Polls Show More Support for Missile Defense in Poland Than Czech Republic

By | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Prague (CNSNews.com) - Opinion polls indicate a marked difference in levels of support for Washington's planned ballistic missile defense (BMD) shield between the citizens of the two Central European countries where the proposed system would be located.

While 58 percent of Pole respondents in a recent poll supported the BMD plan, in the neighboring Czech Republic, 51 percent of the poll's respondents said they were against it.

The poll was conducted by the U.S. Opinion Research Corporation and sponsored by the non-profit Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance (MDAA). It surveyed approximately 1,000 people in each of the two countries.

The proposed system, which the Pentagon says aims to defend the U.S. and Europe against the threat of missile attack from countries like Iran, entails the deployment of a radar station in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland.

Russia strongly opposes the deployment of a BMD system in the two countries, which were formerly under Soviet domination but joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004.

MDAA President Riki Ellison was quoted in Czech media as saying that there is a lack of information on the issue and that the approval rates are higher among people who are well informed about the plan.

Fifty-seven percent of Czech respondents were not convinced that the BMD plan would improve the security of their country. By contrast, 67 percent of those in Poland said the BMD system would contribute to strengthening NATO.

Although the majority of Czechs are opposed to the radar installation, according to the poll, 58 percent of respondents said negotiations between Washington and Prague over the issue should continue. Seventy percent of Poles surveyed were in favor of future talks.

The chief Czech negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Tomas Pojar, told the newspaper Hospodarske Noviny that although 60 to 70 percent of the population opposes the radar, the same proportion expects the government to secure their safety against all kinds of threats, including a missile attack.

After holding talks with a delegation from the U.S. Congress, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said over the weekend that negotiations with U.S. officials on the construction of the proposed radar base were proceeding. He said some obstacles had been removed, but did not elaborate.

According to the Czech Press Agency, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is to visit the country next month for further talks on the issue.

Meanwhile, six leftist parties in Central Europe issued a joint statement calling for a moratorium on more ballistic missiles being located in the region.

The statement, issued following a meeting in Prague, was reportedly drawn up by German and Austrian socialists and was signed by representatives of Social Democrat or other left-wing parties in Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia and Slovenia.

It calls Russia an important partner in Europe and argues that Moscow should be consulted over the BMD plan.

Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Vondra called the declaration "political theater" aimed at influencing public opinion. He noted the role played by Germans, whose country is both a NATO ally and host of American military bases.

Earlier, the Czech press reported that another prominent Social Democrat, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, warned during a visit to Moscow against steps that could provoke Russia.

During his final weeks in office in 2005, Schroeder signed an agreement between Germany and Russia to build a pipeline under the Baltic Sea to supply Russian gas directly to Germany. The former chancellor later accepted a post as head of the shareholders' committee in a Russian-led consortium involved in the project, controlled by Gazprom.

Schroeder's comment echoes earlier reaction by Austrian Defense Minister Norbert Darabos, who called the anti-missile plan a provocation.

The statement triggered a flurry of criticism here, with many suspecting that vested economic interests and dependency on Russian energy supplies were the main factors behind opposition to the BMD plan.

The MDAA-commissioned poll shows that the people in the Czech Republic are well aware of Russia's opposition -- 81 percent of respondents know about it, although 65 percent said they did not feel influenced by Moscow's stance.

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