Poles see U.S. missile shield as insurance. Are they right?
It is hard not to view Poland’s decision to accept the U.S. missile shield in the context of tensions over Georgia – a point Russia, which loathes the project, was quick to make.
And although Warsaw and Washington dismiss the idea and diplomats say a compromise on the long-negotiated deal was hammered out before Russia’s intervention in the Caucasus, there is no smoke without fire.
The fact is that most Poles and other central Europeans reacted with alarm to the Russian invasion of Georgia because it revived often bitter memories of the iron-fisted Soviet rule of the region after World War Two.
Since the events in Georgia, polls clearly show a turnaround in public opinion in Poland from apprehension to enthusiasm for the shield.
But contrary to Moscow’s rhetoric that the 10 interceptors are seen here as a weapon against Russia, the swing in opinion reflects a shattering of a sense of security Poles enjoyed since joining the European Union and NATO in the past decade.
Suddenly close ties with the world’s largest superpower have gained in value and agreeing to host U.S. missile installations on Polish soil has become like buying an extra insurance policy in uncertain times.
Whether the rockets can indeed fly and intercept future Iranian missiles, as many experts doubt, seems to be of secondary importance to the Poles.
“I think Poland needs the shield – common sense dictates Poland needs to be closely linked with the United States,” said Jerzy Peszek, 61, an IT worker in Warsaw.
“The shield is a good decision in the context of the current global political situation, where Russia attacks Georgia,” echoed Emilia Pichta, 22, a student. “It can happen to us, too.”
For the Polish government such a mood is a godsend, admittedly with “made in Russia” printed all over it.
The government had bargained hard with the Americans and raised expectations that Poland would receive billions in return for hosting the shield.
The events in Georgia allowed Prime Minister Tusk to quietly abandon this approach and go back to the big-picture strategic view that finds favour with a majority of his countrymen.