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Friday, 29 December, 2000, 13:38 GMT
UK welcomes Bush defence appointment
Donald Rumsfeld
Mr Rumsfeld was defence secretary in the 1970s
The UK Government has welcomed US President-elect George W Bush's appointment of veteran politician Donald Rumsfeld as his defence secretary, despite his support for the controversial "Son of Star Wars" system.

We will welcome making contact with the new defence secretary when he takes up the post

MoD spokesman
Mr Bush's appointment of the 68-year-old, who has served in four previous Republican administrations, could put pressure on the UK to clarify aspects of its defence relationship with the US.

Mr Rumsfeld is firmly committed to the national missile defence system (NMD) which, if fully implemented, would rely on Britain's permission to use UK-based radar stations.

And his views on Europe's plans for a rapid reaction force will be keenly awaited following claims from the Conservative Party that Washington shared its fears that the EU could be jeopardising the solidarity of the Nato alliance.

Arms race fears

The Ministry of Defence nevertheless welcomed Mr Rumsfeld's appointment.

"We will welcome making contact with the new defence secretary when he takes up the post," a spokesman said, adding that contacts were likely to be made early in the new year.

Mr Rumsfeld, who served as defence secretary under Gerald Ford in the 1970's, will have the task of convincing Congress and America's allies to support the Bush-favoured NMD system.

RAF Fylingdales in Yorkshire
RAF Fylingdales would form part of the NMD system
The ambitious project, dubbed "Son of Star Wars" after Ronald Reagan's similar but abortive 1980s programme, aims to shield the US from ballistic missile attack by shooting down incoming rockets with American missiles.

Mr Rumsfeld headed a bipartisan commission which concluded two years ago that the Clinton administration had not been vigilant enough and that potential missile threats, either from an accidental firing or from a hostile nation, were a lot closer than US intelligence agencies thought.

The report formed part of the case in favour of pushing ahead with a missile defence programme.

The multi-billion dollar project represents a particular dilemma for Britain, as a fully-developed system would rely on UK-based radar stations, such as the Fylingdales early warning base in North Yorkshire, and possibly Menwith Hill near Harrogate.

But the project has global security implications. Opponents, including the Russians and the Chinese, have expressed concern that it breaches the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty and could trigger a new arms race.

'Rogue countries'

Earlier this year Mr Bush emphasised that the defence system would be designed to deal with attacks from "rogue countries" rather than former Cold War enemies.

And he expressed a desire to cut nuclear weapons to the lowest possible number consistent with US security, and use the defence system to protect the US instead.

The UK Government has so far declined to say whether it would make available radar facilities, emphasising the importance of Nato's views being taken into account. Ministers are known to disagree on the issue.

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See also:

29 Dec 00 | Americas
Donald Rumsfeld: Republican veteran
28 Dec 00 | Americas
Bush names defence secretary
21 Dec 00 | Americas
White House team takes shape
14 Dec 00 | UK Politics
'Star wars' controversy on horizon
14 Dec 00 | Americas
What the world can expect
23 May 00 | Europe
Bush unveils nuclear policy
02 Sep 00 | Americas
Welcome for US missile delay
02 Aug 00 | UK Politics
Caution urged on US defence plan
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