Norway hails Obama's decision to drop US' rocket shield plan

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Norway never liked the US’ plans to set up rocket shield bases in Poland and the Czech Republic. Norwegian officials thus welcomed news that the Obama Administration in Washington is now opting for a more flexible rocket defense system.

“It’s a wise decision,” Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre told newspaper Dagsavisen on Friday. “This shows that the (Obama) administration has thought for itself and won’t just follow the tracks put in place by (former) President George Bush and his colleagues.”

Norway was the only member country of NATO to initially oppose Bush’s rocket shield plans, claiming that it brought back memories of the Cold War and could lead to a new military build-up after years of disarmament.

Norwegian Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen doubted the need for such shields for long-range rockets that the US worried could be fired at Europe from Iran or North Korea. She was the only NATO defense minister to publicly express such doubts, though, and she failed to win over her NATO colleagues.

Russia always disliked the rocket shield plan, and Norway, which shares a border with Russia, also was concerned that it could further and unnecessarily sour relations with Moscow.

Norway ultimately decided not to exercise its veto right but remained skeptical even after finally agreeing to go along with the rocket shield project. Strøm-Erichsen said that Norway still questioned whether the need existed and would continue “to communicate the risks attached to the project.”

Støre said at the time that Norway “acknowledged … an increased threat from long-range missiles,” and noted that the US plan would increase protection. He questioned, though, whether it would increase security.

Now President Barack Obama, acting on the advice of his military advisers and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, has removed what the Norwegians feel was one of the thorniest issues between the US and Russia, and also Europe and Russia. Obama claimed the US’ new missile defense system would still protect against missiles, offer faster results and build on known systems.

“The Obama Administration has undergone a comprehensive review of the entire complex issue and chosen to take the debate up again within NATO,” Støre told news bureau NTB. He thinks that’s positive.

It’s also a relief for Støre and the Labour Party-led government coalition of which he is a key player. Labour did well in Norway’s parliamentary election this week and will continue to lead the coalition, which has had as part of its platform a commitment to get NATO and the US to drop Bush’s rocket shield plans. Obama’s decision to do so means one less challenge for Støre, who hasa long listof other priorities.