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US Campaigns in Europe for Missile Defense

The United States is campaigning in several European capitals for acceptance of a new missile defense shield to protect against a possible attack from a rogue state or a terrorist group. The missile shield is similar in some respects to former President Reagan's Star Wars plan, which touched off massive protests across Europe 20 years ago. But the latest plan being presented by the Pentagon is meeting very little resistance.

In the 1980s - with the Cold War raging - a public hearing on a U.S. request to upgrade a system to shoot down enemy ballistic missiles might have drawn tens of thousands of protesters. But at the Danish parliament, there was not a single demonstrator as Assistant U.S. Secretary of Defense J.D. Crouch outlined the case for upgrading the Thule Radar facility in Greenland for use in a missile defense program now in the development phase.

"An upgraded radar plays an important role in the U.S.initial missile defense system in dealing with potential threats emanating from the Middle East," he said. "If upgraded, the Thule early warning radar, like other upgraded early warning radars, would detect incoming ballistic missiles, track them and provide info to a missile defense system."

A crowd of fewer than 100 people sat quietly as Mr. Crouch made his case. And though the proceedings were broadcast live on Danish television, the event made hardly a ripple in the news.

A representative of Greenland's home-rule government registered a mild complaint that the 1951 agreement authorizing the Thule radar gives Greenlanders virtually no say in how the facility is used. She called the lease agreement a throwback to colonial times.

The biggest objection to the missile defense shield came from an American, Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment in Washington. Mr. Cirincione, a former Congressional defense analyst, said the main problem with the Pentagon's missile defense program is that it is not technologically feasible.

"Anyone serious about missile defense knows ground-based systems are inherently flawed, which is why President Reagan 20 years ago in 1983, went with a space-based program," said Joseph Cirincione. "They hoped to go to space to get away from problems of ground-based systems. That proved impossible. It is still impossible. So what we're left with is a pathetic ground-based system. There's no reason not to do research on this system, but no one should have illusions that this thing will work."

Mr. Cirincione noted that overall, there are fewer nuclear, chemical or biological weapons in the world today than there were 10, 15 or 20 years ago. He charged that the proliferation problem is often exaggerated for political purposes.

Mr. Cirincione told Danish lawmakers they might want to approve the Thule Radar upgrade out of friendship for the United States, but urged them not to do so because of any concern about a growing threat of a missile attack. He said the threat is actually declining, especially in the wake of recent developments in Iraq.

Danish officials earlier said they would try to reach a decision on the Thule question before parliament adjourns for summer holidays. However, one official indicated that might be postponed if Denmark asks for a renegotiation of the lease agreement to address the concerns of Greenlanders.