- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 15, 2001

Europe should work with the United States on a missile shield that would protect all of NATO, rather than mindlessly oppose the idea from the sidelines, the defense spokesman for Britain's Conservative Party said yesterday.

"Far too many European leaders are still resisting any call to cooperate with the United States against threats that are plainly there," said Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservatives' shadow secretary of state for defense, in an address here yesterday.

Mr. Duncan Smith, who would become Britain's defense secretary if the Tories pull off an upset in general elections widely expected this spring, has been a sharp critic of the Labor government of Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Mr. Blair has tried to balance widespread skepticism in Europe over the missile defense idea against the determination of the new Bush administration to proceed with deployment.

Mr. Duncan Smith said Britain has traditionally played a "bridging role" in defense disputes within NATO.

"Sadly, we don't seem quite to be stepping up to that role" in the missile defense debate, he said.

Mr. Bush and his senior advisers argue that the missile defense shield is needed to protect the United States from the growing threat of attacks from rogue nations such as North Korea and Iraq.

Russia and China remain staunchly opposed to the idea, fearing the shield could in time overwhelm their own nuclear forces.

Many European leaders, including French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, have expressed deep doubts about the U.S. plan. Skeptics in Europe have argued that the threat has been overstated, the Russian response will be harsh, and a global arms race could result as adversaries try to counteract the U.S. shield.

Missile defense is expected to be a primary topic of discussion when Secretary of State Colin Powell travels to Brussels later this month for a meeting of NATO's foreign ministers.

President Bush also reached out to Beijing this week, relaying a message through visiting Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien to Chinese leaders that the United States wants to begin direct talks on the defense idea.

Mr. Bush "has agreed that he wants a lot of discussion to occur," a Canadian official in Shanghai quoted Mr. Chretien as saying. "He has to convince his partners and they are not quite ready, the technology is not quite ready, but he thinks he has a very good case."

Mr. Duncan Smith made clear yesterday he does not favor a missile shield that only protects the United States.

"I never talk about national missile defense," he said. "I talk about ballistic missile defense, because that is what this should all be about."

But he issued a strong warning against a possible "grand compromise" that has been floated, in which the Europeans would drop their opposition to the U.S. defense plan in return for U.S. acquiescence to a proposed European Union defense force separate from NATO.

Mr. Duncan Smith said the European force, which Mr. Blair backs, "would not extend European defense capabilities by one iota. It would not buy a single new bullet or supply a single new soldier."

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