Blair pressing to host American 'Star Wars' Interceptor missiles, and keeping Parliament in the dark (again)

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BASIC calls for consultation, and for threat assessments and industrial studies to be declassified

UK and US governments have been holding discussions on basing a US anti-ballistic missile defence system on UK soil - and the UK Prime Minister is said to have personally lobbied the US President for the system. BASIC is calling for the government to make a public statement clarifying the position, committing to consultation, and declassifying threat assessments and industrial studies.

BASIC Co-Executive Director, Dr Ian Davis said:

The United States is spending astronomical sums on Ballistic Missile Defence. Their Maginot Line in the sky has very low probability of functioning effectively, even lower relevance to contemporary security risks, and a danger of provoking long-term missile escalation with Russia and China. Meanwhile NATO troops in Afghanistan experience overstretch, and responses to other security challenges like climate change remain under-funded.

BASIC is calling for:

  1. The Defence Secretary Des Browne to publicly clarify the extent to which the Prime Minister, other British ministers and MoD officials have discussed missile defence issues with their US counterparts - and when these discussions started.
  2. Any proposed US-UK missile defence agreements to be made available for prior parliamentary scrutiny (ie, before being signed).
  3. The numerous UK and NATO ballistic missile threat assessments and industrial studies to be declassified and placed in the public domain.

In April 2006 BASIC revealed exclusively that Britain was deepening its cooperation with the United States on missile defence, but we concluded then that the UK Government was unlikely to agree to host missile interceptors. Clearly we were wrong.

 

Defence Minister Lord Drayson, addressing the Lords on 29 March 2006, insisted that, "No decisions on further UK participation in missile defence have been taken". He also said that "The US has made no request about an interceptor site in the UK," and "it would require a full debate if such a request was made to the United Kingdom". There is a strong possibility that Ministers have made misleading statements to Parliament.

The decision in December 2002 to accede to a US upgrade at Fylingdales set a poor precedent in terms of process, transparency and accountability. The Defence Committee "strongly regretted the way in which the issue had been handled by the Government". Today's revelation is a serious escalation in Britain's missile defence commitment without public debate or parliamentary scrutiny.

Ian Davis added:

The lack of transparency and accountability is an affront to our parliamentary democracy. Recent opinion polls reveal that the British people strongly wish to be more independent of the United States, and for Parliament to decide Britain's international policies.

 

Notes for Editors

Japan, Australia, Israel, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, as well as other US allies, are actively cooperating in Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) with the United States. Japan is by far the biggest partner, contributing about $1 billion annually to research and development.

The United States is continuing to look at extending its Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system into Europe by 2010. There are now 14 silo-based anti-missile units at Ft Greely, Alaska and two at Vandenberg AFB, California. Missile-defence radars are operational in Alaska and at Beale AFB, California, providing coverage of the North Korean threat, and the upgraded Flyingdales early-warning radar in the UK became part of the GMD system at the end of 2006, covering Middle East threats.

The US administration has already announced that it was working to place a further 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a related radar complex in the Czech Republic. Britain already plays a crucial role in the BMD system through the early-warning radar system at the Fylingdales base in Yorkshire, facilitated by a UK- US memorandum of understanding on BMD signed in 2003. It now seems like the UK is in competition with Poland for the 10 European interceptor units.

The task of shooting down missiles is broken down into three phases, with separate radars and interceptors for each: "boost phase" (shooting down a missile just after it's launched and the rocket lifts it through the atmosphere), "midcourse phase" (as the missile arcs through outer space), and "terminal phase" (as it plunges back through the atmosphere toward its target). The interceptors envisioned for the European site-like those at Fort Greely and Vandenberg in the United States-are designed to shoot down ballistic missiles in the midcourse phase, ie, as they're streaking toward someplace else. The existing sites in Alaska and California are (in theory) ideally situated to intercept missiles on their way from North Korea. The site in Europe would be well-placed to handle missiles on a trajectory from the Middle East to the United States.

Russia has said that the expansion of the BMD system into Europe will trigger an arms race.

The US BMD programme has cost at least $90bn since 1985 and the Pentagon plans to spend another $58bn in the next six years, according to a recent congressional report, which also highlighted test failures and criticised cost overruns and lack of transparency. In 2002, President Bush claimed that the BMD system would be operational in 2004, but to date there has been only preliminary testing of some of its components and no formal declaration of an operational capability. Dr Philip Coyle, a former US Department of Defense official, noted in a recent article that: "The GMD system has no demonstrated capability to defend the United States under realistic operational conditions." Since the start of 2006 no less than seven US government reports have faulted the BMD program.

A 10,000-page feasibility study funded by NATO (ie, by European and US taxpayers) on the missile threat to Europe and how to defend against it was completed in May 2006. The classified study was developed by an international consortium of industries, led by the US firm Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). Based in McLean, Virginia, in the United States, SAIC is comprised of the following companies: Raytheon (US), EADS Astrium (Europe), Thales (FR) Thales Raytheon System Company (FR/US); IABG (GE), TNO (NL), Qinetiq (UK), DATAMAT (IT); Diehl (GE).

The proposed NATO Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defense (ALTBMD) system is meant to integrate with the US Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) system. This theatre missile defense system is expected to provide protection from ballistic missile attack for NATO forces deployed in Europe - but there are also plans to expand it to cover population centres in Europe. SAIC not only carried out the feasibility study, it was also the successful bidder for the NATO contract worth 75 million Euros over a period of 6 years - agreed behind closed doors at the Riga Summit in November 2006 with no prior independent scrutiny of the feasibility study or debate in the elected chambers of the 26 Member States.