Antony Adolph: A Missile Shield by Any Other Name





No one wants to sit on a sofa that's uncomfortable for too long, so why would Eastern Europeans, let alone the world? The 'SOFA' in question (a Status of Forces Agreement, regulating military bases and personnel abroad) with the U.S. is as far from the Ikea-seating kind as possible, except metaphorically. Nevertheless, Poland was left standing in its regards until December 10, 2009 after the latest round of their military negotiations, the end of which was announced December 4. What will transpire is likely to be highly indicative of President Obama's Eastern European and global military strategies to come.

An agreement was announced by both Polish and U.S. high officials about the types, quantities and locations of advanced missile launchers and projectiles to be stationed in Poland. But they left two lecherously lingering questions about President Obama's global military goals as compared to his predecessor, particularly as to how different or similar they actually are and are likely to be. Campaign rhetoric and first Presidential steps are seemingly turning into a bait and switch. Having inked a SOFA deal with Poland, the Czech republic will be next, according to official sources, with the environmental summit in Copenhagen acting as an inconvenient cover. Romania’s contested elections make for fertile grounds for intervention, if they are not already the result.

[Antony Adolf, author of Peace: A World History (Polity Press, Wiley Distributor) is publisher and host of One World, Many Peace: Current Events Creating the Future, Blog and Podcast.]

The first question is to what extent the missile deployments to Poland contravene Obama's celebrated decision to shut down President George W. Bush's European missile shield earlier this year. The decision to shelve the widely contentious program was welcomed by Russia's premier, the primary opponent to Bush's plan because of its stationing in former Soviet satellites. If saving Russia face is the goal, doing it at the expense of local hosts is too high a cost because of potential “blowback,” the official CIA term for missions that come back to haunt, like Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. The response of the intended host countries was mixed at best and grudging at worst: there's more than just a bit of money and might involved in hosting U.S. Military bases, setting aside for a moment the equally tremendous costs.

At the time of the announcement, I optimistically heralded Obama's bold move as ushering in a new period of global détente. There certainly could have been if he wasn't proving so keen on taking back door measures to achieve front line military objectives, as with Poland and the Czech republic. Toying with the type, quantity and locations of missile launchers so that they do not constitute a 'shield' is smokescreening of the first order and needs immediate unmasking as such. Whether Patriot missiles, SM-3, here or there: a weapon by any other name is still as deadly, and its supporting staff still as damaging, in this case a missile shield and the U.S. soldiers stationed to man and if need be launch them.

The second major question in regards to Polish military cooperation are the terms of the SOFA itself. Such agreements have generally been the bane of countries that host U.S. military operations because of their blatant and seemingly incontrovertible double standards for U.S. military personnel and locals, even when they come with considerably bounty. All but a few of the 800 or so U.S. Bases worldwide have SOFAs in place, usually considered a prerequisite for the military and its civilian contractor entourage to move in. The latter often have even less accountability than the former, and a large part are employees of Halliburton subsidiaries.

American bases in Okinawa, for example, are among the most longstanding and most visible stain along these lines, as rapes, destruction of private property and environmental and noise pollution (among other crimes) by U.S. personnel have gone unpunished because they are unpunishable according to the SOFA in place. These are, to be polite, blemishes upon the brave and diligent record of American soldiers abroad who work and play by the rules. Thousands of violations like these are reported at U.S. bases yearly, from drunken brawls to prisoner abuse and torture, the last of which Obama also pledged to end as one of his first Presidential acts. If the missiles are a first Presidential take-back, will torture under the SOFA be a second?

Arguably the most astutely critical scholar of SOFAs globally, Chalmers Johnson, may contend that because SOFAs and the bases or installations they cover are inextricably tied to each other as to stipulations of jurisdiction, both should rejected outright. I think that being able to intercept missiles launched by rogue states and terrorists (nuclear or otherwise) is a reasonable and pragmatic proposition, need not be linked to a shield-in-disguise, and can be operated by locals with sufficient training and cooperation. If the U.S. believes it can do something similar on the level of a country (namely, 'train' Iraqi and Afghan police forces and government officials), surely it can in a militarily-secured area of a few square miles.

A foreign U.S. Base operated entirely by locals would bypass the need for a traditional SOFA, preserve Obama's "good guy" image to Bush's "bad" domestically and internationally, and limit the downsides for Eastern Europeans while maximizing the upsides. For better or worse, the world does not yet have a global police system other than the either barbarously zealous or immorally reluctant U.S., depending on who is in charge. I have argued elsewhere that NATO should be put under a reformed U.N. command. But doing so is unlikely to transform SOFAs into comfortable couches armed forces and locals alike can sit on together until the raison d’être of military bases abroad are addressed to the point of disappearance.



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