I produced this with Helen Hughes in 2001 while working with the Quakers, on behalf of the UK Missile Defence Working Group. The group had gathered to resist plans to set up a US missile shield in Europe, possibly at the joint UK-US base at Fylingdales on the North York Moors.

The idea of a protective shield might sound like common sense, but it risked re-igniting the arms race with Russia and making everyone less secure. And anyway, it wouldn’t have worked. Still, the ‘sword-and-shield’ idea hasn’t gone away, and nor has the arms race.

PDFs didn’t exist then, so here it is copied and pasted.


 

US Missile Defence: Ten Reasons for UK Concern

by the Missile Defence Working Group

Written by David Gee and Helen Hughes

Missile Defence Working Group

A number of like-minded organisations have met regularly on an informal basis to oppose collectively UK involvement in US missile defence plans. The Missile Defence Working Group was formed by Abolition 2000 UK, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases (CAAB), Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), Medact, Northern Friends Peace Board, Quaker Peace and Social Witness and United Nations Association, among others. Our common concerns include the impact of US missile defence on international relations, the arms control regime and future peace and security, and also on the security of the United Kingdom.

The Missile Defence Working Group was officially launched at a Forum on US Missile Defence in central London on 31 May 2001.

Executive summary

The fall of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty on 13 June 2002 prepared the ground for the United States administration to push ahead with a strategic missile defence (MD) system, which had been prohibited under this bilateral agreement with Russia. During the preceding months, a series of diplomatic initiatives aimed at mitigating the damage from US unilateral withdrawal eventually culminated in Russian acquiescence with the US MD plans. The US commitment to MD should be seen in the context of a reaffirmation of the role of nuclear weapons in its security policy. This “sword and shield” approach to security has far-reaching ramifications for international relations, international security and the future of arms control in particular. The proposed use of US bases within the UK as part of a US MD system is cause for public and parliamentary concern. Ten points are outlined here:

  1. The rationale for US MD is based on an exaggerated perception of a threat to its physical security.
    2. US MD alters the strategic relationships between nations, so risking provoking other states to develop nuclear arsenals in order to counter the perceived US advantage.
    3. US security policy is straining the arms control and disarmament regime to breaking point.
    4. There are clear indications that US MD plans include the weaponisation of space for the first time.
    5. The opaque operation of US bases in the UK and the lack of parliamentary debate raise questions of UK sovereignty in respect of these bases and their overall accountability.
    6. The use of US bases in the UK would raise the profile of the UK in any missile attack against the US.
    7. The defensive effectiveness of a MD system is highly dubious in principle and in practice.
    8. US MD represents a misuse of resources that could be used to address systemic causes of insecurity to better effect.
    9. Risks to health and the environment in the UK from WMD exploding over Europe have not been investigated.
    10. US MD represents a unilateralist policy based on fear of the unknown and undermines the internationalist agenda required for future peace and security.

The proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) deserves international concern and attention. However, a threefold alternative approach, based on diplomatic engagement, progress towards disarmament of the Nuclear Weapons States, and a renewed commitment to the arms control regime, has been sidelined in favour of a military solution that will undermine future peace and security over the long term.

We believe that the UK should not be party to a US MD system and call for a full public and parliamentary debate.

US Missile Defence: Ten reasons for UK concern

Introduction

The United States’ withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty took effect on 13 June 2002, concluding the six months formal notification required by the terms of the agreement. President Bush announced the decision to withdraw so that the US can “develop effective defences” against missile attack by terrorists or “states of concern”,1 specifically Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

Although proponents of strategic missile defence (MD)2 have argued that the ABM Treaty is strictly a matter for the US and Russia, the ramifications of US unilateral withdrawal and the decision to proceed with MD reach far beyond this relationship. The annulment of this treaty marks a milestone in arms control and disarmament; it sets a precedent for withdrawal from international agreements while seriously jeopardising the non-proliferation regime. It also represents a turning point in the MD debate because the importance of the ABM Treaty had been the focus of many objections to a US MD system. In particular, it was the fall of the ABM Treaty that precipitated Russia’s reluctant acquiescence with US MD ambitions.

The events of 11 September 2001 strengthened the resolve of the US administration to push ahead with MD despite its obvious futility in the face of similar attacks. Washington has also taken the opportunity afforded by the shift in the international security paradigm to frame a destabilising surge in militarisation. US global military hegemony (MD being its pinnacle) cannot be matched but Russia and China can be expected to respond to offset the threat that both states still perceive to their strategic position in relation to the US. While the proliferation of WMD is a legitimate concern, this paper argues that MD is unlikely to deter or prevent a missile attack. At the same time, US contempt for multilateral approaches aimed at tackling these threats continues to hinder the rest of the international community from moving forward in this area.

The role of UK-based facilities in a US MD system, specifically those at Menwith Hill and Fylingdales in Yorkshire, is a matter of national public concern and thus warrants full parliamentary consideration and consultation. While the UK position on involvement in this system through the use of these bases remains unclear, Whitehall has on several occasions conveyed implicit support for a US MD system. Most recently Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary, described how MD could contribute to disarmament.3 The purpose of this paper is to challenge this view by presenting a ten-point critique of US MD. We conclude by proposing concrete, practical alternatives for addressing the proliferation of missile technology and WMD.

Ten reasons for UK concern

  1. An exaggerated threat

The proliferation of WMD and ballistic missile technology is not in doubt but the assumption that this constitutes an emerging physical threat to the US is misleading. Should states be seeking to attack the US physically, a cheaper, covert and more reliable method would likely be used, such as a suitcase-sized WMD device deployed in a major US city. By contrast, a missile launched towards the US would be traced immediately and provoke a devastating response. States now choosing to pursue missile technology do so to improve their strategic position in relation to other states but not to fight a war with the US. While this opens up new dangers, any threat it may present to the US is not physical but primarily political in nature.

In the light of this, many analysts believe that the physical threat from ballistic missile proliferation has been exaggerated in order to provide a rationale for a MD system. Besides their suggested defensive capability, US MD ambitions appear to be part of a wider strategy to maintain strategic supremacy over other nations. This is clear from US security policy, which states that US forces must “defeat the efforts of adversaries to impose their will on the United States, its allies, or friends…” and that it must be possible “to impose the will of the United States and its coalition partners on any adversaries, including states…”4 This is the language not of physical security but of strategic struggle and based on a logic similar to that underlying the Cold War arms race. Once US MD is considered in this context, the protests of other states are better understood, particularly their concerns about strategic stability and the threat perceived from unfettered US power.

  1. New nuclear risks

The ABM Treaty acted as a deterrent between the US and Soviet Union, ensuring that both remained mutually vulnerable to nuclear strikes. Thus its removal, combined with US deployment of MD, challenges the deterrent credibility of Russia, but more so China by denying these states the ability to retaliate against a first strike. This also threatens non-proliferation strategies, potentially leading to further militarisation of international relations.5 Russia and China have sought to offset this shift in the status quo through both political and military responses.

