Bill Steigerwald

Baker Spring, a national security research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, specializes in assessing the threat of ballistic missile strikes from Third-World countries and other U.S. national-security issues. On Thursday, Feb. 19, I called him at his office in Washington, D.C., to talk about general defense issues and the status of the ballistic missile defense installations that the United States wants to place in Poland and the Czech Republic to protect Western Europe from missile strikes from countries like Iran:

Q: President Obama's advisers are saying that they have no plans to carry out President Bush's plans to put up a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.

A: I think that's a little bit of an overstatement. I think what they are doing is signaling that they may under certain circumstances be willing to modify the program. What "modify" means is undefined.

Q: How far along did the Bush administration get with this plan?

A: Quite far along. The basic agreements for fueling the systems in both the Czech Republic and Poland have been signed. The agreement does not require Senate advice and consent on this side, but there are what would be the equivalent of ratification procedures that would pertain to the Czech Republic and Poland. It is perceived to be no political problem insofar as both the opposition and the ruling party in Poland are now on board . with the agreement. The Czech parliament -- because there is a very, very close division between the opposition and the ruling party -- is a little more problematic. In fact, they are delaying a little bit because there are issues about which party could ultimately end up being in control if one vote or another switches direction.

Q: The Russians are said to be infuriated by the plans of this missile defense installation, right?

A: Indeed they are, for reasons, in my judgment, that are not related to the system itself. ... Basically what they want to do, in my judgment, is drive a wedge between the United States and the newer members of the NATO alliance -- and any reinforcing bilateral arrangement, of which this missile defense program is one -- to get the United States to effectively concede that the Czech Republic and Poland and other states as well are within their sphere of influence and not NATO's.

Q: Why is it so important that this missile-defense installation go in?

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald, born and raised in Pittsburgh, is a former L.A. Times copy editor and free-lancer who also worked as a docudrama researcher for CBS-TV in Hollywood before becoming a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a columnist Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Bill Steigerwald recently retired from daily newspaper journalism..