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Bush missile plan sparks Europe fears

Bush missile plan sparks Europe fears

LONDON, England (CNN) -- George W. Bush’s announcement that he will push ahead with his National Missile Defence programme, dubbed “Son of Star Wars” in Europe, has met with mixed reactions and is likely to increase disengagement between Europe and the US.

Bush’s move came as no surprise , having been well-trailed in his election campaign. Allies like Britain have long acknowledged that the world cannot expect American leaders to fail to make use of increased protection against “rogue states” if the missile shield technology can be made to work.

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Bush and the leading figures in his administration believe that several countries hostile to the U.S. either already have or will soon have the technology to launch missiles against the U.S. which could contain anything from nuclear warheads to anthrax to nerve gas.

The new administration's world view is similar to that of a former CIA director who summed up the post-Cold War world by declaring: "We have slain the dragon but we now live in a jungle full of snakes."

Many European countries though fear that the NMD system could set off a damaging and de-stabilising new global arms race, especially because it would involve scrapping the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.

Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, had already dismissed the ABM treaty as “ancient history”. Now Bush has condemned it to the diplomatic scrapheap, declaring that it “ignores the fundamental breakthroughs in technology during the last 30 years”

Europeans believe that Bush is listening too closely to ambitious military men who see the presidential changeover as a chance to boost defence spending.

They also suspect that arms lobbyists, who have traditionally had strong links with the Republicans, are flexing their muscles after helping fund Bush's presidential campaign.

Europe would rather see the U.S. spend more money on a mobile theatre missile defence, from which they would expect to benefit if involved with the U.S. in a regional conflict.

After the brusque way in which Bush rejected the Kyoto treaty on global warming, scorning Europe’s appeals, EU leaders will have taken some heart from his approach on NMD.

This time Bush is making a big show of consultation, despatching a team of three former campaign aides to brief the wider world on his intentions.

Europeans have noted with relief too Bush’s accompanying pledge to reduce US missiles unilaterally to the “lowest possible number of nuclear weapons consistent with our national security needs” and his readiness to consult Russia and China over his plans.

But Bush still risks driving Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and many of the EU leaders into each others arms in their shared fears that NMD will lead to destabilisation and to a damagingly expensive new world arms race.

With the Swedes currently in the revolving chair of the EU Presidency their foreign minister, Anna Lindh, was swift to condemn the US action, urging Bush to “abstain from NMD , just as we urge China, India and Pakistan to discontinue their nuclear arsenals.”

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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