North Korea missiles prompt NATO debate on defence shield
NATO headquarters has been warming up to the idea of a Europe-wide missile defence system, with the alliance's ambassadors set to shortly debate a study arguing in favour of such a scheme.
The 10,000-page report was commissioned by the alliance's 2002 summit in Prague and the organisation's secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is reportedly trying to move the discussion ahead.
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"We need to have an active debate within the alliance on missile defence to ensure that we have a common view and a common way forward," his spokesman is quoted as saying by the Financial Times.
The issue has come under a new spotlight following this week's missile tests by North Korea, denounced by the 26 NATO ambassadors.
After firing a barrage of six rockets including the long-range Taepodong-2 missile on Tuesday (4 July), Pyongyang launched a seventh on Wednesday - despite international condemnation of the tests.
The US has responded by activating its anti-missile defence system, but the incident has also prompted further calls for the development of ground-based systems, according to the FT.
Washington is currently negotiating with Poland and the Czech Republic as potential locations for the missile base, with Hungary denying similar claims last week.
Hungarian press quoted the US lieutenant commander Joe Carpenter as saying that a deal on the location is far from ended.
"The decision hasn't even been made whether or not we will build in Europe. The first question is whether or not the system is viable," he added, the Budapest Times reported.
But the NATO officials are concerned that the US system might undermine the unity of the alliance as it would only protect some European countries - those that would agree to base anti-missile interceptors on their territory.
Therefore they argue a Europe-wide system should complement the American project.
A similar thought has been hinted by the French defence minister Michele Alliot-Marie at an informal meeting with MEPs from the foreign affairs committee in Strasbourg this Tuesday (4 July) who agreed that Europe-wide protection should be guaranteed.
Mrs Alliot-Marie also confirmed that French leaders discussed the issue of so called "concerted deterrence" with a kind of Europeanised nuclear force or "eurobomb" with the British prime minister Tony Blair during their summit in Paris on 9 June.
Her confirmation sparked criticism by Geoffrey Van Orden, defence spokesman for the UK conservatives in the European Parliament.
He argued "Given the importance of the independent nuclear deterrent to the national security of the United Kingdom, I am very surprised that the prime minister did not mention that such a vital issue is currently being discussed."
Mr Van Orden said that while the UK and France have been on different sides of the argument on several key foreign policy issues, "It would be the most extraordinary act of folly if we were to become in any way reliant on France for the ultimate strategic defence capability of our nation."