SPIEGEL: Even though Warsaw and Prague signed a deal with the Bush administration, US President Barack Obama has called a halt to the construction of an American missile shield based in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Polish papers are calling it an American betrayal of Poland. Is it?
Aleksander Kwasniewski: No, and I am completely opposed to describing it as such. For myself and many others, it doesn't come as any surprise that the Americans have changed their plans. During Obama's election campaign, there had already been talk of how the security threat, the technological feasibility and the costs of the project needed to be reassessed.
SPIEGEL: Is it not a political defeat for Poland, though? The country was hoping for more than a strategic military involvement. The stationing of Americans in Poland would have brought investment and increased the importance of the country to America's foreign policy.
Click on the image below to launch a SPIEGEL ONLINE Flash animation of the missile shield system as originally planned.
Kwasniewski: Of course there are a lot of disappointed people, particularly in the conservative camp of the former Polish prime minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski. But I would warn them not to over-dramatize this decision from Washington. In terms of security, the Americans will come up with a different defense system, one that is more flexible and smarter. In political terms, what's important is that such a system should be better anchored within NATO structures. As members of that alliance this should be important to us.
SPIEGEL: In Poland people are saying things like the country has been sold out to Russia.
Kwasniewski: They shouldn't be saying things like that. What does that mean anyway, we have been sold? Our borders are secure, we are part of NATO and part of the European Union.
SPIEGEL: But Moscow is happy about the move.
Kwasniewski: Of course you could see Obama's decision as a triumph for the Russians. But you should not just judge this from a domestic perspective. The question now is: What will America expect in return for sacrificing their missile shield? If Moscow now moves to do more to stop Iran from arming itself with nuclear weapons, then that's useful for everyone's security. And if the price for doing without (the missile shield) was an easing of Georgia and Ukraine's path toward the West, then that isn't bad news either.
SPIEGEL: The former prime minister of the Czech Republic, Mirek Topolanek, is worried that this decision is just one more sign indicating that the entire region is losing its significance for Washington. Do you share his concerns?
Kwasniewski: I certainly do. Some time ago a group of other former heads of state, including (former Czech president) Vaclav Havel and myself, wrote an open letter talking about the danger of this. There is no denying that the Czech Republic and Poland have become less important. America's strategic interests lie elsewhere -- in the direction of the Pacific and in China's direction. In Europe the Americans care about the EU as a whole but not as much about the individual nations. The Americans say to themselves: Okay, it was only 20 years ago that these countries were fighting for their freedom and their security but these days they are no cause for concern. But I would disagree with that. Ukraine, Belarus, the countries in the Caucasus region -- you can't say that all the standards have been met there, that we should welcome these countries into the family of democratic nations or that we can all predict what the political future in those countries holds. That is why one of the most important tasks for European politicians is to make sure that this region remains uppermost in the minds of the Americans.
SPIEGEL: The Eastern Europeans have always tried hard to keep up a good relationship with the US. For instance, they aligned themselves with the Americans very early on during the Iraq war. At the time (former US Defense Secretary) Donald Rumsfeld spoke of an "old" Europe and a "new" Europe. Do you think the time has finally come when these divisions can be overcome?
Kwasniewski: I never found Rumsfeld's classification to be very useful. Poland has always been part of the old Europe. Today it is all about strengthening the European Union as a whole. We need to take a unified stand on issues of energy and security, especially when they pertain to relationships with America, with Russia and with China. The stronger Europe is, the better it is for us.