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"This controversial new weapon relies on British support"
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Friday, 12 January, 2001, 20:42 GMT
Hague defends 'Star Wars' stance
Fylingdales base
Fylingdales would be an integral part of the system
Conservative leader William Hague is standing by his call for Britain to back future US plans for a controversial new anti-ballistic missile system.

The National Missile Defence (NMD) system, designed to protect against attacks by "rogue states", involves the upgrading of the Fylingdales early warning radar base in North Yorkshire.

The government says no UK decision is needed until there are firm US proposals, and has accused Mr Hague of lacking judgement and responsibility.

Speaking in London, the Tory Leader insisted Britain should support the plans, despite the deep concerns of countries including China and Russia.

An effective defence reduces the utility of missiles and the incentive to acquire them

William Hague
"I think the United States should be supported in pushing forward this project and in pursuing the necessary research," he said.

He also welcomed US President-elect George W Bush's remarks that a shield could "provide protection for America's allies".

Mr Hague argued that European countries would serve their own strategic interests by supporting the scheme, rather than forcing the US to go it alone.


A purely American shield, he said, "would heighten the fear that America's enemies would instead target vulnerable US European allies".

Earlier, Defence Secretary Geoffrey Hoon accused the Conservative leader of "blundering around regardless of the sensitivities".

In a strongly worded statement, Mr Hoon said Mr Hague had shown "no judgement or sense of responsibility".

William Hague
William Hague believes Britain should support the US plan
The defence secretary described NMD - nicknamed 'Son of Star Wars' after Ronald Reagan's similar but abortive 1980s programme - as a "very sensitive issue, which has to handled with great care".

But Mr Hague believes Britain should be the first country in Europe to support incoming President Bush's enthusiasm for the multi-billion dollar project.

NMD, designed to protect America from attack by "rogue states" such as North Korea, would shoot down incoming rockets with American missiles.

Test problems

But the technology has so far proved problematic - three tests out of a planned 19 have been held but two failed and one was only a partial success.

And opponents have expressed concern that NMD breaches the 1972 anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty and could trigger a new arms race.

But Mr Hague dismissed such arguments, saying: "I cannot accept that an agreement designed for a very different time in world politics should stop us from taking steps that will improve the chances of peace and security in this very different age."

Defence Secretary Geoffrey Hoon
Mr Hoon has criticised opposition leader William Hague
"Current vulnerability to missile attack is an invitation to build offensive weapons," he added.

"On the other hand, an effective defence reduces the utility of missiles and the incentive to acquire them."

In Britain critics have said upgrading Fylingdales will turn it into a target while the UK would be outside the protective scope of NMD.

In his speech, Mr Hague accused European governments of ducking the issue.

"The British Government is at best ambivalent and at worst antagonistic to missile defence," he said. "The same is also sadly true of political opinion in other European capitals."

China 'horrified'

But Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Menzies Campbell told the BBC the Tory leader's call was "naive" considering the technological problems.

"Whatever the motive I think it's ill-judged and unnecessary", he added.

British General Sir Hugh Beech told the BBC his own view of NMD was "dismal".

The Russians were "dead against it", the Chinese "horrified" at the prospect and Mr Hague would be alone amongst European leaders in backing it.

Mr Hague also underlined his opposition to EU plans for a new rapid reaction force, calling it the "further trappings of statehood".

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12 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Hague bids for US special relationship
29 Dec 00 | UK Politics
UK welcomes Bush defence appointment
14 Dec 00 | UK Politics
'Star wars' controversy on horizon
02 Aug 00 | Americas
Bush backs missile defence system
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