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Wednesday, 13 November, 2002, 08:52 GMT
UK hints at 'Son of Star Wars' backing
Menwith Hill communication centre, near Harrogate
The US system could depend on British bases
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has given his strongest hint yet that the UK would back US president George Bush's "Son of Star Wars" missile defence plans.

In a speech on Tuesday evening, Mr Hoon warned that the potential for "rogue" states like Iraq to gain access to weapons of mass destruction strengthens the case for missile defence.

Critics claim allowing the use of British bases for US national missile defence (NMD) might protect the US - but would put the UK at risk.

But Mr Hoon says defending against the threat of ballistic missile attack is as much in the UK's interest as it is in America's.

Fuelling speculation

His speech to the Foreign Policy Centre in London follows his announcement last month that the UK was starting a detailed study of the implications of NMD.

Any request to use British bases, such as Fylingdales in Yorkshire, as early warning stations would be considered "very seriously", he told MPs.

Opponents of the plan described the statement as a "coded admission" the UK was going to sign up to the plan.

Geoff Hoon, Defence Secretary
Geoff Hoon: Missile defence could be in UK interests too

Mr Hoon insisted no request had been made and no decisions made, but Tuesday's speech is likely to fuel the speculation.

In the speech he said: "Developing the capacity to defend against the threat of ballistic missile attack is in the interest of the UK and its people, just as much as it is in the interest of the United States."

The Cold War days when people could rely on the prospect of "mutually assured destruction" to deter a nuclear attack had now gone.

Preventing a 'last throw'

Instead, Iraq was only one of the "rogue" regimes which wanted to develop mass destruction weapons and the ballistic missiles which could deliver them.

"In particular, where an individual or tiny clique has seized power, and acquired a WMD capability, how might they react in the final throes of facing loss of power personally?" he said.

In today's more uncertain world, it was worth thinking about whether a system to defend against ballistic missile attack could reinforce in special cases the deterrence given by conventional and nuclear weapons.

Such a scheme could help deter any regime contemplating the use of ballistic missiles "as a desperate last throw", he suggested.

It could also affect those "weighing the pros and cons of embarking on the costly and difficult path of developing or procuring them in the first place", he argued.

"The leader of a rogue state contemplating a ballistic missile attack on the UK or an ally would need to reckon not only with the near certainty of a powerful retaliatory response, but also with the possibility that active defences would prevent his attack from succeeding at all."

'Costly disaster'

Recent US tests on missile defence have added to the worries of the idea's opponents, including some Labour MPs.

In Parliament last month, Labour left-winger Jeremy Corbyn called the scheme a "costly disaster".

"It is going to cost this country dear and line us up ever closer with the US and all its interests against the rest of the world," added Mr Corbyn.

Earlier this year, 39 MPs signed a parliamentary petition opposing the idea of missile defence, saying it will lead to a new arms race.

The Conservatives, however, have praised what they see as a "shift in tone" from Mr Hoon over NMD.

See also:

20 Feb 02 | Politics
15 Dec 01 | Media reports
03 Dec 01 | Americas
13 Jul 01 | Americas
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