The new accord, which commits Russia and the US to slash their nuclear arsenals to between around 1,700 and 2,200 weapons, appears a significant contribution to nuclear disarmament, allaying fears over proliferation. This is not the case because these reductions are neither permanent nor meaningful.

This treaty contains no requirement to destroy the warheads once they are taken out of service and it expires in ten years allowing each country to return to previous levels. Moreover, it provides a convenient framework for both countries to pursue a process of nuclear modernisation since it does not restrict the development of new nuclear weapons. These cuts will enable Russia to concentrate its limited financial resources (currently tied up in maintaining around 6,000 weapons) on streamlining, not eliminating, its nuclear deterrent, particularly as it allows Russia to retain land-based multiple warhead missiles. The US has already reaffirmed that nuclear weapons will continue to “play a critical role” and suggested in the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review Report that it intends to develop new nuclear weapons and resume testing – ambitions characteristic of an offensive strategy.6

So far China’s opposition has been mainly political. It has been outspoken in the Conference on Disarmament where it outlined strong concerns over US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty and the strategic impact of US MD. The challenge that MD poses to China’s relatively limited nuclear capability is likely to lead Beijing to adjust its current programme of modernisation and expansion of strategic weapons. This is likely to force changes in China’s nuclear posture, including deployment of multiple warhead missiles or putting its nuclear weapons on high alert. China may choose to continue the export of ballistic missile and countermeasure technology to states like Pakistan and Iran, despite US objections.

If Taiwan acquires MD technologies from the US this will further aggravate Sino-American tensions and lead to missile build-up across the Taiwan Strait. A surge in militarisation in the region could also have severe repercussions for nuclear and missile proliferation, especially in the context of India and Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions.

  1. Undermining disarmament

The ABM Treaty was an integral part of the arms control regime. By helping to build some trust between the two superpowers, it helped to facilitate key nuclear arms reduction treaties. In 2001, President Bush said he believed that the treaty did “not recognise the present, nor point us to the future.”7 Yet as recently as 2000, the ABM Treaty was described by all 187 states parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as “a cornerstone of strategic stability” that needed preserving and strengthening.8 United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed concern “that the annulation of this [ABM] treaty may provoke an arms race… and further undermine disarmament and non-proliferation regimes.”9 Germany, Sweden, France, Russia and China were among the many states that also criticised the US decision to withdraw.

Announced reductions in the US arsenal, agreed with Russia in May 2002, are not a substitute for a commitment to the arms control regime and multilateral disarmament process. The weapons cuts should be seen in the context of a US policy, in which, “over the coming decades”, nuclear weapons will “continue to play a critical role.”10 US missile defence itself presumes the continued existence of nuclear weapons and so represents a major threat to the trust and good faith needed for progress towards disarmament. The US commitment to sword and shield, represented by nuclear weapons and missile defences respectively, when considered alongside apparent intentions to resume nuclear testing,11 threatens key international agreements that limit nuclear dangers and facilitate progress towards disarmament. Most notably, these include the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the Outer Space Treaty and the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty. UN Under-secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Jayantha Dhanapala believes that current US policy “flies in the face” of undertakings under the NPT, which commits Nuclear Weapons States to negotiating nuclear disarmament.12 The dispute over MD has also made worse an impasse over negotiations on crucial new treaties to ban the production of fissile materials and to prevent an arms race in space.

The consequences for arms control of the trend in US policy are far-reaching. Jeopardising the arms control regime and disarmament negotiations risks a resumption of nuclear testing around the globe, the weaponisation of space, the end of reductions in strategic nuclear weapons, and the eventual breakdown of the non-proliferation regime. This could lead to widespread and rapid proliferation of WMD and ballistic missiles, the remilitarisation of international relations and possible conflict using WMD. The very existence of missile defences will have done much to generate the threat that they are intended to defend the US against.

These developments ought to arouse publicly expressed concern from the UK Government with its policy commitment to the arms control and disarmament regime – yet none appears to be forthcoming. Instead, the Government believes that missile defences can play a role within “a comprehensive strategy to tackle the potential threat posed by weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.”13 This in-principle acceptance of missile defences undermines existing UK policy commitments to all these treaties and initiatives threatened by US missile defence plans and its nuclear policy. The UK risks becoming hostage to a damaging trend in US policy that includes a deep mistrust of treaty agreements in general, while compromising this Government’s often more constructive approach to arms control and disarmament negotiations.

  1. The weaponisation of space

Fears that MD conceals a more sinister agenda to weaponise space are justified in the context of trends in US policy on the military use of space. This policy has been mostly framed in the context of defences, conveniently deflecting attention away from the offensive capabilities of a space-based “defence system”. Washington intends to embrace a system that would ultimately use space-based lasers and interceptors to intercept incoming missiles. However, both the rhetoric and technical developments as revealed in several public documents imply an approach to space policy that moves beyond defence of the US mainland. The report from the Commission to Assess US National Security Space Management and Organisation from January 2001 stated its belief that “the U.S. government should vigorously pursue the capabilities called for in the National Space Policy to ensure that the president will have the option to deploy weapons in space to deter threats to, and, if necessary, defend against attacks on U.S. interests.”14

In May 2001, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld unveiled changes to his country’s military structures boosting the development of futuristic orbiting weapons, not only as part of MD but also to protect satellites crucial to its forces.15 “Ensuring the freedom of access to space and protecting US national security interests” have become key priorities for the US Defence Department.16 According to the Quadrennial Defence Review Report, challenges facing US defence “require enhancing the capability and survivability of US space systems… [with] the exploitation of space and the denial of the use of space to adversaries.”17 This means deploying both offensive and defensive capabilities (clearly beyond the scope of MD) such as the space-based laser and the space-based, kinetic-kill interceptor.

Although the testing of space weapons for MD and anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) is probably a decade away, work on some of the other technologies such as lower earth orbital interceptors for theatre MD or sea based MD are now likely to accelerate with the demise of the ABM Treaty18. For those left in any doubt, the pursuit of space superiority is made very clear in the US Space Command document Vision for 2020 ; it describes space as the next medium of warfare.

Placing weapons in space would jeopardise satellite communications, exacerbate military competition among adversaries and intensify an arms race. The enormous setback to the disarmament agenda that the weaponisation of space would represent is obvious. Moderate voices in the Pentagon concerned about the problems of debris from space warfare,19 coupled with Congressional cuts in funding, may delay deployment sufficiently for the international community to foster the conclusion of an agreement preventing weapons in space.

  1. A matter of sovereignty and accountability

Despite repeated parliamentary questions about the role of RAF Menwith Hill and RAF Fylingdales in US plans to deploy MD, this Government has maintained an official position of postponing any decision on these bases until it has received a firm proposal from the US. However, over the past year Whitehall has expressed increasing support for MD, especially in the wake of 11 September. UK sympathy has extended to mutual concern over fears of WMD proliferation as Geoff Hoon, Defence Secretary, took the opportunity to say during a Commons Defence Select Committee hearing on international issues relating to MD systems:

Whilst we as of today see no direct threat from these weapons to the United Kingdom, the fact that if certain states of concern do acquire complete systems of sufficient range then they might be capable of targeting the United Kingdom within the next few years is something that we consider very seriously.20

This Committee hearing was not followed by a full parliamentary debate, unlike in Denmark.21 Despite the overwhelming concern expressed by over 270 Members of Parliament who supported an Early Day Motion on this issue, this Government has so far avoided a parliamentary consultation about the implications of UK involvement.

