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Monday, 9 December, 2002, 21:53 GMT
UK judges 'Son of Star Wars' threat
Menwith Hill communication centre, near Harrogate
The US system could depend on British bases
Taking part in US missile defence plans would not put the UK itself at greater risk of attack, says the government.

America is continuing work on its "Son of Star Wars" programme and is considering asking the UK to upgrade the early warning systems at RAF Fylingdales in North Yorkshire.

The government has just published an new analysis of what US national missile defence (NMD) plans could mean for the UK.

The documents says: "The threat to UK territory is not immediate, but the developing potential cannot be ignored, particularly given the time required to develop missile defences."

New threats

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said the document was designed to spark a wider public debate over the issue.

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

In contrast, Mr Hoon has said defending against possible ballistic missiles is as much in British interests as it is in America's.

Geoff Hoon, Defence Secretary
The Tories say Hoon's consultation is a "farce"
The new analysis paper explains that during the Cold War, military planners thought the Soviet Union might clear the way for a nuclear strike by attacking early warning systems as a "blind".

The possibility that a state with new ballistic capability might try the same thing is "highly improbable," it says.

"A strike to 'blind' the West could be contemplated only by a power with an extensive and highly sophisticated ballistic missile capability...

"We do not see the achievement of these conditions by any proliferator as a realistic prospect for many years to come.

"For the foreseeable future, long-range ballistic missiles in the hands of proliferators are likely to remain essentially weapons of terror, holding at risk not specific military installations but population centres."

Spreading missiles

The document says Fylingdales in "therefore not a plausible target".

The paper also outlines how the possible spread of ballistic missiles is a "serious cause for concern".

There were worries states like Iraq, Iran, North Korea and Libya already had, or were trying to get such missiles.

The paper adds: "Potential threats are growing and cannot be ignored.

"If we are to meet these prospective threats, we need to plan ahead and prepare properly."

'Foot dragging'

Mr Hoon told MPs the UK would consider "very seriously" any US request to use Fylingdales for a NMD project.

But permission would only be given if the plans enhanced the UK's security.

Conservative shadow defence secretary Bernard Jenkin complained that ministers were "foot dragging" over missile defence.

Mr Jenkin said: "Labour's position on missile defence is a farce.

"Everyone knows that the US will make a formal request for the use of the early warning radar at Fylingdales and that the UK will agree.

"This consultation is little more than a charade and a false pretext for delaying a final decision."

Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Paul Keetch argued that any UK involvement in an NMD project should be based on collective security.

Mr Keetch added: "Any system for which UK facilities are used must contribute to the security of the UK and all of our strategic partners and allies and not just the security of any one nation."

See also:

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