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Wednesday, 17 January, 2001, 10:42 GMT
Missile defence: Is it a good idea?

The opposition Conservative Party in the UK has come out in support of a controversial US missile defence system.

The proposed system is designed to protect America and its allies from missile attacks by rogue nations, like North Korea or Iraq. It has the support of the incoming US president, George W Bush.

But Russia and China have repeatedly condemned the project, saying it could lead to a new arms race. European countries have also voiced concern.

Can such a missile system ever work? Does it endanger current disarmament efforts? Should America's allies support it?


Is this an attempt by Bush and Hague to justify a costly and bloated military?

Rajeev Dutt, Germany
History has shown that weapons systems that take years to develop become obsolete before they are used. I can think of two off hand - Dreadnought, and the stealth bomber. A colossal waste of money that can be spent on more useful things such as better military intelligence and a more concerted effort to bring "rogue" states back to the international fold. Is this an attempt by Bush and Hague to justify a costly and bloated military?
Rajeev Dutt, Germany

Ten years after the end of the Cold War it seems people are quick to forget the fear we all lived under and the financial ruin and suffering it brought to so many people. This is merely a shallow attempt by Bush to raise support among arms dealers and the military-industrial complex. Whatever happened to diplomacy, understanding and rational thought? I hope that one day Americans stop imposing their idea of order and realise that the "pursuit of happiness" should apply to all nations on this earth.
Neil, UK

The NMD system is not a cold war Relic - it is a dream that has persisted throughout history. It will be realised by those bold enough to do the work. I can't imagine why anyone should be offended by another's intention to try to defend one's self. In any case, the NMD should proceed.
Dale Curtis, USA

Why help pay for a system that makes conflict more likely and protects someone else, not us? This is the reality of the "special relationship". We put ourselves out for the benefit of the world's richest (and greediest) nation! US foreign policy has for decades been to advance their commerce at the expense of everyone else (including UK). Is it unlikely that most of the anti-Europe propaganda that we eat daily from US owned media is part of this and funded by vested interests?
Jonathan Maytham, UK

Any determined enemy will be able to circumvent these defences

KA Parker, UK
This is the best way to waste billions of dollars that I can imagine. Any determined enemy will be able to circumvent these defences, and it may force them to use chemical/germ warfare. Better to invest the billions in diplomacy, peace keeping, monitoring of rogue nations and continued global disarmament.
KA Parker, UK

I am amazed that the UK is even considering supporting this. Why does Britain always have to do everything the US wants. If there is anti-American feeling in Europe it is because people have woken up to the fact that they are fed up with the US telling us what to do when they can't even get their own country in order. Remember Britain you are part of Europe - be proud of that fact and say no to this. Talk about turning the clock back!
Louise, Australia/UK

I personally agree with the suggestion of NMD in Britain. We are living in a VERY unstable world, one with several UNKNOWN nuclear carriers. It seems people are forgetting this is a defensive not an offensive weapon! As for people in the EU stating on this Talking Point that Britain should leave the EU. It is thanks to the US and Britain that there is an EU! I would much rather team up with the Americans and defend freedom than be a European who bows to dictators for the price of a few exports!
Steve, England

Everyone is missing the point! In an interview on the BBC, Reagan's Chief of Staff said that Reagan's intention with Star Wars was not only to clearly win the arms' race, but also to destroy the Soviet economy in the process. The objective was achieved. National Missile Defence and theatre defence has the real purpose of luring China into an arms race they cannot win with similar consequences for their economy. The U.S. knows that before the century is out, China will be the strongest economy; American conservatives will do anything to prevent it. The big question is who protects the world from America which is fast becoming the super rogue nation?
Marcazzo, Switzerland

The scientists involved in this project have spoken, this system does NOT work. The tests of the system prove that it does work. Any potential enemies would not use a missile system to attack as it would be suicide for them to launch a missile that could easily be tracked back to its source. Instead an enemy would use small nuclear/biological weapons that can easily be smuggled into the country and used it in heavily populated cities. It is absolutely absurd to keep on funding an impossible system that even if it worked would not be useful in modern warfare.
Paul, US