Protests over the lack of consultation about the future of Menwith Hill and Fylingdales have also fuelled speculation about the degree of control the RAF and the British Government have over these US-operated bases, raising serious doubts about the authority the Government has to sanction their use. There is little open information about the exact nature of the tenure.

Menwith Hill is already an integral part of the US National Security Agency (NSA) global communications network, controversial for its role in the Echelon eavesdropping system. Within the MD system, it would function as a relay ground station for satellite information, providing early warning of hostile missile launches. This system is known as Space-Based Infra Red System – High. The Government stated that SBIRS – High is required independently of MD but has also acknowledged that MD would make use of it.22The base at Fylingdales currently also provides early warning of missile launches. To accurately track missiles and enable the system to intercept them, it would need to be upgraded in a way that would have breached the ABM Treaty. Some reports indicate that the British Government granted permission for an initial upgrade of Fylingdales in early 2000.23

  1. A threat to UK security

The strategic value of these radar sites could make the UK a target if an attack was launched at the system. This concern was shared by over 72% of British respondents to a MORI poll conducted in July 2001.24 Little consideration has been given to the impact on the local population of a strike on either Fylingdales or Menwith Hill using a WMD. While the Government has attempted to shun criticism in the interest of “national security”, UK involvement in MD and the wider global implications go beyond national security and thus it behoves the Government to be more open and accountable. Tony Blair has said:

I do not agree with those who are opposed to it [US MD]. During the summit with President Bush in February, we made it clear that we were prepared to look at defensive as well as offensive systems.25

This Government cannot simply dismiss its critics by presenting an ambiguous official policy while discussion with the US seems to be clearly leading towards UK involvement.

  1. An unfeasible defence

In the past, MD systems developed by the US and the Soviet Union have been abandoned due to the technical hurdles involved.26 Development of current technologies has been subject to setbacks that, according to some reports, have been played down by the arms corporations involved. The removal of normal oversight procedures for the US Missile Defence Agency has added further doubt to the integrity of the testing regime.27Even if an operational MD is technically possible, the effectiveness of any system must always remain in doubt. The most obvious weakness is the vulnerability of vital radar stations and satellites placed beyond the protection of the defence system in order to give adequate warning of hostile missile launches. In theory, a missile attack against the US could be preceded by an attack against these unprotected facilities, first rendering the defence system useless.

Another problem is that numerous countermeasures can be added easily to a hostile missile to fool or overwhelm a mid-course interception system. A single missile could be equipped with many readily available technologies, such as decoy warheads, multiple warheads, chaff, radar-absorbing materials, or low-power jamming technologies. Although the US testing regime is attempting to overcome some of these measures, Stephen Young of the Union of Concerned Scientists points out that a problem of principle remains: “It is substantially easier and cheaper to deploy simple and effective countermeasures against missile defences than it is for the defence to respond to them.”28 The advantage is always with the attacker, such that even if an operational missile defence system became possible, it could not be reliable. As French President Jacques Chirac has argued: “If you look at world history, … there’s a permanent race between sword and shield. The sword always wins.”29

  1. A misuse of resources

The US is developing a large, readily extendable MD using a range of technologies pushed by a host of arms manufacturing corporations.30 If all programmes now under development become operational, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated the cost of such a system at $238 billion to 2025.31 Much of the impetus for MD comes from arms manufacturers, which stand to gain the lion’s share of this spending, having successfully lobbied to keep the missile defence idea alive in Washington since the end of the Cold War.32 This resource commitment reveals an indifference to those numbering approximately 1.2 billion living in conditions of extreme poverty worldwide,33 as well as to the pressing problems of social exclusion in the US itself.34 The Pentagon’s Vision for 2020 document, which reveals that a multi-layered MD system would be used “to protect US interests and investment”,35 exposes its non-defensive purpose. A developed MD system would thus serve to perpetuate the global wealth divide in the narrow interests of the most powerful.

Inclusion of Britain within the defensive range of the US system would reportedly cost £10 billion, more than 40% of the UK defence budget.36

It is only a commitment by the West to an inclusive global society that will allow the world’s systemic causes of insecurity to be addressed. The economic and political marginalisation of the majority world and the consequent resentment over this that fuels adversarial relations with the West is a major threat to future peace and security. The scale of resources committed to MD could be applied to these causes to good effect. But US MD ambitions, considered alongside the reaffirmation of nuclear weapons, represent a divisive policy based on coercion and control – an attempt to suppress resentment towards the West with little commitment to tackling the conditions that give rise to it.

  1. Risks to health and the environment

One of the possible systems under consideration would involve intercepting a missile during its boost phase. The “boost phase” system is supposed to destroy the booster but may not “kill” the warhead, which could fall short of its intended target. Nuclear contamination from a warhead that simply broke up on impact would badly contaminate the land with plutonium and remain dangerous for perhaps thousands of years. The plutonium fall-out from a warhead that disintegrated high in the atmosphere would be scattered over a wide area. This would not cause detectable health effects but would probably cause a significant increase in the number of cancers.

Similar considerations and uncertainties apply to missiles armed with chemical and biological weapons. There is a small but significant risk that a biological warhead falling to the ground from a boost phase interception could start an epidemic anywhere. These effects pose particular risks to countries directly under the flight path of a targeted missile. Considering the widely documented health and environmental effects of nuclear weapons and energy, a full investigation into the impact of fall-out from interception for the UK population and others is absolutely vital.

  1. The wrong kind of solution

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld summarised his assessment of challenges to future peace and security to a NATO meeting by saying “We know this much for certain: it is unlikely that any of us here even knows what is likely.”37 The proliferation of ballistic missiles and WMD deserves international concern and attention. However, the Defence Secretary’s comment shows that a fear of the unknown underlies MD and nuclear weapons policy, which is displacing a willingness to tackle insecurity at its source through diplomatic engagement. Nuclear weapons and MD are at best a misguided response to a genuine security concern. At worst, they are part of a cynical attempt to maintain US strategic supremacy and disproportionate access to the world’s strained and limited resources.

US MD ambitions are symptomatic of broken international relationships. They do not fix them. Future security lies in a multilateral approach based on the common international interest, as represented by the proper authority and structure of the United Nations. The US unilateral approach, including its ability “to impose the will of the United States and its coalition partners on any adversaries, including states…,”38 usurps the UN in its function and authority.

A way forward

We believe a US MD system is a dangerous and misguided response to an exaggerated threat and will further divide and destabilise the world. We call on the UK Government:

  1. To review its in-principle acceptance of strategic MD.
    2. To refuse to allow the use of any US bases in the UK as part of such a system.

