Europe in row over missiles that may not work

20th March 2007, Comments 0 comments

20 March 2007, Berlin (dpa) - The US anti-missile shield in Central Europe has not been built and may not even work, and the Iranian threat it is meant to counter may never materialize. Nevertheless, the interceptor missiles are providing useful ammunition for politicians from Moscow, via Warsaw and Berlin, to Washington. The targets are diverse, as Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung noted Tuesday. "It's not about the little bit of security that this system could provide in 10-15 years... Rather it's about the

20 March 2007

Berlin (dpa) - The US anti-missile shield in Central Europe has not been built and may not even work, and the Iranian threat it is meant to counter may never materialize.

Nevertheless, the interceptor missiles are providing useful ammunition for politicians from Moscow, via Warsaw and Berlin, to Washington.

The targets are diverse, as Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung noted Tuesday.

"It's not about the little bit of security that this system could provide in 10-15 years... Rather it's about the ideological trajectories that they trace in the skies," the newspaper said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made his opposition clear, and his military has referred to "an obvious threat to Russia."

US officials pour scorn on the idea that the relatively small missile base planned in Poland, with its radar station in the Czech Republic, could pose any threat to the large Russian arsenal.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice insists that this "limited missile defence that can deal with small threats is very much a stabilizing factor, not a destabilizing factor."

The Russian president's position is "simply nonsense militarily," in the words of the foreign policy spokesman of Germany's Social Democrats (SPD), Hans-Ulrich Klose.

But German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, also of the SPD, has warned of "a new arms race in Europe." He has called for the decision on deploying the missiles to be taken at NATO level, with full Russian consultation.

Party chairman Kurt Beck, who is not constrained by cabinet discipline, went further to state flatly that: "Europe does not need any new missiles."

That comment set of a round of hostile exchanges between the two sides of Chancellor Angela Merkel's broad coalition.

Critics of the US missile shield were evading the issue of "how we are to protect our population effectively against the dangers connected with Iran's armaments programme," said Eckart von Klaeden, foreign policy spokesman for Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU).

The Russian tactic had not only reopened the "New Europe-Old Europe" split, but also sent tremors through Merkel's government less than two years into its four-year term of office.

Under persistent questioning at the routine press briefing, government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm was defensive, insisting there was a "common government approach" and refusing to be drawn on Beck's remarks.

Much of the chancellor's trip to Poland last week was taken up with persuading Warsaw that shunting the missile decision to NATO was preferable to a bilateral deal aimed as much at cementing ties with the US as at guaranteeing Polish security.

Berlin government officials believe that, despite a recent cooling in relations, progress has been made there with the President Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

One German military expert saw nothing but hot air in the entire debate.

"We are sceptical," said Sascha Lange, the military consultant at the SWP think tank. He doubted whether Iran was in a position to construct the necessary missiles.

On the US interceptors, Lange stressed they were still in the test phase. "Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't."

DPA

Subject: German news

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