NATO countries close to deal on missile defense

09:49, November 20, 2010      

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NATO nations were close to an agreement Friday on plans to build an anti-missile shield, which it says is intended to protect Europe and North America from ballistic attacks.

The tentative deal seemed likely to clear the way for NATO leaders gathering in Lisbon to adopt a new "Strategic Concept" designed to modernize the 60-year-old Atlantic alliance, which is struggling to define its role and relevance in the face of 21st century security challenges.

After years of procrastination, the missile defense system would link up a network of sensors, radar bases and clusters of interceptor missiles able to shoot down any incoming ballistic missiles fired at allied troops or the territory of the 28 NATO member nations.

Germany, whose Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle wants the United States to withdraw its tactical nuclear weapons from Europe, had hoped an agreement on missile defense could be linked to a commitment for more nuclear disarmament.

France however was wary of any language that would undermine its "force de frappe" nuclear arsenal and is anyway skeptical about the effectiveness of the missile shield.

Diplomats said the compromise language being worked on at the summit would suggest the anti-missile shield would be "complementary" to NATO's nuclear deterrent.

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