We recognise the need for an effective response to the spread of ballistic missile technology and weapons of mass destruction. The following threefold approach could form a basis for concerted international engagement to mitigate and reverse the proliferation of ballistic missile and WMD technology:

  1. Diplomatic engagement

US insistence that Iran, Iraq and North Korea together represent an “axis of evil” is divisive and undermines prospects for progress through diplomacy. Given that bad relations with these states form the ostensible rationale of a MD system, suspicion may be justified that the hostile US approach is intended to perpetuate the problem, rather than transform it. We believe that progress through diplomacy, in which the UK could choose to lead, is both possible and required under Article 33 of the UN Charter.39

In relation to Iran, Iraq and North Korea, the following could form the basis of this engagement:

Iran. In September 2001, Jack Straw was the first British foreign secretary to visit Iran since 1979, stating that Anglo-Iranian relations had been steadily improving in recent years.40 There has been some reported success in curtailing and reducing extremist influences in Iran. Britain, which takes a different approach to Iran from that of the US, is well placed to work to improve relations between Iran and the West.

Iraq. The rigid position adopted by the UK and US on economic sanctions against Iraq has made diplomatic progress extremely difficult. However, indications made by Iraq that it may be willing to allow UN weapons inspections under conditions could form the basis for negotiations and should not be dismissed.41 Russia’s potential role in negotiations could also be explored to good effect.

North Korea. The 1994 US-North Korean Agreed Framework brought a halt to North Korea’s nuclear programme.42 It showed that North Korea is willing to negotiate constructively in exchange for normalised US-North Korean relations and relaxed sanctions. A resumption of constructive dialogue between North Korea and the US, as well as with South Korea, is essential.

We have focused here on those states from which the US perceives an emerging missile threat. The future of the non-proliferation regime also depends on giving like attention to engaging India, Israel and Pakistan in the process of the abolition of their nuclear weapons programmes.

  1. Demonstrable disarmament commitments by the nuclear weapons states

The value that the acknowledged Nuclear Weapons States (NWS – China, France, Russia, UK, USA) continue to place on nuclear weapons remains a powerful incentive for other states to acquire their own weapons of mass destruction. Commitments by the Nuclear Weapons States towards irreversible nuclear disarmament must be demonstrable, yet their progress under the Programme of Action since it was agreed at the NPT Sixth Review Conference in 2000 has been lamentable.

  1. Strengthening the structures and process of arms control and disarmament

Finally, the structures of arms control and the multilateral disarmament process must be supported if the ballistic missile threat from all states is to be contained and reversed. In particular, the equivocation by the NWS, especially the US, on their commitments to the arms control regime makes halting the spread of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles a more difficult goal.

Efforts to curb missile proliferation have tended to concentrate on extending the Missile Technology Control Regime but this has been criticised as a means of enabling states with missile technology to maintain it indefinitely while excluding others from obtaining it. Efforts to strengthen the agreement must take account of this criticism. The development of an International Code of Conduct on ballistic missiles is currently under way and could provide a more inclusive approach to tackling the proliferation of missiles. Early US and UK support for this initiative is welcome with the ultimate aim of a ballistic missile ban underpinning and informing these efforts.

Conclusion

This paper has outlined key arguments against UK involvement in a US MD system. It has suggested viable alternatives, based on multilateral engagement and disarmament, for addressing the threats posed by the proliferation of WMD. These alternatives would far better secure international peace and security than the threat and use of military force.

The UK is well placed to take the lead in pursuing diplomatic engagement and multilateral arms control. It also has responsibility given its commitments under international law and as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to examine thoroughly the implications of the collapse of the ABM Treaty and US plans for MD. This applies in terms of both global security and the consequences of UK involvement. This is an issue of major public concern and warrants a full and open public and parliamentary debate.

The Government has so far dismissed concerns regarding the lack of accountability and transparency about a decision to use bases here. It is crucial that Members of Parliament represent the concerns of their constituents through appropriate parliamentary mechanisms to ensure open discussions around any decision, taking into consideration the range of concerns as outlined in this paper.

1 ‘Bush Announces U.S. Withdrawal From ABM Treaty, Withdrawal becomes effective in six months’, US State Dept, International Information Programs, 13 December 2001. http://usinfo.state.gov/topical/pol/arms/stories/01121302.htm
2 The Bush administration now refers to Ballistic Missile Defence. We use the generic abbreviation MD in this paper.
3 Speech given by the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw at Kings College, London on 6 February 2002
4 Quadrennial Defence Review Report, US Department of Defence, 30 September 2001, pp. 12-13.
5 Nick Ritchie, ‘The Strategic Chameleon: Prescriptions and Implications of US plans for Strategic Missile Defence’, Oxford Research Group, May 2001, p.12.
6 US Nuclear Posture Review Report submitted to Congress 31 December 2001, p.7.
7 President George W Bush, speech to National Defence University, Washington, 1 May 2001.
8 Programme of Action, in the Final Document of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Sixth Review Conference, 2000.
9 Statement of the Secretary-General, http://www.un.org, 14 December 2001.
10 US Nuclear Posture Review Report, Foreword and p. 7.
11 US Nuclear Posture Review Report, p. 55.
12 ‘US Plan Concerns Top UN Official’ UN Wire, 13 March 2002.
13 Secretary of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon MP, House of Commons debate, 29 April 2002
14 Teresa Hitchens, ‘Rushing to Weaponise the Final Frontier’ Arms Control Today, September 2001.
15 Paul Koring ‘U.S. to Militarise Space,’ Globe and Mail, 9 May 2001.
16 Quadrennial Defence Review Report, 30 September 2001.
17 Ibid
18 James Clay Moltz, ‘Breaking the Deadlock on Space Control,’ Arms Control Today, April 2002.
19 Ibid.
20 House of Commons Defence Select Committee debate, 20 March 2002.
21 Following a Foreign Policy Committee Conference on ‘National Missile Defence: Implications for Global Order’ the Danish Parliament held a full parliamentary debate on 3 May 2001 about US plans.
22 House of Commons Hansard, 7 February 2000.
23 ‘Britain may house “star wars” shield’, The Daily Telegraph, 3 March 2000.
24 Press release, ‘70% of Britain Fears US Driven Arms Race,’ http://www.basicint.org
25 House of Commons Hansard 24 October 2001.
26 Associated Press, 4 March, 2002 (BMD 157).
27 Washington Post, 16 February 2002.
28 Stephen W Young, Pushing the Limits (Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers, Washington, 2000) p. 9.
29 New York Times, 17 December 1999.
30 US Space Command Long Range Plan notes instrumental involvement of “about 75 corporations”.
31 New York Times, 31 January 2002.
32 William Hartung, World Policy Institute, November 1999.
33 1998 figure, in The World Bank Annual Report, 2000.
34 In 2000, 11.8% of US residents lived in poverty. US Census Bureau news release, 26 September 2000.
35 US Space Command, Vision for 2020, 1997.
36 The Guardian, 25 February 2002.
37 Donald Rumsfeld, US Defence Secretary, in a speech to NATO North Atlantic Council, June 2001.
38 Op cit. Quadrennial Defence Review Report, 30 September 2001, pp. 12-13.
39 United Nations Charter Article. 33: ‘1. The parties to any dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial assessment, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.’
40 The Guardian, 25 September 2001.
41 Financial Times, 19 March 2002.
42 Jon Wolfsthal, ‘What Is to Be Done With The Axis of Evil?’, Carnegie Proliferation Brief, 6 February 2002.

