The World From Berlin 'Europe Doesn't Need New Missiles'

Plans by the United States to build a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe has led to sharp criticism from some quarters in Germany. While the chairman of the Social Democrats says Europe doesn't need new missiles, Chancellor Angela Merkel and her foreign minister would like to see NATO get more involved.

The German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, visited his US counterpart Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday and sought to play down differences between Berlin and Washington on the issue of a US plan to build a missile defense system in Europe.

He described the US need to protect itself as "legitimate" and said that Germany respected this. "It is not a disruption of American-German relations, none whatsoever," he said after meeting with Rice.

Russia has strenuously objected to the planned missile and radar sites which will be based in the Czech Republic and Poland. But Rice said Moscow had nothing to fear from the program: "We live in the world in which Russia and the United States have a good working relationship in which very few would contemplate the notion of a nuclear exchange."

Steinmeier, who is a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), had previously been critical of the lack of consultation with Russia on the defense system. Writing in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung at the weekend, he warned that a new arms race must be prevented, and called on the governments in Washington and Moscow not to return to Cold War thinking.

Kurt Beck, the chairman of the SPD, which is in coalition with Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said he opposed the planned defence system. He told the mass circulation Bild newspaper: "We don’t need any new missiles in Europe." He added that the SPD didn’t want to see a new arms race between the US and Russia on European soil.

Speaking in Berlin on Monday, Merkel warned against a split in Europe  as a result of bilateral agreements between the US and individual European Union or NATO states: "It does no-one any good to go it alone," she said. Steinmeier reiterated this view in Washington saying: "The right place for such a discussion in my eyes would be NATO."

NATO officials have suggested that the allies should focus on combining NATO's existing short-range missile defenses with the US strategic shield. The alliance is expected to discuss the issue at a foreign ministers' meeting in Norway next month.

The German press is divided on whether Europe really does need more missiles.

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"It would be a mistake for the West to allow itself to be split and put under pressure by Russia's aggressive posturing. Or to let the defense system be demonized as a threat to world peace.

"Russia's criticism is not convincing. It raises the suspicion that Moscow is taking advantage of the defense shield plan to demand more respect and more international clout. The right response to this would be to include the Kremlin as much as possible in the project and to convince the Russians that it is not aimed against their interests.

"The aim of the system -- to stop a possible attack from Iranian fanatics -- is also in Moscow's strategic interest. The Americans and Europeans should therefore try to get Russian agreement and cooperation at the highest level."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The best solution would be a defense shield that would be functional within a few years, operated jointly within NATO, and also protecting Russia territory, to defend against nuclear weapons from volatile countries like for example Iran.

"It's important to think in a new way and leave the old categories behind. For example the arms race: Moscow isn’t seriously worried that NATO could attack Russian territory one day ... but Moscow is worried that its political influence in the region and over Iran could be reduced.

"In the end it's not a missile defense system that will offer protection, but rather -- as abstract as it sounds -- unity, for example on the use of sanctions.

"The best of all solutions would be if the system wasn’t even needed -- if the US, Russia and the Europeans were to follow a strict Iran policy, which tightened the sanctions screw slowly but surely, and if Tehran were to give up its nuclear program in the face of a mutually agreed missile defense program."

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The stationing of the missile system in states which formerly belonged to the Warsaw Pact threatens to split Europe and to severely damage NATO and EU relations with Russia. The result could be a new arms race.

"It would be wonderful if the US were to decide to abandon the system. But they are not going to do so -- and why would they? That have wanted one for decades, and they now have the opportunity to fulfill this wish within a 'coalition of the willing' and without having to bother with NATO and the EU.

"The German Chancellor is right in wanting to get the issue away from bilateralism and to put it under NATO's control. It is only possible to push for the inclusion of Russia in the plans within the alliance. That is a peace policy. A pure rejection of the new system is just wishful thinking -- or electioneering. "

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"If Kurt Beck, the leader of the SPD, has concerns about re-armament, maybe he should express them in Tehran. That is where a missile system is being worked on, one that could reach the heart of Europe in a few years.

"The issue belongs in NATO, not in order to talk it to death, as some critics of the missile defense system would secretly like to see happen, but rather to analyze the danger together and to discuss the use of this type of defense. But is there anyone on either side of the Atlantic who is really interested in doing so?"

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

"The SPD leader (Kurt Beck) is not a cabinet member and so can say quite simply: We don’t need or want new missiles in Europe. Most Germans think the same way, especially when the missiles are American. Now the Chancellor will have to constantly answer the same simple question: Do we need, and does she want, new missiles in Europe? But she can not give a simple answer, because she has to consider treaties and commitments to the alliance.

"Since its experience with Gerhard Schröder, war and peace has been a tricky issue for the Christian Democrats. The SPD is coolly seizing upon this, especially as they are right -- not only in terms of party tactics but in view of the facts. Europe doesn't need new missiles or a new round of nuclear re-armament."

-- Siobhán Dowling, 4:00 p.m. CET

Die Wiedergabe wurde unterbrochen.