A lot of the advocates of the anti-missile programme appear to be missing the point that it would basically allow the US to attack whoever they wanted to without fear of ballistic retaliation. Great for the Americans admittedly - not so good for anyone who doesn't jump when the US tells them to. I think William Hague should be wary of speaking out on matters of such importance, since Tory policy rarely seems to be well thought-out these days (remember their drug manifesto anyone?)
Marcus, England

Why is it that not wanting to place Britain's collective neck into a US produced noose is regarded as being anti-American? In the pursuit of world freedom, Britain sacrificed its predominant world position, through the economic realities of two world wars. The US did very nicely out of those same conflicts, entering late and avoiding economic difficulties.
Dave Graham, UK

Sometimes I wish we stood up for what we think is morally right

Alex Banks, Walse (living in Sweden)
Please can someone explain to me why we "always" have to support America? Sometimes I wish we stood up for what we think is morally right, not what America thinks is morally right. I still haven't forgotten the ridiculous overkill of a certain factory in Sudan and the fact that the UK was the only country in the world backing America.
Alex Banks, Walse (living in Sweden)

We should allow the US to use RAF Fylingdales if they agree to install and pay for a UK missile shield and giving the keys to the RAF to operate.
Andrew, England

If the Conservatives oppose it I would think it is a good idea. They tend to oppose anything sensible these days.
Jack Oliver, England

Paul of UK is correct. To a Briton living in the US, the degree of anti-American sentiment among Europeans is appalling and downright dangerous. What seems especially unsettling is the way in which pro-EU sentiment has become almost synonymous with anti-Americanism, with even Government Ministers boasting that the purpose of the Euro and the European so-called Rapid Reaction Force is to challenge the US. Let's hope we don't have to appeal for help to the US for a third time in a hundred years. Next time their price might be permanent control of Europe.
Jon Livesey, USA

Anything that protects Britain and the USA from the Saddam Husseins, Milosevics and Gadaffis of the world has to be a good thing. Not embracing this system and using the same sort of diplomacy that was used by Chamberlain meeting Hitler is lunacy. You fight wars by being cunning and nasty, not by being wimps. What happened to the British Bulldog spirit?
Gavin Pearson, Detroit, MI, USA

I believe that Bush and Hague are right to support this

Tim, UK
I believe that Bush and Hague are right to support this. What we have to understand in today's world is that the primary threat no longer comes from Russia or China but from countries where nuclear power is developing, such as Iraq..
Tim, UK

I think that although missile defence may a good idea in the short term, it may start another Cold War, especially as I read in an American newspaper that China has signed a treaty with Russia.
Peter Bolton, UK in USA

The proposition of building a missile defence system to afford protection to the "allies" is a ludicrous one. It reflects on the pervading tendency of the United States to adopt a hostile posture at the earliest possible opportunity. Such a proposition would merely generate acrimony between the West and other countries that are bearing the brunt of America's indignation.
Sunit K. Joshi, UK/ USA

I'm getting sick of the anti-Americanism that is fashionable in Europe

Rich Vose, California, USA
I'm getting sick of the anti-Americanism that is fashionable in Europe and which has now intensified since Bush was elected President. Europe has shown itself to be totally incapable of defending itself in two world wars. It cannot execute even minor military interventions without American help (e.g. Falklands, Kosovo) and yet has the audacity to criticise the USA for developing its own defensive system.
Rich Vose, California, USA

Building this system would be very costly and even if it did work there would be soon countermeasures invented to neutralise it. A far better and cheaper method would be to simply change our foreign policies which have generated so many needless enemies for us..
Stephen B, USA

Surely if no country is expecting to attack the US or even the UK in the near future with missiles, then they shouldn't have a problem with a "defensive" missile system?
Stephen McCoull, England