US Missile Defence:

Ten Reasons for UK Concern

by the Missile Defence Working Group

Written by David Gee and Helen Hughes

Missile Defence Working Group

A number of like-minded organisations have met regularly on an informal basis to oppose collectively UK involvement in US missile defence plans. The Missile Defence Working Group was formed by Abolition 2000 UK, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases (CAAB), Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), Medact, Northern Friends Peace Board, Quaker Peace and Social Witness and United Nations Association, among others. Our common concerns include the impact of US missile defence on international relations, the arms control regime and future peace and security, and also on the security of the United Kingdom.

The Missile Defence Working Group was officially launched at a Forum on US Missile Defence in central London on 31 May 2001.

Executive summary

The fall of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty on 13 June 2002 prepared the ground for the United States administration to push ahead with a strategic missile defence (MD) system, which had been prohibited under this bilateral agreement with Russia. During the preceding months, a series of diplomatic initiatives aimed at mitigating the damage from US unilateral withdrawal eventually culminated in Russian acquiescence with the US MD plans. The US commitment to MD should be seen in the context of a reaffirmation of the role of nuclear weapons in its security policy. This “sword and shield” approach to security has far-reaching ramifications for international relations, international security and the future of arms control in particular. The proposed use of US bases within the UK as part of a US MD system is cause for public and parliamentary concern. Ten points are outlined here:

  1. The rationale for US MD is based on an exaggerated perception of a threat to its physical security.
    2. US MD alters the strategic relationships between nations, so risking provoking other states to develop nuclear arsenals in order to counter the perceived US advantage.
    3. US security policy is straining the arms control and disarmament regime to breaking point.
    4. There are clear indications that US MD plans include the weaponisation of space for the first time.
    5. The opaque operation of US bases in the UK and the lack of parliamentary debate raise questions of UK sovereignty in respect of these bases and their overall accountability.
    6. The use of US bases in the UK would raise the profile of the UK in any missile attack against the US.
    7. The defensive effectiveness of a MD system is highly dubious in principle and in practice.
    8. US MD represents a misuse of resources that could be used to address systemic causes of insecurity to better effect.
    9. Risks to health and the environment in the UK from WMD exploding over Europe have not been investigated.
    10. US MD represents a unilateralist policy based on fear of the unknown and undermines the internationalist agenda required for future peace and security.

The proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) deserves international concern and attention. However, a threefold alternative approach, based on diplomatic engagement, progress towards disarmament of the Nuclear Weapons States, and a renewed commitment to the arms control regime, has been sidelined in favour of a military solution that will undermine future peace and security over the long term.

We believe that the UK should not be party to a US MD system and call for a full public and parliamentary debate.

US Missile Defence: Ten reasons for UK concern

Introduction

The United States’ withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty took effect on 13 June 2002, concluding the six months formal notification required by the terms of the agreement. President Bush announced the decision to withdraw so that the US can “develop effective defences” against missile attack by terrorists or “states of concern”,1 specifically Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

Although proponents of strategic missile defence (MD)2 have argued that the ABM Treaty is strictly a matter for the US and Russia, the ramifications of US unilateral withdrawal and the decision to proceed with MD reach far beyond this relationship. The annulment of this treaty marks a milestone in arms control and disarmament; it sets a precedent for withdrawal from international agreements while seriously jeopardising the non-proliferation regime. It also represents a turning point in the MD debate because the importance of the ABM Treaty had been the focus of many objections to a US MD system. In particular, it was the fall of the ABM Treaty that precipitated Russia’s reluctant acquiescence with US MD ambitions.

The events of 11 September 2001 strengthened the resolve of the US administration to push ahead with MD despite its obvious futility in the face of similar attacks. Washington has also taken the opportunity afforded by the shift in the international security paradigm to frame a destabilising surge in militarisation. US global military hegemony (MD being its pinnacle) cannot be matched but Russia and China can be expected to respond to offset the threat that both states still perceive to their strategic position in relation to the US. While the proliferation of WMD is a legitimate concern, this paper argues that MD is unlikely to deter or prevent a missile attack. At the same time, US contempt for multilateral approaches aimed at tackling these threats continues to hinder the rest of the international community from moving forward in this area.

The role of UK-based facilities in a US MD system, specifically those at Menwith Hill and Fylingdales in Yorkshire, is a matter of national public concern and thus warrants full parliamentary consideration and consultation. While the UK position on involvement in this system through the use of these bases remains unclear, Whitehall has on several occasions conveyed implicit support for a US MD system. Most recently Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary, described how MD could contribute to disarmament.3 The purpose of this paper is to challenge this view by presenting a ten-point critique of US MD. We conclude by proposing concrete, practical alternatives for addressing the proliferation of missile technology and WMD.

Ten reasons for UK concern

  1. An exaggerated threat

The proliferation of WMD and ballistic missile technology is not in doubt but the assumption that this constitutes an emerging physical threat to the US is misleading. Should states be seeking to attack the US physically, a cheaper, covert and more reliable method would likely be used, such as a suitcase-sized WMD device deployed in a major US city. By contrast, a missile launched towards the US would be traced immediately and provoke a devastating response. States now choosing to pursue missile technology do so to improve their strategic position in relation to other states but not to fight a war with the US. While this opens up new dangers, any threat it may present to the US is not physical but primarily political in nature.

In the light of this, many analysts believe that the physical threat from ballistic missile proliferation has been exaggerated in order to provide a rationale for a MD system. Besides their suggested defensive capability, US MD ambitions appear to be part of a wider strategy to maintain strategic supremacy over other nations. This is clear from US security policy, which states that US forces must “defeat the efforts of adversaries to impose their will on the United States, its allies, or friends…” and that it must be possible “to impose the will of the United States and its coalition partners on any adversaries, including states…”4 This is the language not of physical security but of strategic struggle and based on a logic similar to that underlying the Cold War arms race. Once US MD is considered in this context, the protests of other states are better understood, particularly their concerns about strategic stability and the threat perceived from unfettered US power.

  1. New nuclear risks

The ABM Treaty acted as a deterrent between the US and Soviet Union, ensuring that both remained mutually vulnerable to nuclear strikes. Thus its removal, combined with US deployment of MD, challenges the deterrent credibility of Russia, but more so China by denying these states the ability to retaliate against a first strike. This also threatens non-proliferation strategies, potentially leading to further militarisation of international relations.5 Russia and China have sought to offset this shift in the status quo through both political and military responses.

The new accord, which commits Russia and the US to slash their nuclear arsenals to between around 1,700 and 2,200 weapons, appears a significant contribution to nuclear disarmament, allaying fears over proliferation. This is not the case because these reductions are neither permanent nor meaningful.

