This article was last modified on July 18, 2008.

Empire Strikes First: Poland

Imagine waking up and finding military men walking the streets of your city. Would you find this even more disconcerting if these men were soldiers from another country — say, Iraq or Russia? Yet, for many nations throughout the world, seeing foreign soldiers is not out of the ordinary. America maintains active bases all over the globe, with more being assembled in Iraq as you read this. If the American government has its way, the next military installation may be in an unlikely place: Poland.

America and Poland began discussions early last year — although informal talks go back to 2002 — concerning placing ten missile interceptors in northern Poland, allegedly to protect the United States and Europe from potential attacks from Iran and other “rogue states” or “non-state actors”. A microwave radar facility, designed to track incoming missiles, would be placed in the Czech Republic — at a location that was once a concentration camp and former Nazi base. The leader of the early negotiations was John C. Rood, with the ironic title of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation. Yes, America’s position is that the best way to reduce nuclear weapons is to create more weapons bases.

Warsaw has been lobbying American officials to provide a Patriot-type air defense system, on top of the proposed system, in exchange for a Polish acceptance of hosting the silos. Their concern is that the current agreement only protects them from long-range missiles and leaves them defenseless against short or mid-range projectiles.

Russia objects to the anti-missile shield plan, saying it will threaten Russian national security and potentially violates past treaties. Moscow has warned that it will target its missiles at the system if it is deployed in Poland. One Russian missile is capable of carrying ten warheads, more than enough power to make the defense shield completely impotent. These threats sound hostile, and they are, but are not surprising rhetoric if one considers how America would react to a Russian missile defense shield in Mexico or Canada. Ultimately, it may not be Russia’s national security that is threatened, but our own.

The Polish people, who are generally pro-American and have been firm supporters in Afghanistan and Iraq, are divided on the shield, with slightly more against it. According to Professor Donald Pienkos, a specialist in Polish politics at UW-Milwaukee, “A recent survey showed 46 percent opposed, 42 percent for.” For Pienkos, a key issue overlooked is whether Poland’s allies are in favor of the system. He reminds me that “this arrangement is between the U.S., Poland and the Czech Republic. But both Poland and the Czech Republic are not only NATO allies with the United States, they are also members of the European Union. It’s my sense that whatever arrangement Poland makes should also be supported by its fellow EU member states.”

The Czech Republic has already approved their part of the deal, despite a majority — 67% — of their citizens opposing it. The vice-chairman of the Czech Green Party, Ondrej Lisko, shares their sentiment, reminding the world that the “US should know by now that unilateralism has proved counter-productive”.

One country with a different outlook on military presence is Ecuador, where the president has vowed to remove an American base whose lease is set to expire in 2009. “We’ll renew the base on one condition: that they let us put a base in Miami — an Ecuadorean base… If there’s no problem having foreign soldiers on a country’s soil, surely they’ll let us have an Ecuadorean base in the United States,” said President Rafael Correa. Correa’s reasonable trade has drawn criticism from those who find the base necessary for drug surveillance. However, no other South American country hosts a North American base. Why must Ecuador?

If the goal is to stop drugs from entering America, one presumes the most effective way is to examine shipments entering American ports rather than intercept boats in Panama or in international waters. But this is precisely what we do not do, as former governor Tommy Thompson pointed out in 2004, when referring to the lack of inspectors. “For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do,” he lamented. Diverting the funds from a failed drug war in South America to inspections of our ports would not only reduce illegal drug imports, but stop tainted food, toys and other commodities from entering our country.

Placing military installations in foreign countries undermines the sovereignty of those nations and weakens our security by inviting attacks upon our occupying troops. If Iran is the threat, the best way to avoid an Iranian attack is to remain on guard at home, outside the range of Iranian missiles. John McCain has pledged to support and continue the missile defense program if elected president, which would be a grave mistake. Barack Obama, as of this writing, has not made his opinion as clear. In one instance, he declared he “will cut investments in unproven missile defense systems” and at another time he said “If we can responsibly deploy missile defenses that would protect us and our allies we should — but only when the system works.” The implication is that he supports the Polish shield, but leaves open a wide enough gap to back out of any solid commitment. What we do know is that no one was more right than President Eisenhower when he warned us about the growing military-industrial complex. Rather than heed his advice, we’ve only been accelerating down the wrong path. This project must be dismantled before it has a chance to even be built.

Update, Haiti: Dr. Maureen Murphy, the founder of the Haiti Medical Mission of Wisconsin, contacted me after last month’s article. She tells me how the “devastating poverty” in Haiti has reached a critical level to the point that “many can’t even afford mud cakes (mud mixed with small amounts of oil and sugar)”. Murphy’s organization has helped build a clinic and surgical center, and is currently in the process of building an eye clinic. For more information on the organization and how you can help, please be sure to check out

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