What the World Thinks of Bush's Missile Shield (Hint: Not Much)

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VINCENT YU/AP

More of these? Chinese missiles are paraded past Beijing's Tiananmen Gate

President Bush's latest missile-defense sales pitch has done little to soothe the skepticism of both Washington's allies and its sometime competitors. The President's speech was a sendoff for a team of top administration officials heading for Europe, Russia and China to discuss Washington's plan to build a comprehensive missile shield (NMD)to protect itself and its allies — comprehensive in intent, although still for the most part undefined, because the science has not yet produced an even minimally reliable interceptor system. And from initial reactions to the President's speech, NMD will be a tough sell abroad.

RUSSIA'S SECRET DELIGHT

What they're saying:

TIME Moscow bureau chief Paul Quinn-Judge:Moscow will restate its concerns over the scrapping of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, and they'll be somewhat derogatory about the chances that U.S. can actually put together a National Missile Defense. The Russians don’t believe the technology exists to create a system the capability President Bush is suggesting. They also don't understand why the U.S. thinks the "rogue nations" will play by President Bush’s rules by creating ICBMs rather than suitcase bombs. But still, they'll be delighted by Bush's speech, because he repeatedly stressed that he wants to consult and work with Moscow on this. The Russians want more than anything is to be treated by the U.S. as a partner. They won't admit it, but they have a tremendous inferiority complex.

What they'll do:

Quinn-Judge: They don't have much money to do anything with their armed forces, let alone build up or build down their missile fleet. So no matter what they talk about in response to the U.S. plan, they’re unlikely to change their own plans. But they want to use the issue as leverage to get themselves taken more seriously, both in Washington and in Western Europe. In the end, Bush's emphasis on consultation and cooperation will have left them delighted, if slightly stunned. The question is whether President Bush will live up to the high expectations being formed here for a new era of cooperation.

CHINA'S CONSTERNATION

What they're saying:

Beijing has denounced Washington's missile shield, and warned that it will spark a new arms race and threaten relations with the U.S. Among Beijing's central fears is that a U.S. missile umbrella would one day be extended to Taiwan, which China would find intolerable. But it's also concerned that even the most limited version of the missile shield that Washington would deploy as soon as possible to counter the threat of missiles from "rogue" states would effectively neutralize its own missile fleet, which is believed to number around 20 ICBMs.

What they'll do:

A U.S. missile shield would almost certainly prompt Beijing to accelerate efforts to expand and modernize its own nuclear fleet, in order to retain some measure of nuclear deterrent against Washington. But those efforts are already underway, because China’s missile fleet's questionable capability and vulnerability to preemptive strike severely diminished its deterrent value. To overcome these limitations, China has been working on a ten-fold expansion of its current nuclear arsenal with mobile-launched, solid-fueled, multiple-warhead missiles. So Beijing’s response is more likely to be felt in the political and diplomatic arena, where it will react to missile defense as a further attempt by Washington to "contain" China.

NATO ALLIES' QUIET CONCERN

What they're saying:

European reaction has been mostly deadpan, welcoming President Bush's emphasis on consultation but avoiding outright condemnation of the proposal despite widespread skepticism. After all, Europe has little to gain by publicly challenging a plan that President Bush has made clear will go ahead regardless. But the major fear on the continent that scrapping the 1972 Anti Ballistic Missile treaty takes away the foundation of all subsequent arms-control agreements between Washington and Moscow, removing a key regulatory mechanism on the nuclear balance and potentially prompting an arms race. Europe may be less worried about the details of the missile-shield proposal than by the sense that the new administration is less sensitive than its predecessors to European concerns.

What they'll do:

The Europeans recognize the inevitability of Washington proceeding with missile defense, but they'll do their utmost to ensure that the U.S. reaches an understanding with Russia over the issue and preserves the existing arms-control framework in some form. Missile defense requires the upgrading of U.S. radar facilities in Britain and Denmark, and those countries are unlikely to stand in Washington's way despite the negative reaction to the scheme in European public opinion.

PLAN B FOR THE 'ROGUE STATES'

What they're saying: Nothing. They don't admit they're "rogue" states, after all, or that they're building weapons of mass destruction.

What they'll do:

Hold the ICBM; build the suitcase bomb. (That's if they were ever going to build an ICBM in the first place…)

With reporting by James Graff/Brussels