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News Review Special Edition

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International Developments, November 15, 2002 - February 1, 2003

UK Moves to Support US Missile Defence Programme

In a statement to the House of Commons on January 15, Defence Minister Geoff Hoon announced that the British government had reached a "preliminary conclusion" to agree to a request from the United States to upgrade the Royal Air Force's early-warning radar base at Fylingdales, North Yorkshire. The base is considered a crucial technical component of the Bush administration's missile defence plans. The Secretary of State first set out the context of the decision:

"On 17 December, I informed the House of the receipt of a request from the United States Government to upgrade the early warning radar at Fylingdales for missile defence purposes. ... The Government recognise[s] that missile defence raises important strategic issues, as well as local concerns in North Yorkshire. Following the release of the discussion paper in December, with its invitation to all interested parties to contribute their views, we have had around 300 responses. In addition, I visited North Yorkshire last week, and heard the views of local people and their elected representatives, as well as meeting representatives from the planning authorities. We have taken those views into account as we have considered the central question, which is the key test that the Government will apply to the US request: would agreeing to the upgrade of Fylingdales ultimately enhance the security of the UK and the NATO Alliance?"

The answer to that question, Hoon argued, was resoundingly in the affirmative: "The background to the US request is the marked increase in the threat to our security from weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery. ... The hard fact is that a number of states of concern are making major investments in developing ever-longer range ballistic missiles. ... These ballistic missile programmes are being developed solely in order to threaten the delivery of weapons of mass destruction - nerve gas, toxins, biological agents or even nuclear warheads. It is the combination of ballistic missiles and the possession of these weapons of mass destruction, together with the demonstrated willingness to use those capabilities, that makes Iraq the most immediate state threat to global security. Elsewhere, if North Korea ends its moratorium on flight testing, it could flight test a missile with the potential to reach Europe and the United States within weeks. Other countries may acquire similar missile systems, not least through the proliferation of missile technology from North Korea. ... Missile defence is a defensive system that threatens no one. We see no reason to believe fears that the development of missile defences will be strategically destabilising. Reactions from Russia and China have been measured. Missile defence would need to be used only if a ballistic missile has actually been fired. At that point, no matter how much we emphasise our other means of addressing the threat - non-proliferation, intelligence, law enforcement, conflict prevention, diplomacy and deterrence - those means will have failed and cannot be of further help. There would be no way of preventing a devastating impact without intercepting and destroying the missile. Once the missile is in the air, it is unthinkable that anyone could not want us to be in a position to shoot it down. ... Based on the analysis and discussion that we have undertaken so far, I have therefore come to the preliminary conclusion that the answer to the US request must be yes, and that we should agree to the upgrade as proposed."

The upgrade decision, Hoon insisted, "can and should be considered as a discrete proposition. It does not commit us in any way to any deeper involvement in missile defence, although it gives us options to do so, should we decide on that at a later date."

Mr. Hoon received support from Bernard Jenkin MP, the Conservative Party's defence spokesperson, together with encouragement to take the logical next step and embrace "deeper involvement in missile defence". Jenkin asked: "What is the government's policy on the possibility of having ground-based interceptor missiles on British soil, or sea-based interceptors on British ships?"

Many MPs from the ruling Labour Party, however, expressed dismay and disappointment at the decision. Former Foreign Office Minister Tony Lloyd stressed the possible global ramifications of the issue: "Does my Right Honourable Friend agree that China's rational response to the development of missile defence would be to increase the number of its missiles and warheads - possibly including dummy missiles - to get through an American missile defence system? If that is China's rational response - I believe that it will be - does my Right Honourable Friend accept that that could have a serious knock-on effect on other regional neighbours such as India and Pakistan, and on into the Middle East? Does he also accept that that is why these systems are potentially so destabilising for the whole world?" Peter Kilfoyle, a former junior Minister of Defence, was more scornful: "This slavish devotion to American policy in this area adds further to global destabilisation..." Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time advocate of British nuclear disarmament, argued that the upgrade was "not an interim or technical decision; it is a fundamental departure from the process of disarmament of the past 30 years in the direction of rearmament, and it is being done in a very dangerous way, which can only resulting a similar response from China and other nuclear powers."

On January 28, a report from the all-party House of Commons Defence Select Committee endorsed the upgrade, arguing that the "factors in favour of that agreement - the importance of the US-UK relationship, the improvement to the early-warning capability, the opportunity to keep open the prospect of future missile defence for the UK, and the potential for UK industrial participation in the programme's further development - outweigh the arguments against."

On January 17, a Russian Foreign Ministry statement was sharply critical of the move: "As has become known, the British Defence Ministry quietly gave consent for the United States to use the Ballistic Missile Early Warning Station located on its territory on Fylingdales Moor in the structure of a futuristic 'global missile defense'. That step of the British military is unlikely to bolster international security and, quite certainly, will complicate the multilateral process of the limitation and reduction of arms, including nuclear weapons. It has already been indicated, inter alia in the British Parliament, that the creation of a strategic missile defense system is bound to entail a weakening of global stability, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles, and the siphoning off of resources from countering the real threats of the present day, above all international terrorism." The statement concluded with a reiteration of Moscow's alternative vision of prudent, cooperative missile defence designed to counter the threat posed by theatre-range delivery systems: "It is evidently wiser and more responsible today to take a different path, that of unfolding cooperation among states, including the UK and the United States, in building a truly indispensable non-strategic missile defense system allowing for the strengthening of regional stability. A positive example of such cooperation is the promising collaborative effort by Moscow, London and Washington within the framework of successfully developing programs for the creation of a 'Euro-ABM' through the Russia-NATO Council."

