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European Law Monitor newsDoes Europe need an anti-missile defence shield?  

The US wants to site anti-missile interceptors in Poland, and a radar system in the Czech Republic, saying this is needed to defend against missile attacks by rogue states. The plans have been criticised by Russia, among others. On Thursday, MEPs discussed whether a missile defence shield was necessary, the role of NATO and the impact on relations with Russia.

At a hearing organised by the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Security and Defence Subcommittee, most of the invited experts and MEPs taking part agreed that bilateral negotiations between Poland or the Czech Republic and the USA should be replaced by a decision taken under the NATO umbrella, and that European Member States need more time and further debates to reach agreement on whether or not Europe needs an anti-missile defence shield. But the experts' opinions on the real imminence of the threats or the usefulness of building a European missile shield varied widely.
The executive director for the US Missile Defence Agency Patricia Sanders said the shield "is a timely proposal", a "win-win situation and cost-effective solution" for NATO system and the US, given "North Korea's and Iran's accelerated missile development and testing". According to American intelligence, she added, Iranian long-range ballistic missiles could be capable of reaching the US before 2015 "and perhaps Europe much sooner". Peter Flory (Assistant Secretary-General for Defence Investment, NATO) explained: "We are seriously concerned on Iran's determination to get longer and longer range missiles. The last tests we saw prove they could reach already countries like Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria or Romania".

Getting NATO on board

The chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (EPP-ED, PL), said that "as this plan affects the security of all of Europe, consultations within NATO between the allies should continue" but also recalled that a recent NATO feasibility study concluded that it would be possible to establish a Europe-wide missile defence system, complementary with the US plan. "Having said that, the first and foremost best mean to confront Iran's missile threat is through dialogue, effective multilateralism, and only as last resort through deterrence (...) We should not forget the lesson learned during the crisis in Iraq: a divided Europe will not be listened to, but it will be played off against interests of other actors", he concluded.

Relations with Russia

Russia recently warned that transatlantic relations cannot strengthen Europe's security "at the expense of others" and threatened to target missiles at Europe if Washington went ahead with its missile shield.
Mr Saryusz-Wolski said the system was not aimed at Russia, and Ms Sanders agreed. But François Heisbourg (Foundation for Strategic Research, Paris) said: "Russia may also worry that the Polish and Czech sites are the precursors of wide ambitions (...) The United States can surely give assurances on this point.   I believe that using NATO to manage the project politically, together with the NATO-Russia Council, would be a guarantee that the European system would not be diverted from its initial aims."
Dave Webb (professor of Applied Global Ethics at Leeds) agreed   that "it is not surprising that Russia has reacted negatively. An analysis of the geographic locations and missile trajectories shows that the radar and interceptors could be deployed against Russian missiles from some of its western launch sites".
During the following debate Achille Occhetto (IT, PES) and Tobias Pflüger (GUE/NGL, DE) voiced their concern on the issue of proportionality - what is the real nature of the threat? Does Iran pose an immediate threat? Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck (ALDE, BE) said her group had not reached a final opinion on the need for a European shield but it is "increasingly worried" about reduction in efforts on non-proliferation. If the moment comes to use the missile interceptors in East Europe, who would take the final decision, wondered other MEPs. "Is the anti-missile shield an American system in Europe or rather a NATO/US system for Europe?" asked Girts Valdis Kristovskis (UEN, Latvia).

Alternatives to the anti-missile shield?

Most MEPs agreed on the need to have more time and more debates before taking any action. "Poland and the Czech Republic should not take a final decision before there is a common position taken by NATO, and this implies as well longer discussions with Russia", concluded Karl Von Wogau (EPP-ED, DE), chairman of the subcommittee on Security and Defence.

Reproduced with the permission of the European Parliament REF.: 20070625IPR08243