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NATO cites 'growing threat' of missile attack

Missile shield system has been suggested by senior officials to protect Europe from missile attacks.

india Updated: May 11, 2006 08:35 IST

NATO countries face a growing threat of attack by long-range missiles, a senior alliance official has said as he presented a study on options for a missile shield system to protect Europe.

"There is a growing threat of long-range missile attack on NATO territory. It is timely to examine ways and means of addressing that threat," Marshall Billingslea, NATO assistant Secretary General for Defence Investment, told a news briefing on Wednesday.

Billingslea said the assessment was contained in a four-year study by NATO officials into missile threats and what alliance countries could do to counter them in Europe.

However he declined to say who might pose such a threat, the current level of danger, or to discuss the various attack scenarios laid out in the internal study, whose findings were not made available.

Military experts reckon Iran's Shahab-3 missiles have a range of some 2,000 km, meaning Israel, US bases in the Gulf and foreign troops in Iraq lie within their range.

Tehran, whom the West suspects of seeking to acquire an atomic bomb, insists its missiles are only for defensive purposes and that its nuclear programme is peaceful.

Billingslea said the 10,000-page report, commissioned by NATO countries at a 2002 summit, had concluded that a missile defence system for Europe was technically and financially feasible, but could not say when it could materialise.

"It is now up to NATO nations to decide on the desirability of such a defence," he said, judging the decision to commission the study in the first place showed "a basic level of interest".

Such a defence shield would locate missiles by the use of strategically placed sensors and launch interceptor missiles to knowck them out.

NATO nations called for a feasibility study on a missile shield system at a 2002 summit in the Czech capital Prague ahead of which the United States lobbied its allies to join its plans for a missile defence shield.

The United States has gone to spend by itself around $9 billion a year on building a system which is a scaled-down version of the defence shield known as "Star Wars" and first envisioned by former President Ronald Reagan in 1983.

Washington raised the possibility of attacks on the West by rogue states, at the time citing Libya as one possible attacker.

However critics of such missile shields accuse their backers of exaggerating the level of threat to win public support for the schemes.