Star Wars plan 'will destroy key treaty' threatens Treaty is faces under Russia

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Russia warned America yesterday that it would seriously damage efforts to control nuclear weapons if the US pushed ahead with a plan to shield itself from missile attack.

The scheme to revive the Star Wars missile defence system would destroy the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, Igor Ivanov, Russia's foreign minister, told a UN conference on disarmament in New York.

And, he warned: "The collapse of the ABM Treaty would ... undermine the entirety of disarmament agreements concluded over the last 30 years." America's plan for a national missile defence (NMD) has caused concern to Russia and US allies including Britain, France and Germany.

They fear the system would destabilise the world and encourage new weapons designed to circumvent a missile defence. It would also require revision of the ABM Treaty, something Russia has said it is not willing to concede.

In a broader warning to those in America who see it as the only superpower, Mr Ivanov also castigated military force as a substitute for international law. "The world has come to a major crossroads," he said.

"Either through joint efforts we will manage to preserve and multiply the positive results accumulated in the field of non-proliferation and limitation of nuclear weapons or we shall face a real prospect of chaos and uncontrollable international processes, with the military power diktat being the only 'regulator'. I do not believe such a prospect serves anybody's interests."

Russia has ratified the Start II nuclear disarmament treaty and the nuclear Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty banning underground nuclear tests, and is ready to go further with disarmament, he said.

"Russia is prepared to consider reducing nuclear arsenals of the parties to the level of 1,500 warheads. This historic chance could be missed if the foundation of the strategic stability in the world, indeed, its cornerstone - the ABM Treaty of 1972 - were to be destroyed.

"Unfortunately, such a possibility has become now quite realistic, given plans declared by the United States to deploy a national ABM system prohibited by the Treaty."

Moscow would see a missile defence as shielding the US and leaving Russia vulnerable. America says the NMD is aimed not at Russia but at "rogue states" such as North Korea. Critics of the US programme say Russia has a right to be concerned.

One of the key radar installations for the missile defence will be in Norway. A writer in the latest issue of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists says: "If the proposed national missile defence system is to be aimed principally at North Korean missiles, why is the US deploying a radar ideally suited for gathering intelligence for such a system on the northern tip of Norway, less than 40 miles from the Russian border?"

Mr Ivanov was due meet President Clinton yesterday to prepare for a US-Russian summit in Moscow on 4 and 5 June, the first meeting between the US president and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.