This treaty contains no requirement to destroy the warheads once they are taken out of service and it expires in ten years allowing each country to return to previous levels. Moreover, it provides a convenient framework for both countries to pursue a process of nuclear modernisation since it does not restrict the development of new nuclear weapons. These cuts will enable Russia to concentrate its limited financial resources (currently tied up in maintaining around 6,000 weapons) on streamlining, not eliminating, its nuclear deterrent, particularly as it allows Russia to retain land-based multiple warhead missiles. The US has already reaffirmed that nuclear weapons will continue to “play a critical role” and suggested in the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review Report that it intends to develop new nuclear weapons and resume testing – ambitions characteristic of an offensive strategy.6

So far China’s opposition has been mainly political. It has been outspoken in the Conference on Disarmament where it outlined strong concerns over US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty and the strategic impact of US MD. The challenge that MD poses to China’s relatively limited nuclear capability is likely to lead Beijing to adjust its current programme of modernisation and expansion of strategic weapons. This is likely to force changes in China’s nuclear posture, including deployment of multiple warhead missiles or putting its nuclear weapons on high alert. China may choose to continue the export of ballistic missile and countermeasure technology to states like Pakistan and Iran, despite US objections.

If Taiwan acquires MD technologies from the US this will further aggravate Sino-American tensions and lead to missile build-up across the Taiwan Strait. A surge in militarisation in the region could also have severe repercussions for nuclear and missile proliferation, especially in the context of India and Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions.

  1. Undermining disarmament

The ABM Treaty was an integral part of the arms control regime. By helping to build some trust between the two superpowers, it helped to facilitate key nuclear arms reduction treaties. In 2001, President Bush said he believed that the treaty did “not recognise the present, nor point us to the future.”7 Yet as recently as 2000, the ABM Treaty was described by all 187 states parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as “a cornerstone of strategic stability” that needed preserving and strengthening.8 United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed concern “that the annulation of this [ABM] treaty may provoke an arms race… and further undermine disarmament and non-proliferation regimes.”9 Germany, Sweden, France, Russia and China were among the many states that also criticised the US decision to withdraw.

Announced reductions in the US arsenal, agreed with Russia in May 2002, are not a substitute for a commitment to the arms control regime and multilateral disarmament process. The weapons cuts should be seen in the context of a US policy, in which, “over the coming decades”, nuclear weapons will “continue to play a critical role.”10 US missile defence itself presumes the continued existence of nuclear weapons and so represents a major threat to the trust and good faith needed for progress towards disarmament. The US commitment to sword and shield, represented by nuclear weapons and missile defences respectively, when considered alongside apparent intentions to resume nuclear testing,11 threatens key international agreements that limit nuclear dangers and facilitate progress towards disarmament. Most notably, these include the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the Outer Space Treaty and the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty. UN Under-secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Jayantha Dhanapala believes that current US policy “flies in the face” of undertakings under the NPT, which commits Nuclear Weapons States to negotiating nuclear disarmament.12 The dispute over MD has also made worse an impasse over negotiations on crucial new treaties to ban the production of fissile materials and to prevent an arms race in space.

The consequences for arms control of the trend in US policy are far-reaching. Jeopardising the arms control regime and disarmament negotiations risks a resumption of nuclear testing around the globe, the weaponisation of space, the end of reductions in strategic nuclear weapons, and the eventual breakdown of the non-proliferation regime. This could lead to widespread and rapid proliferation of WMD and ballistic missiles, the remilitarisation of international relations and possible conflict using WMD. The very existence of missile defences will have done much to generate the threat that they are intended to defend the US against.

These developments ought to arouse publicly expressed concern from the UK Government with its policy commitment to the arms control and disarmament regime – yet none appears to be forthcoming. Instead, the Government believes that missile defences can play a role within “a comprehensive strategy to tackle the potential threat posed by weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.”13 This in-principle acceptance of missile defences undermines existing UK policy commitments to all these treaties and initiatives threatened by US missile defence plans and its nuclear policy. The UK risks becoming hostage to a damaging trend in US policy that includes a deep mistrust of treaty agreements in general, while compromising this Government’s often more constructive approach to arms control and disarmament negotiations.

  1. The weaponisation of space

Fears that MD conceals a more sinister agenda to weaponise space are justified in the context of trends in US policy on the military use of space. This policy has been mostly framed in the context of defences, conveniently deflecting attention away from the offensive capabilities of a space-based “defence system”. Washington intends to embrace a system that would ultimately use space-based lasers and interceptors to intercept incoming missiles. However, both the rhetoric and technical developments as revealed in several public documents imply an approach to space policy that moves beyond defence of the US mainland. The report from the Commission to Assess US National Security Space Management and Organisation from January 2001 stated its belief that “the U.S. government should vigorously pursue the capabilities called for in the National Space Policy to ensure that the president will have the option to deploy weapons in space to deter threats to, and, if necessary, defend against attacks on U.S. interests.”14

In May 2001, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld unveiled changes to his country’s military structures boosting the development of futuristic orbiting weapons, not only as part of MD but also to protect satellites crucial to its forces.15 “Ensuring the freedom of access to space and protecting US national security interests” have become key priorities for the US Defence Department.16 According to the Quadrennial Defence Review Report, challenges facing US defence “require enhancing the capability and survivability of US space systems… [with] the exploitation of space and the denial of the use of space to adversaries.”17 This means deploying both offensive and defensive capabilities (clearly beyond the scope of MD) such as the space-based laser and the space-based, kinetic-kill interceptor.

Although the testing of space weapons for MD and anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) is probably a decade away, work on some of the other technologies such as lower earth orbital interceptors for theatre MD or sea based MD are now likely to accelerate with the demise of the ABM Treaty18. For those left in any doubt, the pursuit of space superiority is made very clear in the US Space Command document Vision for 2020 ; it describes space as the next medium of warfare.

Placing weapons in space would jeopardise satellite communications, exacerbate military competition among adversaries and intensify an arms race. The enormous setback to the disarmament agenda that the weaponisation of space would represent is obvious. Moderate voices in the Pentagon concerned about the problems of debris from space warfare,19 coupled with Congressional cuts in funding, may delay deployment sufficiently for the international community to foster the conclusion of an agreement preventing weapons in space.

  1. A matter of sovereignty and accountability

Despite repeated parliamentary questions about the role of RAF Menwith Hill and RAF Fylingdales in US plans to deploy MD, this Government has maintained an official position of postponing any decision on these bases until it has received a firm proposal from the US. However, over the past year Whitehall has expressed increasing support for MD, especially in the wake of 11 September. UK sympathy has extended to mutual concern over fears of WMD proliferation as Geoff Hoon, Defence Secretary, took the opportunity to say during a Commons Defence Select Committee hearing on international issues relating to MD systems:

Whilst we as of today see no direct threat from these weapons to the United Kingdom, the fact that if certain states of concern do acquire complete systems of sufficient range then they might be capable of targeting the United Kingdom within the next few years is something that we consider very seriously.20

This Committee hearing was not followed by a full parliamentary debate, unlike in Denmark.21 Despite the overwhelming concern expressed by over 270 Members of Parliament who supported an Early Day Motion on this issue, this Government has so far avoided a parliamentary consultation about the implications of UK involvement.

