- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 6, 2001

The Bush administration's missile defense plan may not prove as tough a sell in Europe as expected.

While China and Russia remain staunchly opposed to the idea, cracks in the once-solid skepticism of NATO's European allies have been widening noticeably since President Bush took office.

Javier Solana, the former NATO secretary-general who now sets security policy for the European Union, told reporters in Washington yesterday that the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty which forbids the kind of system Mr. Bush says he is determined to build "is not the Bible."

"For us Europeans, what we would like is for the major powers to [reach a deal] by consensus if possible," he said.

But he added that the United States has the "right to deploy" such a system if it concludes it will enhance its national security.

And Lord George Robertson, Mr. Solana's successor as head of NATO, told a news conference in Brussels yesterday that "there has to be an acceptance [among U.S. allies] that the decision on missile defense was made in the U.S. presidential election."

Analysts said the Bush administration deserves credit in its first weeks for skillfully changing the debate over national missile defense (NMD), promising closer consultation with allies over the effect of the system while leaving no doubt that the United States is moving ahead with testing and deployment.

"I don't think the Clinton administration really took a proactive role in pushing missile defense," said W. Bruce Weinrod, a senior Pentagon official under President George Bush in the early 1990s. "They either didn't explain the idea or explained it in a halfhearted way."

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in his first visit to Europe since taking over at the Pentagon, left little doubt in an address in Munich on Saturday that a U.S. missile defense system would be built, whatever the international repercussions.

Mr. Rumsfeld also argued that the United States' NMD concept was defensive and would strengthen trans-Atlantic ties.

"The Bush people have been doing a very good job of making missile defense seem inevitable to the Europeans," said Clay Clemens, an analyst on European politics at the College of William and Mary.

"The attitude right now is a lot less than enthusiasm but a fair deal more than resignation, and that's a shift," he said.

Kim Holmes, a foreign policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said he found during a recent European tour that opposition from officials and analysts in Europe weakened appreciably when the "national" was dropped from NMD discussions.

"If it's pitched as a system that doesn't leave the allies out, they tend to like it a lot more," he said.

He also said the Bush administration's evident determination to proceed had robbed critics of a crucial debating point.

"You immediately jump past the whole issue of deployment, where the Russians and Chinese will try anything to delay the process or create problems," he said.

Already, the opposition Conservatives in Britain and the Christian Social Union in Germany have come out in support of the U.S. missile defense plan, particularly if the proposed shield can be extended to Europe.

Although neither party appears poised to take power, the fact that they have been able to embrace the U.S. idea demonstrates the changing nature of the debate in Europe, Mr. Clemens said.

The endorsement by Britain's Conservatives has put the Labor government of Prime Minister Tony Blair in a bind, with national elections widely expected this spring.

Mr. Blair and Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who visits Washington this week, have been forced to reconcile widespread European doubts about the idea with their desire to preserve Britain's "special relationship" with the United States as a new, conservative administration takes power here.

Friedbert Pfluger, who chairs the European policy committee for Germany's center-right Christian Democratic Party, said the Bush administration had been much more open in discussing missile defense concepts than its predecessor.

"The whole spirit of the discussion is much more sensitive in tone and spirit to European concerns compared to a year ago," said Mr. Pfluger, whose party also recently said it was willing to consider the NMD idea on its merits.

The NMD debate in Europe has shifted so quickly that American critics accuse the Bush administration of trying to create a false impression that the battle is over.

"Once again, proponents of missile defense are putting the cart before the horse," said John Isaacs, president of the anti-NMD Council for a Livable World.

"Rumsfeld is trying to give the illusion that deployment is inevitable, when there is no workable technology ready for development," he said.

It remains true that no Western European leader has enthusiastically endorsed the U.S. missile defense plan. Mr. Pfluger said that public sentiment in Europe is largely skeptical of the plan and that most people in Germany aren't ready to abandon the ABM Treaty and other Cold War barriers to missile defenses.

"But we have to be open to the idea of escaping the world of deterrence," he said. "Why should deterrence be forever?"

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