- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 23, 2000

As though it wasn't enough that National Missile Defense (NMD) has plenty of opponents in this country, including the White House itself, which has only moved on the issue with the greatest reluctance, the reaction overseas has been underwhelming. The Russians and Chinese hate the idea, and our NATO allies in Europe watch with concern that is becoming more outspoken.

Count on the French to say it like it is. As French Defense Minister Alain Richard told a gathering at the Center for Strategic and International studies, yesterday, "We fear that NMD could fuel a new arms race and more generally could serve as a convenient cover by those states that do not want to be strictly bound by non-proliferation norms." The rest of Europe's center-left governments are equally unhappy with the prospect of an American NMD. There are several reasons for this. For one thing, Europe is now governed by the very same people who not so long ago were on the ramparts in the anti-nuclear movement, railing against American intermediate range missiles in the early 1980s. They don't like nuclear weapons.

Personal issues aside, there is a lot more going on here, adding to the atmosphere of mistrust that has been creeping into the relationships between the United states and Europe in the 1990s. It could make for some difficult moments for the next American president.

Even with the Cold War behind us, we are hearing echoes of the debate of the early 1950s, when President Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles faced a host of not dissimilar decisions relating to Europe, ranging from NATO expansion to containment of the Soviet Union, to investment in NATO's conventional forces by Europeans, to the role of the U.S. nuclear deterrent. Nor were relations easy then. The British government of Anthony Eden remained resentful of the U.S. government following the 1956 Suez crisis, fearing that when Dulles talked about "rollback" he was thinking more of their empire than that of the Soviets. It was a shaky moment in the alliance. One would hope that this one, too, can be overcome.

The Europeans see NMD as part of a package of problems that includes the defeated Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which was voted down by the U.S. Senate last fall, and which will now also include the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty. The White House believes the ABM needs to be modified in order to allow for a limited missile defense system, to be based in Alaska according to current plans. (Russian President Vladimir Putin has indicated that he may accept such modifications, a sure sign that the limited missile defense preferred by the White House is seen as no threat by the Russians.) Many Republicans, however, want to scrap the ABM entirely, given that one of its two signatories in 1974 the Soviet Union went out of existence almost 10 years ago. They fear that the United States, protected by missile defense and not banned from improving its nuclear arsenal, will be more inclined to go it alone.

Mr. Clinton has set a deadline of June for a decision the wrong time if ever there was one. As important a decision as this ought to be postponed until there is a new man in the White House, preferably one with a genuine commitment to real missile defense. Republican candidate George W. Bush has declared his support for NMD, whether or not the Russians give us their permission.

As for the Europeans, they stand a better chance of formulating a coordinated opposition to NMD, through the Common Foreign and Defense Policy undertaken by the European Union. That still doesn't give them veto right, of course, though they would very much like it. "Even if you wanted to, you would not be able to take this decision in a vacuum," Mr. Richard said. In other words, Europe expects consultations on the subject.

Still, if the United States makes a unilateral decision to go ahead, there really isn't much anyone can do about it. What the next U.S. president should explain slowly and carefully is that the United States needs missile defense in order to protect itself against unpredictable enemy nations of a nuclear-tipped variety, North Korea, for instance, or Iran, or our old friend Saddam Hussein, who remains unhampered by nuclear inspections. And how about China and Russia themselves? Their arsenals, which they are upgrading, presumably are not just ornamental. That is, of course, if the next president believes in NMD, which both Republican candidates George W. Bush and John McCain do and Vice President Al Gore does not.

But what the president should also explain is that we are willing to share. The Europeans ought to be concerned about safety no less than the Americans, being within striking distance of medium-range missile attack from the Middle East. As NATO allies, they should benefit from American research and development. Unfortunately, wanting to protect Europe's defense industries, they do not want to buy American technology. (Lockheed-Martin produces the most promising sea-based missile defense system, on which a U.S. national missile defense could be based).

How to invest is, of course, Europe's problem not ours. If the United States decides to act in its own national security interest, more than likely, they will come to an accommodation with that fact.

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