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US Missile Plans Accelerate Defence Shield Debate At NATO

Last year NATO completed a feasibility study which concluded that Europe does face the threat of missile attack and that it is technically possible to build a defence system, but no action has been taken on it.
by Pascal Mallet
Brussels (AFP) March 15, 2007
US plans to install part of a missile shield in Europe, despite Russian hostility, have accelerated debate at NATO about developing a similar system, alliance diplomats say.

In a sign of developments, NATO and Russia will discuss the US shield -- to be set up in Poland, the Czech Republic and the Caucasus -- in two meetings on April 19 at the level of ambassadors and technical experts.

"These two meetings of the North Atlantic Council and NATO-Russia Council are important because experts from capital cities will, with the 26 ambassadors (27 with Russia), take stock for the first time," a NATO diplomat told AFP.

Until now, US officials have informed rather than consulted Russia, which is sceptical about Washington's real intentions, and the scheme is also reviving old worries in Europe.

"The deployment in Europe of an anti-missile system is raising as many fundamental questions as nuclear arms did at the time of the Cold War," a European diplomat said, on condition of anonymity.

"It could, like those times, change the strategic balance and alter the political climate."

Since January, the United States has been negotiating to build 10 interceptors in Poland to knock down missiles mid-flight at extremely high altitudes fired by "rogue states" like Iran.

The interceptors, which would not have an explosive war-head, would home in on information provided by a tracking station in the Czech Republic, as well as a forward operating radar at an undisclosed location in the Caucasus.

Last year NATO completed a feasibility study which concluded that Europe does face the threat of missile attack and that it is technically possible to build a defence system, but no action has been taken on it.

The diplomat said the US shield "influences relations across the Atlantic, relations between NATO and Russia, among the (NATO) allies themselves, and finally influences the system that NATO is studying separately."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted again this week that NATO was the forum to discuss the US plans, but most allies agree that it is a bilateral matter for the countries involved and not one to be debated at the alliance.

"There is a procedural problem. First the three countries must finish their discussions. Then NATO can study the question," a Spanish diplomat said.

In the meantime, diplomats say, the military alliance should analyse the ramifications that any future NATO missile shield might have, and ensure that all 26 member countries are protected.

Those are the threat analysis, the cost -- estimated at between 20 and 30 billion dollars (15-23 billion euros) -- and the dangers posed by falling debris or radioactivity, should a nuclear warhead be hit.

Other issues include how the US shield might be integrated into NATO's, what the rules of engagement would be and who would have final responsibility to press the launch button.

All these factors have made NATO extremely cautious about how it moves ahead because, as well as annoying Moscow, there could be important fallout if the system is "badly sold" to the public.

Some alliance members, Norway and Canada among them, have opposed making statements about the feasibility study for fear of panicking their publics, diplomats told AFP.

That was one of the reasons that NATO leaders quietly ordered in November a "general analysis" of the political and military implications of such a project, which will be discussed by alliance defence ministers in June.

This approach has annoyed countries like Britain and Denmark, which are already hosting part of the US system.

"It's a question that is dividing the alliance," one diplomat conceded, adding that "in the months to come we will have to make sure that no stone is left unturned" in this debate.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Czech Villagers Vote Against US Anti-Missile Defence Shield
Trokavec, Czech Republic (AFP) March 17, 2007
Inhabitants of a small Czech village voted overwhelmingly on Saturday against US plans to construct part of its anti-missile defence system on a nearby army base. Seventy-two out of 90 residents eligible to vote did so, and 71 voted against the plans and one for, Trokavec's mayor Jan Neoral told AFP.

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