On Friday, September 19, 2008, after an informal meeting of NATO members’ defence ministers, the U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the Czech Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova signed SOFA treaty (Status of Forces Agreement) on the conditions of the presence of the U.S. military troops in the Czech territory in connection with the planned stationing of a U.S. radar base in the Czech Republic.
The United States intend to build a radar base in the military district of Brdy, approx. 90km south of the capital city of Prague. Together with a base for interceptor missiles in the territory of Poland, the elements of the missile defence shield are to protect the United States and part of the European continent against missiles that might be launched by states like Iran.
The treaty’s text has 29 pages, a preamble and 34 articles. The final text of the SOFA was formulated after 16 months of bilateral negotiations. The SOFA and the main treaty on the U.S. radar (signed in July 2008 by the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg) are yet to be ratified by Czech Parliament, supposedly by the end of the year. The socialist opposition opposes the radar base and some coalition MPs have expressed reservations about its location in the Czech Republic. Recent opinion polls have shown the Czech public is overwhelmingly against the radar base (approx. about 70 percent). Due to the aforementioned, the fate of the SOFA ratification is quite uncertain.
Under the international treaty, the U.S. military and civilian personnel at the planned U.S. radar base will be within the jurisdiction of Czech courts with two exceptions. The exceptions refer to the criminal acts committed by Americans while on duty and their criminal acts against the security and property of the United States or any other U.S. personnel at the base (Articles XVIII. and XXIII.).
The Czech Republic keeps full sovereignty and ownership right to the area and any property built on the site by the U.S. armed forces will become the Czech Republic’s ownership upon completion. The treaty also deals in detail with the issue of taxes on U.S. suppliers. Tax exemption will only apply in a limited areas to the U.S. firms and their employees who pay a similar tax in the United States. Other suppliers and their staff will be subject to the Czech legislation.
The plan (i.e. the deployment of the radar system in the Czech Republic and Poland) is strongly opposed by Russia. The Russian ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin declared that it poses a threat to Russian national security. As the Ambassador also said, Russia is intending to take steps in reaction to the conclusion of the SOFA treaty. “I hope that the Czech parliament will be reasonable enough to rebut the risky venture,” he said, indicating that the construction of the radar base could affect Czech-Russian economic relations. Also other Russian officials strongly declared that the U.S. military installations in former Soviet satellites pose a threat Russian security.
General Nikolai Solovtsov, the commander of Russia’s strategic missile forces, was quoted by ITAR-Tass and Interfax recently as saying that he cannot rule out that “both the missile defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic and other similar facilities in the future could be designated as targets for our ICBMs,” or intercontinental ballistic missiles. General Solovtsov is also reported to have said that Russia could easily make new, upgraded versions of Russian intermediate-range missiles destroyed under the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, negotiated between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan in 1987.
Czech officials have repeatedly argued that the radar is purely defensive. It aims against individual long-range ballistic missiles from rogue states (such as Iran or Syria) or organizations and non-state actors that could acquire such weapons. Similarly, General Henry Obering, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, confirmed that the bases in Poland and the Czech Republic would be designed to intercept missiles being developed by Iran. Despite this fact, Russian Federation seems to view Poland, the Czech Republic and the U.S. as enemy nations.
The full text of the SOFA treaty was released by the Czech Ministry of Defence today.