- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 20, 2000

Not only is Greenland one of the coldest places on earth, but the huge island might also be able to freeze the U.S. National Missile Defense (NMD) program a couple of degrees. Pentagon and senior State Department officials will visit Greenland next week, and they may have some serious ice-breaking to do. It will, however, be a crucial effort if we want to see the kind of NMD that Texas Gov. George W. Bush talked about 10 days ago at the Republican convention.

The cause of the problem reaches back into Cold-War history. On Jan. 21, 1968, an American B-52 bomber crashed near the Thule air- and radar base. The base was built by the United States in 1951-52 under agreement with Denmark, of which Greenland is a part. The base, which is of tremendous strategic value, has been Denmark's crucial asset as a NATO member. At the time of the crash, the plane carried four hydrogen bombs on board, which supposedly were all destroyed in the following explosion and fire. Now, however, some former Thule base workers have dug up information which they claim proves that one of the bombs was in fact never recovered and still lies on the seabed, a ticking time bomb for the safety of Greenlanders and the environment. Spokesman Bryan Whitman of the Pentagon reassured U.S. NATO partners, the Danes, and the rest of the world Tuesday that the bombs were certainly all destroyed in the fire. However, the Danish media have reported a rising mistrust towards the American missile defense idea. Political analysts there still remain concerned about unanswered questions, especially regarding the suspected object of a search by an American submarine during clean-up in 1968.

Considering the fact that the Thule base sits at the mid-point of a chain of similar radar sites between Alaska and the British Isles, it holds a very important position in a future missile defense system. This fact was emphasized by Secretary of Defense William Cohen in congressional testimony in July.

The missile shield will be designed to protect the United States from attack from rogue nations (sorry, states of concern) like North Korea, Iraq, Iran and Libya. The Danish position is that an American NMD must meet with Russian approval, in accordance with the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972. Needless to say, the Russians are doing what they can to fan such sentiments among the Danes.

National Missile Defense as well as the Thule base are essential for the future security of the United States, and for our allies as well, should they agree to cooperate. During the Cold War, Western Europe was protected by the American nuclear umbrella. The world has changed, which is why cooperation on missile defense rather than griping and mistrust ought to be expected from the Europeans. The sooner questions about the missing bomb are resolved, the better for everyone.

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