your connection to The Boston Globe

Germans call for calm debate on U.S. plan

BRUSSELS, Belgium --Germany's foreign minister on Monday called for a calm debate within the European Union, the NATO alliance and with Russia on U.S. plans to develop an anti-missile shield in Europe.

A top Russian general increased the bellicose tone of the debate, however, noting that the Russian air force could easily knock out any missile defense sites the U.S. wants to place in Europe.

"Since missile defense elements are weakly protected, all types of our aircraft are capable of applying electronic countermeasures against them or physically destroying them," Lt. Gen. Igor Khvorov said Monday, according to the Russian news agencies Interfax and RIA-Novosti.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose country holds the EU presidency, made his call for calm amid growing concerns in Moscow and in the EU over the U.S. negotiations with the Czech Republic, Poland and Britain about the possibility of hosting radar bases and interceptor missiles.

"What we have to do now is to discuss this calmly within NATO and the EU and ... to talk to the Russians," Steinmeier told reporters as he went into a meeting of EU foreign ministers.

Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said the U.S. plan was "incomprehensible," adding that money spent on a European missile defense system could better be spent elsewhere.

"We will have no stability in Europe if we push the Russians into a corner," he said. "Here, one has to help the Poles and the Czechs to show solidarity with a European position."

The comments came ahead of Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek's visit to NATO headquarters, where he was to discuss the plan later Monday.

Several EU nations, including France, say they fear such a system could hurt European ties with the Russians, who have strongly criticized the plan to place a radar system in the Czech Republic and a missile interceptor site in Poland.

The United States has offered assurances that the installations would be meant to deal with a potential threat from Iran, not Russia.

President Vladimir Putin has said, however, that he does not trust the American claims and warned that Russia would take countermeasures.

Germany's Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung suggested Friday that the U.S. plan could be integrated into the defenses of NATO.

Britain is also in talks with the United States about the deployment. On a visit to NATO headquarters Thursday, the director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Lt. Gen. Henry A. Obering, said Washington also wants to base an anti-missile radar in the Caucasus, a move likely to intensify Russian concerns.

In another reflection of the increasing tensions, Russia's presidential Security Council said it was developing a new national military doctrine that will take into account the growing role of military force in global politics.

While it did not mention the United States, the statement referred to the strengthening of NATO as one of the global policy factors that explain the need for Russia to revise its military doctrine. Last month, Putin accused the United States of the unrestrained use of force worldwide.

Geopolitical changes and Russia's economic development since the approval in 2000 of the current military doctrine call for a new, revised document, the council said in the statement.

"An analysis of the international situation shows that military force has become an increasingly important factor in the policy of leading nations," it said. "Leading powers are paying increasing attention to the modernization of their military forces and the improvement of their armaments. Means of modern warfare are being actively implemented, modes of using force are being reviewed, the configuration of the military presence is being changed and military alliances, particularly NATO, are being strengthened."


Associated Press Writer Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this story.