Star Wars defence project 'must be overhauled'

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The Independent US

Outlining the Republicans' vision of a new US nuclear strategy for the 21st century, George W Bush's chief foreign policy adviser, Condoleezza Rice, called for the development of a National Missile Defence system (NMD) - a variant of the "star wars" project first mooted under President Reagan - "at the earliest possible date".

Outlining the Republicans' vision of a new US nuclear strategy for the 21st century, George W Bush's chief foreign policy adviser, Condoleezza Rice, called for the development of a National Missile Defence system (NMD) - a variant of the "star wars" project first mooted under President Reagan - "at the earliest possible date".

In a hard-hitting speech to the party convention, Ms Rice was highlighting the official position on NMD designed to protect the US from potential attack by so-called rogue states.

But her call for a missile shield going far beyond the limited version planned by President Bill Clinton carried extra force because she is tipped for the post of national security adviser in the event of a Bush victory. In implied criticism of the Clinton administration's foreign policy, Ms Rice also heralded a less interventionist American policy outside the United States, insisting that the US would not be the world's policeman, always on call for an emergency.

Ms Rice, a Russia expert from Alabamba who was provost of Stanford University until she joined the Bush campaign full-time last year, is the granddaughter of a black farming family. With retired General Colin Powell, she offers living proof of Mr Bush's claim to represent a Republican Party of a new, more inclusive character.

At 45 she is young in Republican leadership terms,black and, of course, a woman, and she was ecstatically received by the convention audience. Her father became a Republican because the Alabama Democrats refused to register a black man to vote.

The Republican concept of NMD, as sketched by Ms Rice on Tuesday night, is bigger and broader than the limited version envisaged by the Democrats and approved by Congress.

Even Mr Bush, however, has conceded in the past that his version of NMD might not work without much more research.

This did not prevent the camp of Vice-President Al Gore rushing into action immediately after Ms Rice's speech to contest her implication that only the Republicans would deploy NMD. Clearly sensing the risk that their candidate risked being perceived as "soft" on defence, they insisted to reporters that the Clinton plans for NMD were on track, despite a recent failed test, and a decision on deployment was due in the autumn.

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