Protests over the lack of consultation about the future of Menwith Hill and Fylingdales have also fuelled speculation about the degree of control the RAF and the British Government have over these US-operated bases, raising serious doubts about the authority the Government has to sanction their use. There is little open information about the exact nature of the tenure.

Menwith Hill is already an integral part of the US National Security Agency (NSA) global communications network, controversial for its role in the Echelon eavesdropping system. Within the MD system, it would function as a relay ground station for satellite information, providing early warning of hostile missile launches. This system is known as Space-Based Infra Red System – High. The Government stated that SBIRS – High is required independently of MD but has also acknowledged that MD would make use of it.22The base at Fylingdales currently also provides early warning of missile launches. To accurately track missiles and enable the system to intercept them, it would need to be upgraded in a way that would have breached the ABM Treaty. Some reports indicate that the British Government granted permission for an initial upgrade of Fylingdales in early 2000.23

  1. A threat to UK security

The strategic value of these radar sites could make the UK a target if an attack was launched at the system. This concern was shared by over 72% of British respondents to a MORI poll conducted in July 2001.24 Little consideration has been given to the impact on the local population of a strike on either Fylingdales or Menwith Hill using a WMD. While the Government has attempted to shun criticism in the interest of “national security”, UK involvement in MD and the wider global implications go beyond national security and thus it behoves the Government to be more open and accountable. Tony Blair has said:

I do not agree with those who are opposed to it [US MD]. During the summit with President Bush in February, we made it clear that we were prepared to look at defensive as well as offensive systems.25

This Government cannot simply dismiss its critics by presenting an ambiguous official policy while discussion with the US seems to be clearly leading towards UK involvement.

  1. An unfeasible defence

In the past, MD systems developed by the US and the Soviet Union have been abandoned due to the technical hurdles involved.26 Development of current technologies has been subject to setbacks that, according to some reports, have been played down by the arms corporations involved. The removal of normal oversight procedures for the US Missile Defence Agency has added further doubt to the integrity of the testing regime.27Even if an operational MD is technically possible, the effectiveness of any system must always remain in doubt. The most obvious weakness is the vulnerability of vital radar stations and satellites placed beyond the protection of the defence system in order to give adequate warning of hostile missile launches. In theory, a missile attack against the US could be preceded by an attack against these unprotected facilities, first rendering the defence system useless.

Another problem is that numerous countermeasures can be added easily to a hostile missile to fool or overwhelm a mid-course interception system. A single missile could be equipped with many readily available technologies, such as decoy warheads, multiple warheads, chaff, radar-absorbing materials, or low-power jamming technologies. Although the US testing regime is attempting to overcome some of these measures, Stephen Young of the Union of Concerned Scientists points out that a problem of principle remains: “It is substantially easier and cheaper to deploy simple and effective countermeasures against missile defences than it is for the defence to respond to them.”28 The advantage is always with the attacker, such that even if an operational missile defence system became possible, it could not be reliable. As French President Jacques Chirac has argued: “If you look at world history, … there’s a permanent race between sword and shield. The sword always wins.”29

  1. A misuse of resources

The US is developing a large, readily extendable MD using a range of technologies pushed by a host of arms manufacturing corporations.30 If all programmes now under development become operational, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated the cost of such a system at $238 billion to 2025.31 Much of the impetus for MD comes from arms manufacturers, which stand to gain the lion’s share of this spending, having successfully lobbied to keep the missile defence idea alive in Washington since the end of the Cold War.32 This resource commitment reveals an indifference to those numbering approximately 1.2 billion living in conditions of extreme poverty worldwide,33 as well as to the pressing problems of social exclusion in the US itself.34 The Pentagon’s Vision for 2020 document, which reveals that a multi-layered MD system would be used “to protect US interests and investment”,35 exposes its non-defensive purpose. A developed MD system would thus serve to perpetuate the global wealth divide in the narrow interests of the most powerful.

Inclusion of Britain within the defensive range of the US system would reportedly cost £10 billion, more than 40% of the UK defence budget.36

It is only a commitment by the West to an inclusive global society that will allow the world’s systemic causes of insecurity to be addressed. The economic and political marginalisation of the majority world and the consequent resentment over this that fuels adversarial relations with the West is a major threat to future peace and security. The scale of resources committed to MD could be applied to these causes to good effect. But US MD ambitions, considered alongside the reaffirmation of nuclear weapons, represent a divisive policy based on coercion and control – an attempt to suppress resentment towards the West with little commitment to tackling the conditions that give rise to it.

  1. Risks to health and the environment

One of the possible systems under consideration would involve intercepting a missile during its boost phase. The “boost phase” system is supposed to destroy the booster but may not “kill” the warhead, which could fall short of its intended target. Nuclear contamination from a warhead that simply broke up on impact would badly contaminate the land with plutonium and remain dangerous for perhaps thousands of years. The plutonium fall-out from a warhead that disintegrated high in the atmosphere would be scattered over a wide area. This would not cause detectable health effects but would probably cause a significant increase in the number of cancers.

Similar considerations and uncertainties apply to missiles armed with chemical and biological weapons. There is a small but significant risk that a biological warhead falling to the ground from a boost phase interception could start an epidemic anywhere. These effects pose particular risks to countries directly under the flight path of a targeted missile. Considering the widely documented health and environmental effects of nuclear weapons and energy, a full investigation into the impact of fall-out from interception for the UK population and others is absolutely vital.

  1. The wrong kind of solution

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld summarised his assessment of challenges to future peace and security to a NATO meeting by saying “We know this much for certain: it is unlikely that any of us here even knows what is likely.”37 The proliferation of ballistic missiles and WMD deserves international concern and attention. However, the Defence Secretary’s comment shows that a fear of the unknown underlies MD and nuclear weapons policy, which is displacing a willingness to tackle insecurity at its source through diplomatic engagement. Nuclear weapons and MD are at best a misguided response to a genuine security concern. At worst, they are part of a cynical attempt to maintain US strategic supremacy and disproportionate access to the world’s strained and limited resources.

US MD ambitions are symptomatic of broken international relationships. They do not fix them. Future security lies in a multilateral approach based on the common international interest, as represented by the proper authority and structure of the United Nations. The US unilateral approach, including its ability “to impose the will of the United States and its coalition partners on any adversaries, including states…,”38 usurps the UN in its function and authority.

A way forward

We believe a US MD system is a dangerous and misguided response to an exaggerated threat and will further divide and destabilise the world. We call on the UK Government:

  1. To review its in-principle acceptance of strategic MD.
    2. To refuse to allow the use of any US bases in the UK as part of such a system.

