• World

New Global Security?

5 minute read
JAMES GRAFF / Brussels

This time the devil of Kyoto approached on cat’s paws. President George W. Bush, recently demonized in Europe for his abrupt withdrawal from the international effort to abate global warming, last week gave his European allies — as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin — a heads-up by telephone for his latest pronouncement on the New Order from Washington. These weren’t mere courtesy calls. For Bush was about to formalize his pitch for an ambitious missile defense program. In doing so he intended, as he said in a key speech last week, “to re-think the unthinkable” and devise a new global security architecture. The 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, he said, should be replaced by “a new framework that reflects a clear and clean break from the past.”

Was this yet another example of the American can-do spirit gone haywire? Or a naive expression of what Paul Quilès, president of the defense committee in the French National Assembly, called “an American fantasy of absolute security”? Europe’s leaders generally took a studiously bland stance last week, none more so than British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is about to call elections. He said he was waiting for details on “a highly sensitive issue … that we should handle with care, as President Bush is indeed doing.” In fact, as deeply unsettled as they were when Bill Clinton first broached his more limited and tentative plans for National Missile Defense in 1999, European governments now see little point in wholesale rejection of Bush’s more ambitious and forceful approach. Says Edward Foster, an analyst with the Royal United Services Institute in London, “Everyone knows Bush is determined and trying to block him would only make us enemies.”

Even Russia seemed mollified, if warily, by Bush’s promises to accord Moscow due respect in devising a new strategic order. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov stressed Moscow’s satisfaction that the Bush Administration “does not intend to pursue unilateral measures,” and Kremlin officials were clearly delighted at the prospect that Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin might meet face to face next month.

But the muted response in Europe and Russia hardly amounts to acquiescence in either place. When U.S. officials fan out this week to European capitals for the first stage of what Bush promised would be “real consultations,” their European interlocutors will be listening raptly. An almost limitless array of technical questions remain unanswered on what one French Defense Ministry official said is still “a virtual response to a virtual threat.” Their attention will be focused, though, on the core question of whether an American-led missile defense program will be a net gain or a net loss for Europe’s security.

Bill Clinton’s fitful first approach to missile defense may have strengthened Europe’s awareness of a real and growing ballistic missile threat from the so-called “rogue states” — Iran, Iraq and North Korea. But many worry that addressing that threat through an elaborate “system of systems” will lead to further problems. There are other approaches. On the very day that Bush made his speech, predicated partly on the threat of North Korea’s Taepo Dong missiles, Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson was leading a high-carat European Union delegation to Pyongyang. North Korea’s “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong Il, used the occasion to announce he would extend a moratorium on missile tests through 2003.

E.U. leaders took great pains to stress that they had no intention of horning in on American interests on the Korean peninsula, and Kim’s concession hardly removes the onus from his deeply aberrant and unpredictable regime. But the coincidence of the E.U. visit and Bush’s speech underlined a divergent approach to rogue states. “Each technological advance the U.S. makes on the defensive front will eventually be matched by other nations pouring their resources into development of offensive weapons,” cautions Pascal Boniface, director of the Institute of International and Strategic Relations in Paris. “Rich countries will try to find high-tech ways around it, and poor countries will develop lower-tech arms to get under it.”

By that reckoning, missile defense could end up an extremely expensive own-goal for strategic stability. “America can argue it has military needs,” says Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, a London think-tank. “But it hasn’t been very good at talking about the knock-on effects. Even if the abm is merely a historical document, it has a profound effect on other arms agreements. If the Americans abrogate it, why should China stop selling missile systems to Pakistan?”

Fears like that will compel European and Russian leaders to stress the need to preserve some framework to arms control and not to abandon wholesale the doctrine of deterrence embodied in the abm treaty. “What matters most for Europe is the overall relationship between the U.S. and Russia,” says Bruno Tertrais, an adviser to the French Defense Ministry. “We need to be convinced that missile defense doesn’t mean less dialogue with high-risk states or less work on stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons.”

As the Bush plans get fleshed out, Europe and Russia will have much work to do. Russian analyst Pavel Podvig contends that instead of a “thought-out policy” on missile defense, the Kremlin currently has “a collection of propaganda slogans and declarations.” It will have to put together more than that. Likewise the E.U. countries, keen to strengthen their common defense capability, will eventually have to move beyond merely reacting to the U.S. plans and start thinking about how they can be tweaked to their benefit. “The challenge for the Europeans will be to turn the unappetizing inevitability of missile defense into an appetizing opportunity,” says a nato diplomat. Washington still has a lot of explaining to do about missile defense, but its partners should be doing more than just listening.

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