Bush envoys encounter skepticism overseas on missile defense
WASHINGTON (AP) – The envoys President Bush sent to Europe and Asia to sound out allies and others on missile defense heard pretty much what the previous administration had heard: skepticism, and lots of it.
There were a few isolated voices of support, but it is clear the administration has more explaining to do before it convinces the rest of the world that it’s time to build an anti-missile shield.
Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, speaking for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said Tuesday as the final stop on the consultation tour was ending in Ottawa that the reaction abroad had been mixed.
”There was some positive reaction and a sense of, ‘Yes, this is doable,”’ he said. The positive reactions came in Australia and Poland, he said, while acknowledging that others were skeptical. He did not indicate whether the questions and skepticism had changed the views of Rumsfeld, who is a driving force behind the administration’s effort to build a missile defense.
”We’ll factor their comments and reactions into our thinking and see where we go from there,” Quigley said.
Where Bush goes from there is pretty clear. He has left no doubt he will push ahead with a missile defense. What is less clear is what kind of system he will pursue and how fast he will push it.
Beyond the skepticism of allies like Germany and France is a strong opposition, rooted in deep distrust, in Russia and China. Both fear the United States is seeking to extend its already dominant military position, although Bush says his goal is to make the world safe from potential missile threats like North Korea and Iraq.
When he publicly committed the United States to building a system to defend against ballistic missiles in a speech May 1, Bush said he was sending senior aides to allied capitals in Europe, Asia, Australia and Canada ”to discuss our common responsibility to create a new framework for security.”
The president wants to see an international consensus on the central theme of his missile defense plan: that deterring missile attacks today takes more than the threat of nuclear retaliation, it takes effective missile defenses, combined with cooperation to limit the spread of missile technologies.
Bush promised: ”These will be real consultations. We are not presenting our friends and allies with unilateral decisions already made.”
In fact, what the Bush envoys acknowledged abroad is that they have not yet settled on a specific plan.
”It’s much too early to ask people to agree because we haven’t come to any firm conclusions,” Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who led the delegation to Germany, told reporters in Berlin.
Of the talks with the Germans, he said, ”I think we found openness and willingness to discuss, but very, very serious questions were asked of us.”
French Defense Minister Alain Richard said the Americans need to provide more details on how they intend to proceed. ”I think it is a debate that is going to develop slowly,” Richard said.
Swedish Defense Minister Bjorn von Sydow said his government’s position is that whatever kind of missile defense is built, it should be done within the bounds of an international treaty, either a modified version of the existing Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty or a replacement agreement.
One theme of the U.S. consultations was that Bush is not contemplating a system of 100 percent protection.
”The missile defense that we envision is one that would be directed only at a handful of rogue states and only against a handful of missiles,” Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, told reporters in New Delhi, India, after meeting Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee – who supports the U.S. plan.
Russian reaction was cool. On Monday, Igor Sergeyev, an adviser to President Vladimir Putin, said the presentation by Wolfowitz was unconvincing.
”We did not hear coherent arguments in favor of Washington’s plan to deploy a national missile defense system,” Sergeyev was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
China was even more critical. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said a U.S. missile defense would endanger the global strategic balance, spark an arms race and obstruct efforts to control the spread of weapons.
”When you invent a new spear, of course you will invent a new shield. When you invent a new shield, you will invent new types of spear. It always goes on like that,” said spokesman Sun Yuxi. ”It’s just like lifting a stone and dropping it on one’s own feet.”
Sun said China would respond if Washington proceeds with the system, but he would not say how. China has previously said it could build more offensive missiles and improve their accuracy to overcome U.S. defenses.
”China will not just wait idly and see its national interests being undermined,” Sun said.
On the Net:
Pentagon’s missile defense office at http://www.acq.osd.mil/bmdo/
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