Senior US defence officials have been questioned by their UK and Chinese counterparts on deployment of the National Missile Defense (NMD) system designed to offer US cities limited protection against ballistic missiles launched by "rogue states".

US President Bill Clinton is to decide this year whether NMD is to be deployed by 2005, at a cost of $13 billion. A second flight test of the system failed on 18 January because of faulty infrared sensors.

Russia and China are the most vocal opponents of NMD, warning that it could lead to a nuclear arms race. The UK has expressed reservations as it reviews a request from Washington to use the ballistic missile early warning system radar at Fylingdales, Yorkshire, to support the NMD. Other NATO members fear construction of the system could weaken the political and military links between the USA and Europe.

UK defence minister Geoffrey Hoon said after a meeting in late January with US defence secretary William Cohen that the UK "shares the US Government's assessment of the risk of rogue states. The UK will want to be helpful. Equally, we believe that it is important that we should discuss the implications of NMD among NATO allies. There are issues that have to be addressed."

US and Chinese defence leaders have also discussed NMD, with the latter reiterating its opposition. The USA has initiated talks with Russia to modify the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, but China prefers to see it unchanged.

Source: Flight International