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Defence rows raise diplomatic heat

Missile
Russia has been demonstrating its strength with military tests  

LONDON, England (CNN) -- The United States' proposed missile defence shield is turning relations with Cold War foe Russia frosty -- and even close allies are barely lukewarm.

Russia may no longer be a superpower but it seems to want to act like one, and will fight fire with fire, according to CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty.

It has warned it will equip its Topol-M missile -- hard to detect and harder to intercept -- with multiple warheads if Washington goes ahead with the national missile defence system (NMD).

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Campbell: If America wants to do it, it will

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 IN-DEPTH
National Missile Defense Missile defense: Europe's view

  •  U.S., Europe tension
  •  Plan sparks Europe fears
  •  Q&A: Missile defense
  •  Text of ABM treaty
  •  How system would work
  •  Missile defence in action
 

And in recent military exercises it sent a clear message of its continued military might on land, at sea and in the air, with tests launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Washington says it needs such a system to protect against attacks by rogue states.

But opponents, led by Russia, say it will lead to a new arms race with Russian President Vladimir Putin mounting diplomatic lobbying against the proposal.

And while the recent Camp David meeting with the British prime minister may have been all smiles, the new U.S. president George W. Bush failed to win a clear endorsement for the plan.

"Its important that we look at every single way we possibly can of dealing with this threat we don't have a specific proposal on the table yet," is all Prime Minister Tony Blair would say at the news conference.

Blair himself had more reason to rejoice having won the president's endorsement for plans for a European Rapid Reaction Force (RRF), according to CNN's senior international correspondent Walter Rodgers.

Bush, who it appeared to know European minds were already made up, conceded graciously.

Bush and Blair
Bush and Blair: All smiles  

"He assured me that NATO is going to be the primary way to keep the pace in Europe."

There had been fears within the Bush administration that such a European effort would drive a wedge through the trans-Atlantic alliance.

But while France tends to envision it as an embryonic all-European army outside NATO, Blair sold it differently.

"We would never do anything to undermine NATO. That where NATO as a whole chooses not to be engaged, it is important that we have the capability, where it is right and within these limited tasks that I've set out to be able to act."

Long-time defence watcher, British Liberal Democrat MP Menzies Campbell said the two countries' defence plans were linked and central to the future Anglo-American relationship.

"Blair has come back to Europe with two pretty substantial obligations. The first is to sell NMD to the Europeans and the second is to ensure that the European proposals for a defence capability do not undermine NATO."

And he warned that if it proved technically feasible and there was the political will, the U.S. would proceed with its missile shield regardless of the critics.

"It's necessary for the Europeans to do their best to ensure the consequence of this decision neither disturb NATO nor as far as possible disturb the strategic balance that has grown up since 1972."



RELATED STORIES:
Russia proposes European missile plan
February 20, 2001
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UK signals support for missile plan
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Russia tests missiles amid tension
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Russia and U.S. poised for NMD talks
February 13, 2001

RELATED SITES:
NATO
The White House
US State Department
Russian Ministry of Defence
British Prime Minister

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