Allies Fear U.S. Project May Renew Arms Race

By ELIZABETH BECKER, November 22nd 1999

WASHINGTON -- A senior State Department official flew to NATO headquarters this week to defend the administration's plans to deploy a national missile defense system in the face of growing criticism from European allies who say their security is being threatened.

Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott met with NATO members' representatives in Brussels, explaining American intentions and "getting an earful of complaints" from the Europeans, according to a senior diplomat here.

"This was the first time the Americans really discussed with us their plans for a missile defense that could become a big divide between us," said the European diplomat.

"It is very late to wait to talk to your allies."

As President Clinton prepares to decide next summer whether to build a $20 billion national missile defense system, the European allies have joined Russia and China in questioning why the United States needs to move so quickly.

"Nobody in his right mind would argue that this is welcome timing," Talbott said in an interview. "It is necessary because of what we need to do and when we need to do it in order to respond to a looming threat."

Chief among the complaints voiced in Brussels was the administration's threat, stated with even greater firmness by leading Republican candidates for the presidency, that the United States might withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty if necessary to field the system.

Under that treaty, Russia and the United States are restricted to deploying one limited ballistic missile system to defend a small area of their countries.

The administration now is negotiating with Russia to alter the treaty to allow for the construction of a missile system to protect the entire country from a limited attack by a state with an emerging missile threat, like North Korea.

Several officials, according to a European diplomat here, asked whether the deployment, even if approved by Russia, would trigger a new arms race as other countries felt compelled to find ways around a new missile defense system.

Others said they feared that a separate American system would undermine the trans-Atlantic network because Europe would be left unprotected.

"Ballistic missile defenses have become the hub where relations with Russia and China intersect, the future of nonproliferation intersects and where our European allies express their most severe disgruntlement with the American leadership," said George Perkovich, director at the W. Alton Jones Foundation and author of "India's Nuclear Bomb" (University of California, 1999).

Alaska would probably be home to the system, including at least 20 interceptor missiles ready to shoot down incoming missiles.

It would also use satellites and radar stations in the United States, as well as two radar sites the United States already maintains in Greenland and Britain.

Talks are under way with Copenhagen, for the site in Greenland, a Danish territory, and with London, for the British site, according to an American official. Neither country has yet approved allowing its site to be part of the new system.

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