US may be safer, but many fear for strategic balance

Click to follow
The Independent US

Washington faces vociferous opposition to its missile defence plans from China, Russia, much of Europe and Canada. They argue that in protecting its own territory (and perhaps that of select allies) from missile attack, the US is making other countries more vulnerable.

Washington faces vociferous opposition to its missile defence plans from China, Russia, much of Europe and Canada. They argue that in protecting its own territory (and perhaps that of select allies) from missile attack, the US is making other countries more vulnerable.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Sun Yuxi, attacked both aspects of the US plan yesterday - the National Missile Defence (NMD; to shield the US) and the Theatre Missile Defence (TMD; to shield specific regions) - saying that they "go against the trend of the times, harm international disarmament and arms control efforts and will have a negative impact on the global strategic balance".

The Chinese Prime Minister, Zhu Rongji, said that the TMD constituted "blatant interference in Chinese affairs" as it would place Taiwan in a sphere of protection. The US Secretary of State is just back from China, a US arms control delegation arrived there yesterday, and the Defence Secretary is due in Peking next week but there is no sign so far of any softening in China's attitude.

The view in Russia is, if anything, harsher, despite lavish attempts by Washington before and since President Bill Clinton's recent summit with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow to convince the Russians of its benign intentions. Russian officials - including the defence and foreign ministers - are on the record as saying that the moment Washington approved the NMD project, it would be in breach of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty - regarded by Moscow as underpinning all arms control treaties.

In a shrewd piece of brinkmanship, Moscow made its own recent - and long-awaited - ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and Start-2. Were the US to decide to proceed with the NMD, Moscow would hold the Americans responsible for destroying - in the words of the Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov - the very foundations of the arms control system as it has evolved since the Second World War.

Part of Moscow's response has been to propose joint development of an alternative missile defence system. US officials say they do not have sufficient information about it to judge its worth, but seem sceptical.

In Europe, France has been the fiercest critic of NMD, but Italy and others, including Britain, have expressed reservations on the basis that a missile defence system that protects only the US will for the first time make for unequal defence arrangements among Nato countries.

Comments