We recognise the need for an effective response to the spread of ballistic missile technology and weapons of mass destruction. The following threefold approach could form a basis for concerted international engagement to mitigate and reverse the proliferation of ballistic missile and WMD technology:

  1. Diplomatic engagement

US insistence that Iran, Iraq and North Korea together represent an “axis of evil” is divisive and undermines prospects for progress through diplomacy. Given that bad relations with these states form the ostensible rationale of a MD system, suspicion may be justified that the hostile US approach is intended to perpetuate the problem, rather than transform it. We believe that progress through diplomacy, in which the UK could choose to lead, is both possible and required under Article 33 of the UN Charter.39

In relation to Iran, Iraq and North Korea, the following could form the basis of this engagement:

Iran. In September 2001, Jack Straw was the first British foreign secretary to visit Iran since 1979, stating that Anglo-Iranian relations had been steadily improving in recent years.40 There has been some reported success in curtailing and reducing extremist influences in Iran. Britain, which takes a different approach to Iran from that of the US, is well placed to work to improve relations between Iran and the West.

Iraq. The rigid position adopted by the UK and US on economic sanctions against Iraq has made diplomatic progress extremely difficult. However, indications made by Iraq that it may be willing to allow UN weapons inspections under conditions could form the basis for negotiations and should not be dismissed.41 Russia’s potential role in negotiations could also be explored to good effect.

North Korea. The 1994 US-North Korean Agreed Framework brought a halt to North Korea’s nuclear programme.42 It showed that North Korea is willing to negotiate constructively in exchange for normalised US-North Korean relations and relaxed sanctions. A resumption of constructive dialogue between North Korea and the US, as well as with South Korea, is essential.

We have focused here on those states from which the US perceives an emerging missile threat. The future of the non-proliferation regime also depends on giving like attention to engaging India, Israel and Pakistan in the process of the abolition of their nuclear weapons programmes.

  1. Demonstrable disarmament commitments by the nuclear weapons states

The value that the acknowledged Nuclear Weapons States (NWS – China, France, Russia, UK, USA) continue to place on nuclear weapons remains a powerful incentive for other states to acquire their own weapons of mass destruction. Commitments by the Nuclear Weapons States towards irreversible nuclear disarmament must be demonstrable, yet their progress under the Programme of Action since it was agreed at the NPT Sixth Review Conference in 2000 has been lamentable.

  1. Strengthening the structures and process of arms control and disarmament

Finally, the structures of arms control and the multilateral disarmament process must be supported if the ballistic missile threat from all states is to be contained and reversed. In particular, the equivocation by the NWS, especially the US, on their commitments to the arms control regime makes halting the spread of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles a more difficult goal.

Efforts to curb missile proliferation have tended to concentrate on extending the Missile Technology Control Regime but this has been criticised as a means of enabling states with missile technology to maintain it indefinitely while excluding others from obtaining it. Efforts to strengthen the agreement must take account of this criticism. The development of an International Code of Conduct on ballistic missiles is currently under way and could provide a more inclusive approach to tackling the proliferation of missiles. Early US and UK support for this initiative is welcome with the ultimate aim of a ballistic missile ban underpinning and informing these efforts.

Conclusion

This paper has outlined key arguments against UK involvement in a US MD system. It has suggested viable alternatives, based on multilateral engagement and disarmament, for addressing the threats posed by the proliferation of WMD. These alternatives would far better secure international peace and security than the threat and use of military force.

The UK is well placed to take the lead in pursuing diplomatic engagement and multilateral arms control. It also has responsibility given its commitments under international law and as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to examine thoroughly the implications of the collapse of the ABM Treaty and US plans for MD. This applies in terms of both global security and the consequences of UK involvement. This is an issue of major public concern and warrants a full and open public and parliamentary debate.

The Government has so far dismissed concerns regarding the lack of accountability and transparency about a decision to use bases here. It is crucial that Members of Parliament represent the concerns of their constituents through appropriate parliamentary mechanisms to ensure open discussions around any decision, taking into consideration the range of concerns as outlined in this paper.

1 ‘Bush Announces U.S. Withdrawal From ABM Treaty, Withdrawal becomes effective in six months’, US State Dept, International Information Programs, 13 December 2001. http://usinfo.state.gov/topical/pol/arms/stories/01121302.htm
2 The Bush administration now refers to Ballistic Missile Defence. We use the generic abbreviation MD in this paper.
3 Speech given by the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw at Kings College, London on 6 February 2002
4 Quadrennial Defence Review Report, US Department of Defence, 30 September 2001, pp. 12-13.
5 Nick Ritchie, ‘The Strategic Chameleon: Prescriptions and Implications of US plans for Strategic Missile Defence’, Oxford Research Group, May 2001, p.12.
6 US Nuclear Posture Review Report submitted to Congress 31 December 2001, p.7.
7 President George W Bush, speech to National Defence University, Washington, 1 May 2001.
8 Programme of Action, in the Final Document of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Sixth Review Conference, 2000.
9 Statement of the Secretary-General, http://www.un.org, 14 December 2001.
10 US Nuclear Posture Review Report, Foreword and p. 7.
11 US Nuclear Posture Review Report, p. 55.
12 ‘US Plan Concerns Top UN Official’ UN Wire, 13 March 2002.
13 Secretary of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon MP, House of Commons debate, 29 April 2002
14 Teresa Hitchens, ‘Rushing to Weaponise the Final Frontier’ Arms Control Today, September 2001.
15 Paul Koring ‘U.S. to Militarise Space,’ Globe and Mail, 9 May 2001.
16 Quadrennial Defence Review Report, 30 September 2001.
17 Ibid
18 James Clay Moltz, ‘Breaking the Deadlock on Space Control,’ Arms Control Today, April 2002.
19 Ibid.
20 House of Commons Defence Select Committee debate, 20 March 2002.
21 Following a Foreign Policy Committee Conference on ‘National Missile Defence: Implications for Global Order’ the Danish Parliament held a full parliamentary debate on 3 May 2001 about US plans.
22 House of Commons Hansard, 7 February 2000.
23 ‘Britain may house “star wars” shield’, The Daily Telegraph, 3 March 2000.
24 Press release, ‘70% of Britain Fears US Driven Arms Race,’ http://www.basicint.org
25 House of Commons Hansard 24 October 2001.
26 Associated Press, 4 March, 2002 (BMD 157).
27 Washington Post, 16 February 2002.
28 Stephen W Young, Pushing the Limits (Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers, Washington, 2000) p. 9.
29 New York Times, 17 December 1999.
30 US Space Command Long Range Plan notes instrumental involvement of “about 75 corporations”.
31 New York Times, 31 January 2002.
32 William Hartung, World Policy Institute, November 1999.
33 1998 figure, in The World Bank Annual Report, 2000.
34 In 2000, 11.8% of US residents lived in poverty. US Census Bureau news release, 26 September 2000.
35 US Space Command, Vision for 2020, 1997.
36 The Guardian, 25 February 2002.
37 Donald Rumsfeld, US Defence Secretary, in a speech to NATO North Atlantic Council, June 2001.
38 Op cit. Quadrennial Defence Review Report, 30 September 2001, pp. 12-13.
39 United Nations Charter Article. 33: ‘1. The parties to any dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial assessment, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.’
40 The Guardian, 25 September 2001.
41 Financial Times, 19 March 2002.
42 Jon Wolfsthal, ‘What Is to Be Done With The Axis of Evil?’, Carnegie Proliferation Brief, 6 February 2002.

 

 

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