Washington (AFP) May 28, 2000 - Intelligence officials are warning that a US decision to build a national missile defense system could set off a nuclear arms race between China, India and Pakistan, The New York Times reported Sunday.
Seeking to assuage Russia's concerns, US officials have repeatedly said the system under consideration would not be able to neutralize Moscow's strategic nuclear arsenal, which still includes more than 5,000 warheads.
But US officials acknowledge the anti-missile system being considered by the White House could significantly undercut or even neutralize China's small nuclear force, which consists of 18 land-based and 12 submarine-based missiles, The Times reported.
The daily said that could lead China to build up its nuclear arsenal, which, in turn, was likely to prompt China's regional rival, India, to do the same.
"And if India increases its missiles, then Pakistan does," the Times quoted an unnamed senior US official as saying.
"We don't deny to the Chinese that the system has some capability against Chinese missiles, but that is not what it is designed to do," US Undersecretary of Defense Walter Slocombe told the daily.
But the Chinese counter that they cannot be sure that a future US administration would not use the system against them, according to the report.
President Bill Clinton is set to make a decision on whether to deploy a missile defense system later this year.
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