Ukraine is at a standstill." As for Turkey, Adevarul remarks that diplomatic relations have not kept pace with the rapid development of trade, and remain "disastrous" from a political point of view.

The need for a common European strategy

The Bucharest daily further notes that “the new direction in American policy should pave the way for a fresh approach to relations with Russia,“ and a new role for Romania. “In view of its strategic position in the region, Romania should establish itself as a promoter of regional cooperation,“ which Adevarul believes would relaunch the BSEC (Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation). In conclusion it argues that "if the EU, NATO and the United States consider Russia to be a regional and global power, it is clear that active cooperation with Russia on every level is crucial for the stability and security of the Black Sea region."

In the Czech Republic, Respekt takes the view that politicians and the general public ought not interpret Obama's decision as betrayal. As commentator Jan Macháček explains, "We could speak of betrayal if America had ceased to honour its obligations to NATO. However, this is not the case." Also in the columns of Respekt, Tomáš Lindner argues that until now, the dream of a special partnership between the US, the Czech Republic and Poland has sidelined the issue of European defence policy. "Now, Polish and Czech politicians will be obliged to participate in a common European strategy," which Lindner believes will constitute "a more logical response to ongoing risks and potential dangers in the future." And because the conflict between American, Russian and European spheres of influence is also present in the field of energy, "it is up to us [the Czechs] to invest in alternative gas pipelines that will limit our reliance" on Moscow.

Let's stop talking about failure

In Warsaw, Andrzej Talaga insists that it is important to look at the wider context of Obama's decision. The editor of Dziennik Gazeta Prawna takes the view that Warsaw has everything to gain from the solution proposed by Washington as an alternative to the missile defence shield. Up until now, Poland had no defence against Russia's short- and medium-range missiles. The mobile missile defence systems promised by Obama will make up for this lack. He further argues that "it is in Poland's best interest to encourage America to establish the new anti-missile defences as soon as possible. Moscow has no objection, and these systems will be more advantageous to Poland than the project proposed by Bush. We have had enough talk of  'setbacks', let's turn this into a success."

Writing in the weekly Tygodnik Powszechny, Olaf Osica argues that America's decision to set aside the Bush project "which reinforced existing divisions in Europe," indicates that the new administration "aims to develop political initiatives in the region and elsewhere," and the future deployment of mobile missiles on land and sea will reassert its strategic dominance. The situation "is not as bad as the pessimists claim," concludes the weekly. The change of plan "should encourage us to take stock of our situation," even if this auto-critique "fails to materialize."