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Netherlands Prepares for U.S. Nuclear Mid-Range Missiles That May Never Come

June 21, 1987|MARTIN NESIRKY | Reuters

WOENSDRECHT, Netherlands — Builders at this Dutch air force base have nearly finished the first of three nuclear rocket shelters--ready for 48 U.S. cruise missiles that might never arrive.

The Netherlands was the last of five NATO countries to agree to accept U.S. cruise or Pershing-2 medium-range missiles and plans to deploy them in mid-1988 at Woensdrecht, tucked away in woods in the southwest of the country near Belgium.

Britain, Italy, West Germany and Belgium have already started or completed stationing their share of the weapons.

Few would deny that there is some way to go to a U.S.-Soviet accord on abolishing medium-range missiles in Europe.

Deal Could Come Soon

But Dutch officials and anti-cruise campaigners believe a superpower deal could materialize before deployment is due in the Netherlands.

"Yes, it is possible, because in our schedule they (the missiles) only come in the summer of next year," Dutch Defense Minister Wim van Eekelen said.

The government decided in November, 1985, to accept the missiles in the face of fierce public opposition.

Ton Frinking, defense expert for the Christian Democratic party that heads the center-right coalition of Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, said Washington would have to ratify the deal before May, 1988, because American presidential election fever would take over then.

Building Hasn't Stopped

"Of course the timing is anybody's guess, but if it (an agreement) is ready by May next year, then we will see no cruise in Holland," he said.

Jan Bosman of the anti-cruise group BIVAK, which helps organize demonstrations outside Woensdrecht and maintain two "peace camps" nearby, also believes the chances are high that the missiles will never be flown in. He urged the government to stop building work.

"It's not logical to build the base when it's likely not to have the missiles," he said.

Van Eekelen disagreed, "Construction is certainly going on until the signature of an agreement. We only start adjusting our position when an agreement has been signed."

A rare tour of the construction site at Woensdrecht confirms building and other preparations continue unabated.

30% Complete

New roads, enhanced security and a growing number of U.S. staff have transformed a relatively sleepy jet engine repair depot with 22 guards and a police dog into a missile base watched over by dozens of armed Dutch troops and surrounded by electronically monitored fences.

Earth-moving trucks are dumping soil over one concrete shelter and another two of the hangar-like buildings are taking shape. Each is designed to house a flight of 16 missiles and the vehicles that would carry them off into the Dutch countryside for launch in time of war.

"The operational area is called the Ground Launched Cruise Missile Alert and Maintenance Area (GAMA) and that is almost 30% complete. It should be ready by mid-1988," said Woensdrecht spokesman Loe Baltussen, a Dutch air force captain.

Nearby, barracks and support buildings are sprouting on the former World War II German bomber base for the 1,300 U.S. troops expected to make up the 486 Tactical Missile Wing.

Costly Construction

U.S. Air Force captain Willette Parker said 400 single people will live inside the three-mile inner perimeter wire. Families will live locally.

Baltussen said the GAMA would cost $50 million and was funded by NATO, with contracts going to an undisclosed number of Dutch firms.

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