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Monday, 15 January, 2001, 17:22 GMT
'No decision' on Star Wars plan
Flyingdales Military Base, Yorkshire
British military bases could be used in the scheme
The government is taking a "wait and see" approach to America's National Missile Defence (NMD) scheme.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon told MPs that a decision on whether to support the so-called "son of Star Wars" programme would only be made after US President-elect George W Bush's new administration decided whether to go ahead with it.


It hardly seems sensible to commit ourselves to something that the Americans may or may not decide to commit themselves to

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon
Mr Hoon mocked Conservative support for the project and accused Tory leader William Hague of "blundering about" on the issue.

But the Tories warned that the UK faced a growing threat from "rogue states" and accused the government of waiting until after the general election before coming out in favour of the scheme.

'Destabilising'

On Sunday, former defence minister Peter Kilfoyle warned ministers to be prepared to oppose the project.

Writing in the Observer newspaper, he denounced NMD as "destabilising" and as "a dangerous flight of fancy".

He criticised Mr Hague's "unseemly haste" to cosy up to the new US administration by backing the programme.

Mr Kilfoyle added that the Bush administration "will have no hesitation in implementing" NMD and warned prime minister Tony Blair not to be "unprepared".

Mr Kilfoyle's opposition to the scheme is understood to be shared by a number of ministers including Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and Foreign Minister Peter Hain.

But Mr Hoon insisted a decision had not been made.

"The government have not yet reached a decision on this matter - nor should they do so because the Americans have not reached a decision.

"In the light of a new US administration it hardly seems sensible to commit ourselves to something that the Americans may or may not decide to commit themselves to."

He added: "It displays a lack of judgement for the leader of the Opposition to blunder about dealing with this issue before even the US itself has reached a conclusion."

'Growing threat'

But shadow defence secretary Iain Duncan Smith claimed there was a growing threat from rogue states and that ministers were divided on the subject.

The government's position resembled "Dr Doolittle's push-me, pull-you - hoping that something will turn up before the election".
Peter Kilfoyle
Peter Kilfoyle warned ministers to be prepared

He added: "You know that the MoD is advising you that there is a growing threat."

Mr Hoon denied that there was any threat from rogue states but said the situation was being kept under review.

Tory support for the NMD programme, the implementation of which would require the use of the UK airbase at Fylingdales, caused an outcry from politicians at the weekend who accused Mr Hague of opportunism.

Mr Hague had argued that America's allies should support the scheme.

But speaking in the Commons, Labour backbencher Paul Flynn warned that the US project would "violate international treaties and wreck the present stability between east and west on military matters".

Liberal Democrat spokesman Menzies Campbell said it was "naive to give uncritical support to a unilateral proposal in relation to NMD without taking account of Russian anxiety" and the potential for a nuclear arms race in Asia.

NMD is designed to protect protect the US from incoming missiles by shooting them down from space before they reach American air space.

However, 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.

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See also:

12 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Hague defends 'Star Wars' stance
12 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Hague bids for US special relationship
29 Dec 00 | UK Politics
UK welcomes Bush defence appointment
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