he three main possibilities
for involvement are radar stations (Fylingdales and perhaps
Menwith), interceptor missile bases and investment in the
In analysing this it may be useful to apply the same tests
that were originally applied in the States: cost; threat;
technical feasibility; diplomatic consequences.
Prices are counted in US Billions (thousand million dollars).
Since the Bush administration is considering a comprehensive
system (to intercept missiles at all three phases of flight
from land, sea, air and space) the cost will be hundreds of
billions with a British contribution liable to be in billions.
Accordingly there are immense corporate financial interests
and there will be attempts to sell MD on grounds of British
business and employment opportunities.
It would be a wildly exorbitant job creation scheme.
Axis of evil
The 'discussion paper' reckons
that no state would currently specifically target missiles
at the UK, but says that "the UK government has in recent
years identified a number of countries of concern" as a potential
future threat. These
precisely coincide with Bush's 'Axis of Evil'. They are nowhere
near having rockets capable of reaching Britain.
The paper recognises that terrorists are unlikely to
try to use ballistic missiles to deliver weapons of mass destruction,
but fails to follow the logic of the National Intelligence
Estimate to the Senate, that this could also apply to 'countries
ICBMs are difficult and expensive to produce, launch bases
could be visible to satellite surveillance, tests could certainly
be seen, inviting a pre-emptive conventional strike.
Untested missiles would be likely to fail. An actual missile
attack on a major power would be instantly traceable, inviting
Smuggled weapons of mass destruction can be covertly developed
and employed with accuracy and without warning, with the source
masked to avoid immediate retaliation, and the claim of other
smuggled weapons as a subsequent deterrent.
The most recent missile defence
tests have been shrouded in secrecy, and the US media have
questioned whether this has been less for security reasons
than to cover up rigging. Successful interceptions have depended on good weather conditions,
prior knowledge of the timing and trajectory of the missile,
few and easily distinguishable decoys, and, in one case, a
signalling beacon on the dummy warhead.
Serious scientific questions are asked as to whether a system
could possibly work effectively in real-life situations, or
overcome such countermeasures as having the warhead and decoys
concealed within identical metallic balloons.
With a system, the first real test of which would be
against a real enemy, can infallibility be presumed?
Widespread scepticism about
the practicability of MD might suggest that the international
community might not see it as a threat.
But military establishments work on worst-case analysis
and will plan on the assumption it might work. Russia is continuing to pursue détente despite
unhappiness over the abrogation of the ABM Treaty.
However such humiliations increase the risk of destabilisation
or alienation of Russia in the future. China is increasing its planned nuclear expansion
as a direct response to MD.
This could result in knock-on effects in India and
Pakistan, further destabilising an already volatile situation
in South Asia.
US abandonment of the ABM Treaty, taken together with direct
contraventions of other undertakings given under the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2000, and the blocking or breaching
of other arms control agreements seriously threatens the whole
If MD involves putting weapons in space that would create
a dangerous new area for proliferation. Since MD threatens reduced missile stocks it could deter further
For US right wing advocates of MD, undermining Arms Control
is not seen as an undesirable outcome.
A gung-ho approach to world problems prefers military to
diplomatic solutions, including launching pre-emptive wars
against countries regarded as potential threats.
MD is seen as the defensive cover behind which military
might can be exercised with impunity, and Iraq as the first
opportunity to adopt the new aggressive policy.
There is a difference between the UK standing shoulder to
shoulder with the US in opposing terrorism and in the defensive
alliance of NATO; and committing ourselves unconditionally
to involvement in possible future US military aggression.
The more closely the UK is involved in MD the more closely
the UK is tied into future US action. Given the present prominence of unilateralist hawks in Washington
this could increase the risk of the UK becoming a target,
either in war or of terrorism.
MD is massively costly and proffers doubtful protection against
an extremely remote risk.
It distracts from and in certain cases increases far
more real dangers to both Britain and the international community.
Should a British Labour Government get involved in a system
which is contrary to British interests and undermines multilateralism
and arms control?