The United States is also seeking important technical participation from other states. The same day (December 17) the British government received the request to upgrade Fylingdales, Denmark was asked to enhance and dedicate the Thule radar facility in Greenland to the global early-warning system sought by Washington. Announcing receipt of the request, Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen (December 17) told reporters "we are going to study [it] very carefully with Greenland's politicians". Although Rasmussen clearly suggested he saw his role as dispelling doubts over the wisdom of the proposal - "the fear that some have, that this project could lead to a new arms race, should be rejected" - no decision had been announced by the end of the period under review. Opposition to the proposal runs deep in Greenland, flowing into the growing movement for the territory's independence from Denmark.

In Washington on December 18, US Secretary of State Colin Powell met with Danish Foreign Secretary Per Stig Moeller, and Josef Motzfeldt, Vice Premier of the Greenland Home Rule Government. The complexity of the Thule issue seeps through the bland statement issued by the State Department: "At this meeting Secretary Powell gave to Foreign Minister Moeller a letter requesting permission to upgrade the early-warning radar at Thule... A number of related issues were discussed, including the process by which the governments of Denmark and Greenland will consider the US request."

Issues other than military strategy may prove decisive in the discussions. Motzfeldt's administration is pressing Washington to renegotiate the 1951 agreement with Denmark regulating use of the Thule facility. On January 2, an unnamed senior Greenlandic official was quoted by the Global Security Newswire (GSN) as complaining: "One of the basic problems we have with the American presence is, unlike any other country that plays host to an American base, we don't get anything out of it all. We don't get economic compensation, we don't get trade. We don't get anything." The official then summarised the approach taken by Motzfeldt at the December 18 meeting with Powell. Two conditions, he noted, had been set out: one, "renegotiation of the '51 agreement was a clear condition for any further talks"; two, assurances that "an upgrading of the Thule radar should in no way be a threat to world peace or give the start to a new arms race". Motzfeldt himself commented after the Washington meeting: "I am very satisfied that Greenland has now gotten promises to the effect that the US is ready to discuss a reshaping of the defense agreement when negotiations begin."

For evident geopolitical reasons, the US is keen to secure Canadian support and participation in its programme. On December 10, Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham told The Globe and Mail newspaper: "We're quite prepared to examine the issue of missile defence. This is something that has been considered to some extent in Europe as well... When it comes to preparing for potential threats to our shared continent, we're in this together..." Answering questions in the House of Commons on December 11, however, Prime Minister Jean Chretien struck a very different tone: "As for the project of the Americans on the so-called Star Wars, we are not participating in that and we have not been asked to participate... If they make a request, we will look into it, but at this moment we are not interested. The policy is very clear and has been stated in the House by myself and Ministers over the years..." Chretien was urged by Svend Robinson, foreign affairs spokesperson for the New Democratic Party (NDP), to go further: "Instead of studying this dangerous, expensive, untried technology, why will the government of Canada not stand up for Canada and say to George Bush, 'we will not be part of your new Star Wars scheme'?"

Meeting in Moscow on December 10, non-strategic missile defence options were discussed by Russian Deputy Foreign minister Georgy Mamedov and Ken Calder, Canadian Deputy Minister of National Defence. According to a Russian Foreign Ministry statement: "In particular, certain ideas were suggested as to possible cooperation in providing a theater missile defense when carrying out peacekeeping operations under the aegis of the UN."

Prospects for Japanese involvement in US-led missile defence efforts were reviewed in discussions in Washington in mid-December under the auspices of the US-Japan Security Consultative Committee. The talks were headed on the American side by Secretary of State Powell and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and on the Japanese side by Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi and Minister of State for Defence Shigeru Ishiba. A joint statement issued on December 16 noted: "The Japanese side reaffirmed that a ballistic missile defense system is an important consideration in Japan's defense policy, which is exclusively defense-oriented. The Japanese side noted that a ballistic missile defense system would be an inherently defensive capability to which there would be no alternative, with the purpose of protecting lives and property in Japan. The Japanese side also expressed its intention to address this subject on its own initiative during review of its defense posture, based on the rapidly evolving state of technological developments relating to all elements of the ballistic missile defense program. The Ministers acknowledged the need to continue current US-Japan cooperative research on ballistic missile defense technologies and to intensify consultation and cooperation on missile defense."

Related material on Acronym website:

Reports: Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Georgy Mamedov meets with Canadian Deputy Minister of National Defense Ken Calder, Russian Foreign Ministry Statement, Document 2544-10-12-2002, December 10; Canada open to missile shield discussions, Globe and Mail, December 10; US-Canada - Ottawa eyes joint defense, Global Security Newswire, December 10; Joint Statement, US-Japan Security Consultative Committee, Washington, December 16, 2002, US Department of State, Office of the Spokesman; Ottawa sceptical on participation in US system, Global Security Newswire, December 16; US asks Denmark for use of base in 'son of star wars' shield, Agence France Presse, December 17; US asks to use British spy base, BBC News Online, December 17; Text - Powell meets with top officials from Denmark, Greenland, Washington File, December 18; Greenlandic officials hopeful of US deal on Thule base, Global Security Newswire, January 2; Missile Defence, Hansard (UK Parliament Official Record), House of Commons, Columns 696-713, January 15; Britain says 'yes' to US on missile defense, Reuters, January 15; On Britain's consent to use by United States of Fylingdales Moor radar station, Russian Foreign Ministry Statement, Document 107-17-01-2003, January 17.

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