A Russian made S-75 anti-aircraft missile mounted on a vehicle is displayed 07 September 1999 in a military parade in Tripoli to mark the 30th anniversary of the Libyan Revolution that brought Moamer Kadhafi to power. Missiles such as these are now largely obsolete and offer little treat to the US and its allies. Photo by Marwan Naamani - Copyright AFP 2000
Vedrine, speaking here at a joint press conference with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, said Paris did not dispute that missile technology had unfortunately leaked out to such countries but questioned whether this was a valid rationale for a national missile defense (NMD) system.
"We do have a number of questions to raise about the issue of what you here call threats," Vedrine said. "Obviously there are instances of proliferation around the world despite the great efforts we have made to try to prevent them."
"Does that mean though that there is a real strategic threat which would warrant a review of the treaty?" he asked, referring to US efforts to amend the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) pact to allow for wide-scale NMD systems.
The United States has pointed to North Korea in the short- and medium-term and Iran in the longer-term as countries capable of threatening US territory with intercontinental ballistic missiles. Washington wants to convince allies, and its ABM treaty partner, Russia, that missile defense is the only way to protect against such "rogue states."
Russia is vehemently opposed to any amendment of the treaty, signed by the United States and the former Soviet Union, which forbids systems capable of shooting down incoming missiles. Moscow sees NMD as a direct threat to its security, since it could enable the United States to attack Russia without fearing the response.
Moscow has already rejected suggested ABM modifications, but the topic will be at the center of talks during a summit between Presidents Bill Clinton and Vladimir Putin next month.
In addition to the Russian objections, China is also opposed to NMD and several US allies in Europe, including France and Germany, have expressed deep concerns about the impact the system could have on stability, with its potential for stirring a new nuclear arms race.
Clinton has promised he will consult with most, if not all, of the concerned countries before he makes a decision on deployment, expected sometime this fall.
Vedrine said France recognized the United States' right to protect itself but said it should address European and other concerns if it decides to go ahead with NMD.
"The United States can take decisions they believe are appropriate in the national security context ... however, we would like the issues we have raised to be taken into account in the whole decision-making process," he said.
"If there were to be any changes to the treaty ... what we are asking is that the consequences on the global strategic situation and on other disarmament agreements be taken into account."
Albright, like Clinton, promised consultation but made clear the US belief that the decision was its own.
"We will be very interested in hearing what you Europeans think about it because it is a very important question," she said at the joint press conference with Vedrine, after a meeting between the two at the State Department.
"Again, the president has not made his decision yet (but) we have to be in a position to protect our territory and at the same time preserve the structure of what we do in arms control," said Albright.
Europe May Look Unkindly Towards US Missile Defense Plans
Washington (AFP) May 1, 2000 - Europe would respond "very badly" if the United States decides to deploy a national missile defense system without first reaching an agreement with Russia and discussing the issue with the Europeans, Javier Solana said here Monday.