'Star Wars' vital to curb power of rogue states, says Rumsfeld

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The Independent US

America stepped up its efforts to convince sceptical Nato allies of the need for a missile defence shield yesterday, by painting a new, more detailed picture of a growing threat from "rogue states".

On his first visit to Nato, the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, used new intelligence assessments to suggest that "unprecedented power" now lay in the hands of "small countries and terrorist groups". He also suggested that America will start to develop and deploy a limited system of missile defence quickly, while work continues on its more ambitious, longer-term goals.

The alliance, smarting over reports that the US was rebuffed on missile defence by other allies at last week's meeting of Nato foreign ministers in Budapest, tried hard to preserve its unity during yesterday's meeting, which was described as "workmanlike".

During the meeting, Mr Rumsfeld conceded that America's intention to scrap the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty between the US and Russia had caused concern in the alliance. He said: "We understand this conclusion is not welcomed by some. It is simply inescapable." The minister's presentation was accompanied by a warning to the other 18 alliance countries that Nato's "lack of defences against ballistic missiles creates incentives for missile proliferation" and would "give future adversaries the ability to hold our populations hostage to terror and blackmail".

But none of the nations represented suggested any breakthrough had been made in bringing Nato nations on board. "We're going to keep talking to our allies," Mr Rumsfeld said.

Other allies were similarly polite but cautious. Alain Richard, France's Defence Minister, said nations are "in a listening phase" and that his German colleague, Rudolf Scharping, argued for "a coherent political answer to the threats". One Nato source added: "No one committed themselves to the project but no one was asked to. At this stage the Americans are not going to push people further than they want to go."

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