NATO mulls missile defense for southeastern flank

NATO ordered its military experts Thursday to draw up plans for a possible short-range missile defense system to protect nations on the alliance's southern flank that would be left exposed by proposed US anti-missile units in central Europe. A final decision on building the NATO system is expected at an April 2008 alliance summit in Romania, but the agreement to launch the study factors the US proposal for Europe-based anti-missile interceptors and radar units into NATO planning for the first time. It also reflects a growing acceptance of Washington's plans among the 26 allies, despite initial skepticism in some European nations and virulent opposition from Russia. "We must all be interested in building up protection for the population of Europe as a whole," German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said as he arrived for the two-day meeting with his counterparts from the other NATO countries.