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Wednesday, 20 February, 2002, 14:23 GMT
Head to head: Missile Defence
Peter Kilfoyle and Mark Hendrick
The UK government is edging closer to support for US President George Bush's controversial missile defence system - or 'Son of Star Wars' - much to the alarm of many Labour MPs, including former defence minister Peter Kilfoyle (left).

But opposition to Missile Defence is far from unanimous among Labour backbenchers. BBC News Online asked Preston MP Mark Hendrick, whose constituency relies on defence jobs, to put the other side of the argument.


Peter Kilfoyle

Missile defence is one of the biggest - if not the biggest - threats to global stability that we face in contemporary times.

It unravels a whole series of treaties on the basis of unproven and undeveloped technology, an improbable threat and a huge financial cost, both materially and politically.


In the rather improbable doomsday scenario of rogue states launching missiles against the US, we become a front-line target in a way that beggars belief

Peter Kilfoyle
I would also argue that it is against the interests of the UK, despite repeated government denials that that is the case.

The events of 11 September demonstrate that there are far more devilish ways to wreak havoc than using an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, without attracting the national annihilation that would surely follow such an attack.

We are giving slavish support to the US Administration, much to the consternation of our European allies - with all that that means for us in the short, medium and longer-term future.

In the rather improbable doomsday scenario of rogue states launching missiles against the US, we become a front-line target in a way that beggars belief.

For 50 years, British foreign policy has been based on three tenets: deterrence, multilateral arms control and national security.

Missile defence actually turns those three tenets on their head.

The silence of the government on this issue hitherto can be interpreted only as a wish to curry favour with that most ideologically driven of American Administrations - an Administration who are, unfortunately, locked in a rather paranoid view of America's place in the world.

Missile defence is an offensive, not a defensive, system.

It will lull not only Americans but Europeans and many others into a false sense of security.

There is a strong view among strategic thinkers that missile defence makes a first-strike policy more rather than less likely.

If we have a special relationship with the US, we should be using it to tell the Americans what we really think.

We should tell them how they are wrong.


Mark Hendrick

I think we should find out more about what's involved in missile defence before we make any judgements.

If it only means upgrading existing facilities - such as the listening station in the Menwith Hills or the radar installations at Fylingdales in Yorkshire - then I don't really see a problem.


There is a lot of uncertainty and unease - and in those circumstances you find a few people dusting off their old CND badges

Mark Hendrick
We do not yet know whether the proposed system will be sea-based, land-based, satellite-based or some combination.

There is a lot of uncertainty and unease - and in those circumstances you find a few people dusting off their old CND badges.

But I don't think we should be rushed into a knee-jerk reaction.

We are not talking about the siting of US-controlled nuclear missiles on British soil. It is not a return to Greenham Common and the 1980s.

We are living in a very different world now and the threat of an attack from a so-called rogue state is a real one.

The Americans have said they want the Missile Defence shield to cover their allies and not just America's borders - and we would, arguably, be unwise to rule ourselves out of that.

The argument that it will make the UK a target does not really hold water.

As allies of the United States we would be targets in any case.

They would be genuinely defensive weapons - rather than offensive.

Similarly, the argument that it would spark a new arms race is red herring.

Using that logic, Germany could have argued before the Second World War that the subsequent development of radar by Britain was destabilising, and would give Britain an unfair advantage in being able to defend itself.

We would not be just slavishly following the US lead, we would be looking at the world in the new post cold-war context.

Clearly, there is going to be a debate about this and we are really only at the beginning of it.

I don't think it would be fair to characterize Labour MPs as being broadly against Missile Defence, many are undecided and need a debate in order for them to make up their minds.

Let's wait and see.

See also:

07 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Straw warms to 'Star Wars' plan
16 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Son of Star Wars 'threatens stability'
03 May 01 | UK Politics
Missile row intensifies
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