US missile defence 'threatens arms deal'

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The Independent US

America's plans for a national missile defence system have placed nuclear arms control on a knife-edge, a leading defence think-tank warned yesterday.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) also warned that the US Senate's rejection of the comprehensive test ban treaty could undermine the role of arms control in shaping international security. "For the time being there seems to be little hope for nuclear arms control," the IISS said in its latest annual Strategic Survey.

The Institute's warnings come as the current review conference of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in New York degenerates into a stale repetition of existing positions. Though the 1975 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was extended indefinitely five years ago, Britain, the US, China, France and Russia this week refused once more to give any specific commitment to get rid of their arsenals -- the condition on which other countries have promised not to develop such weapons themselves.

Even existing arms reduction targets could be in jeopardy. Though Russia's parliament has just ratified the Start-II treaty, Moscow is threatening to tear up the deal and restart the arms race if Washington goes ahead with NMD, a limited shield against missiles launched by rogue states.

That threat in turn is preventing the US from implementing even the earlier Start-I agreement.

Meanwhile, the nuclear capacity of other countries, including India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran and Iraq compounds global instability and Middle Eastern resentment at Israel's undeclared nuclear status is also simmering again. The New York talks would probably end "acrimoniously and without consensus," the IISS predicted.

The IISS also was deeply sceptical of Europe's attempts to create a strong defence entity, pointing out that military spending was actually falling in several countries, notably Germany. Plans to have a properly equipped 60,000-strong rapid reaction force ready in two to three years were simply "not realistic," it said.