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Thursday, 7 June, 2001, 08:34 GMT 09:34 UK
'Star Wars' talks get under way
Lord Robertson
Lord Robertson says consultation on missile defence is only just beginning
The UK's Nato representatives have assembled in Brussels to be briefed on missile defence proposals by US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The UK would play a key role in any plan for a National Missile Defence (NMD) system to protect the US from "rogue" warheads.

Critics say that if US installations at Fylingdales and Menwith Hill in Yorkshire were part of the tracking system, the UK would be more vulnerable to attack without gaining any protection.

Donald Rumsfeld
Donald Rumsfeld says missile defence testing will continue
Mr Rumsfeld is also likely to broach US troop reductions in the Balkans and issues surrounding plans for the European Rapid Reaction Force with Nato defence ministers.

Proposals for the force have caused controversy in the UK with critics fearing the creation of a parallel "Euro army" that will undermine Nato.

Nato secretary-general Lord Robertson, formerly UK defence secretary, said in advance of the full consultation on missile defence it was wrong to say Europe had offered a lukewarm reaction.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "They [the US] have no plans - they are thinking about the issue and therefore there can be no disagreement."

He said it was widely recognised in Europe that there was a need for a rethink on nuclear defence.

Balkan troops

"Do we continue to rely on mutually assured destruction whereby we threaten the annihilation of whole states?"

Lord Robertson insisted there was no rift developing over the Rapid Reaction Force with the US recognising the need for a small-scale force to tackle "brush fires in Europe's backyard".

"I think the Americans want more burden-sharing.

"They were aghast ... during the Kosovo campaign ... the Americans had to provide 85% of the airpower needed to defeat Milosevic."

And there will be a review of Nato troop levels in the Balkans, with smaller than expected cuts likely to be announced in force numbers in Bosnia.

Ahead of the meeting, Mr Rumsfeld said testing on missile defence would continue.

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See also:

29 May 01 | Europe
Nato baulks at US missile plan
01 May 01 | Americas
Hurdles for US missile defence plans
20 Feb 01 | Sci/Tech
'Star Wars' makes a comeback
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