Published on Friday, March 3, 2000 by Agence France-Presse
Nordic Rumblings Presage European Dilemma On US Missile Defense Plan
STOCKHOLM - Rumblings in Nordic countries over a new US missile defense scheme opposed by Russia presage a larger strategic dilemma for Europe in the likely event that Washington pursues the plan, experts say.
As the deadline for a US decision on the program nears, Nordic governments have found themselves caught in a Cold War-like crossfire between Washington and Moscow and scrambling to stay on good terms with both sides, they say.
Denmark said last week it would not permit use of a base in Greenland for the new US project if Russia objected. This week, Norway said its new US-built radar station would not be used in the scheme and posed no threat to Russia.
Both states have a history of defense cooperation with the United States. But both are also anxious to avoid a serious rift with Russia, and the US plan is testing Nordic abilities to balance the two sides' concerns, experts say.
"You are seeing something here that has developed in the last several months, a trans-Atlantic split," said Shannon Kyle, researcher with the prestigious Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
"This is an old problem -- the coupling of the Atlantic security system," he said. "But what is happening here has emerged in the last few months ... and the Europeans are only just now waking up to this."
The United States said it would decide by June whether to pursue a new "national missile defense" (NMD) program, but many experts suspect President Bill Clinton may postpone that deadline, leaving a decision to his successor.
Either way, Kyle said, "it is not purely an American decision to make because elements of the system are to be based in Europe, i.e. Denmark and the United Kingdom," and Europe would be involved in decision-making on the plan.
An NMD system would contravene the 1972 Anti-Ballistic MissileTreaty, and Russia has based opposition to the plan on this fact. The United States says it hopes to persuade Moscow to a phased renegotiation of ABM.
"I think a lot will depend on our also persuading our European friends," US Defense Secretary William Cohen told members of Congress in Washington on Wednesday.
"The fact is, we can't go ahead unilaterally, at least not in the forseeable future because we have to have the cooperation of several of our European friends," he said.
Responding to European concerns, US officials argue that Washington wants to preserve the ABM Treaty. The limited missile defense system envisioned, they say, would neither undermine Russia's nuclear deterrent nor weaken US security ties to Europe.
If the looming US deployment decision has spurred debate on the program in Denmark and Norway for immediate practical reasons, European defense planners have yet to focus seriously on larger strategic implications of the US plan, Kyle said.
"It is beginning to come up in Europe, you are just starting to see it," Kyle said. "Europeans are going to have to decide, if the United States goes ahead with developing its own NMD system, what they will do."
While the technology needed for such a missile defense system is still largely unproven, momentum in US defense and conservative political circles for NMD development is growing, political and defense analysts say.
And even though the project is still only in early test phase, the work on it is already laying down markers for a radical adjustment in the web of arms and disarmament pacts that constitute the global security architecture.
The project could lead to "a breakdown of the entire international regime of treaties," Theodore Postol, professor of national security policy at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology, wrote in the current issue of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a US publication on nuclear arms issues.
European defense planners have quietly begun discussing the implications of the US project at NATO headquarters and in meetings elsewhere, but early reaction has been either negative or passive, defense analysts say.
"The Europeans have shown very little interest in any initiative that will either upset Russia or would undermine the basis of strategic arrangements that have been in place for 30 years," a European defense source said.
Options for Europe include dissuading the United States from pursuing the plan, joining in the plan or standing by while Washington develops, deploys and upgrades the system, said the source, who asked not to be named.
Kyle said succeeding in the first option was uncertain, as the US military establishment and both Republican US presidential candidates have spoken out solidly in support of NMD, suggesting it will go ahead sooner or later.
Europe so far has shown no appetite for the second option, he said.
And the third option for Europe -- doing nothing at all -- would "decouple" the trans-Atlantic alliance, as the two sides would find themselves operating under two different strategic defense systems, he said.
"The Europeans are much more concerened about the Russian aspect," Kyle explained. "Russia's objections are a concern in the United States too, but are only part of the planning."