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The BBC's David Shukman
"The Pentagon has long dreamed of deploying a missile shield"
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Friday, 24 March, 2000, 02:24 GMT
Russia calls for Star Wars ban

Russia is calling for a new treaty to prevent an arms race in space - in a swipe at United States plans for a national anti-missile defence system.

On Thursday, Moscow's disarmament ambassador Vasily Sidorov urged a UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva to negotiate a treaty to ban the testing, stationing and use of weapon systems in outer space.

This may make Russian policy more hawkish, more aggressive

Ivan Safranchur, military analyst
Russia is concerned that the US is pressing ahead with developing its anti-missile defence system known as Star Wars.

Moscow argues that the US system - which deploys a missile shield in space to intercept missiles - would violate the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty signed between the two countries.

"Preservation of the basic provisions of this treaty would prevent the emergence of a whole class of space weapons... [and] would help strengthen the ban on the introduction of weapons of mass destruction to outer space," Mr Sidorov said.

But US commanders argue that the system cannot come soon enough because missile technology is spreading.

"More and more nations are getting this technology, so there is a growing threat to North America," Early Warning Commander, Bob Latiff told the BBC's David Shukman, who has had exclusive access to the Star Wars testing site in the US.

US intelligence suggests that North Korea will have long-range missiles in five years' time, which is making the US military feel deeply vulnerable.

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Rogue states

They argue that the previous threat from the old Soviet Union, may have been hostile but it was predictable.

Now, they say, the threat is from rogue states - such as North Korea, Iran and Iraq - which they describe as unpredictable.

This has created a sense of urgency to get a missile shield in place.

But there are many people who are sceptical that the efforts and the tens of millions of dollars that have been spent on the programme will be worth it.

In January, a prototype of the defence system missed a mock incoming nuclear weapon, 140 miles above the Pacific Ocean.

But, the general in charge of the programme told the BBC that he is confident it will work

"Given the alternative of no defence where all of [the missiles] get through, a system that prevents all but one is better for us," Lieutenent General Ron Kadish said.

Within Nato, however, there is the risk of open division with America protected, the rest not.


British Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, told the BBC that it is important there are further talks in Nato among the allies to develop a considered response the US plan.

He says this is under way and has been stimulated by the US.

But some analysts warn of a hostile reaction from Russia

"There is very serious concern that Russia will interpret this new situation as that situation when Russia is vulnerable," military analyst Ivan Safranchur told the BBC.

"This may make Russian policy more hawkish, more aggressive."

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18 Jan 00 | Americas
US missile test fails
20 Aug 99 | Americas
Russia critical of US missile plan
19 Jan 00 | Americas
Analysis: Tough missile choice
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