"All you need is Love" John Lennon.......
Simon, UK

Mr Hague's support of this daft idea, has more to do with upsetting our European partners, than appeasing our American cousins

Pat Vincent, UK
Quite apart from the fact the proposed 'defence system' will undoubtedly make the UK the target for a 'first strike', it does nothing to promote good relations with countries, such as China, we are supposed to be encouraging into reducing their arsenal of nuclear weapons.
Moreover there is still a strong anti-nuclear movement in the UK and Europe..Does Mr Hague think they will quietly accept such a 'system' being placed on British soil? Call me an old cynic, but I feel Mr Hague's support of this daft idea, has more to do with upsetting our European partners, than appeasing our American cousins.
Pat Vincent, UK

There will always be nations that are looking for trouble in the East somewhere, and without such defences the lives and freedom of good and honest citizens is threatened. I think it is good that the US with the backing of the Conservative Party has the "spine" to stand up to these nations, whereas so many people in today's politics are "spineless".
Lee UK, UK

Woo-hoo! Back to the eighties, with a Bush in the White House and SDI back on the agenda. Isn't that taking revivalism a bit too far?
Antony, UK

By initiating the NMD, the US is risking the fragile nuclear balance that has existed since the end of the Cold War

Nick Marsh, UK
The National Missile Defence plan is very dangerous because of the severe risk that it might halt, or even reverse, the process of nuclear arms reduction. By tearing up the ABM treaty the US will also tear up the trust and goodwill necessary to decommission nuclear weapons. Furthermore, existing nuclear states, like China or Russia may well invest more effort into building more, or better, weapons so that they could penetrate the shield. By initiating the NMD, the US is risking the fragile nuclear balance that has existed since the end of the Cold War.
Nick Marsh, UK

It seems we now take for granted, and do not wish to defend, basic freedoms that could not have been won without the sacrifice of thousands of American lives during WW2

Paul, UK
To me, the most interesting thing about debates like this is that they reveal so much anti-US feeling in Europe. It seems we now take for granted, and do not wish to defend, basic freedoms that could not have been won without the sacrifice of thousands of American lives during WW2. We also take for granted the immense contribution which the US made towards the rebuilding of Europe after that conflict. We take for granted the US commitment to European security during the worst of the cold war. As a result, many Europeans are now able to achieve a staggering feat of doublethink, by which they end up feeling hostile to the US, and sympathetic to totalitarian regimes which despise democracy and routinely use cruelty and murder to suppress their peoples' human rights.
Paul, UK

Piloting a small boat up the river Thames laden with chemical, biological or a nuclear device does not require an exorbitant amount of cash of even intelligence. The breakup of the Soviet Union has made acquiring these weapons relatively simple and the proliferation of small terrorist nations has made their use more likely. The most likely target would be a major city such as New York or London. Can someone please explain to me how the new "Missile Defense System" can prevent this? I really don't believe that China or North Korea are our main threats as they probably wish to continue living. I believe the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction is still alive and well. Does anyone still remember M.A.D.? The conservatives of both Britain and the USA are (as usual) living in the past. I wonder if anyone has informed these relics that the USSR is no longer in existence.
Neil Hastings, USA

The only true and everlasting defence system is true justice, everything else is short lived

Bassam Sulaiman, Kuwait
The only true and everlasting defence system is true justice , everything else is short lived. From stones to nuclear weapons and beyond, all will sooner or later be obsolete.
Bassam Sulaiman, Kuwait

The missile defence system is expensive, but what is the cost of a city like New York, Los Angeles or London. When you compare that with the price of this system, especially with the huge loss of life a nuclear strike would cause, it seems cheap. The only problem is that it doesn't stop terrorists bringing in a nuke on a commercial freighter or airliner. That is more frightening than rogue state missiles as you wouldn't know who had exploded the nuke.
John Taylor, UK

Son of Star Wars is a wonderful idea - if you're a shareholder

Nigel Baldwin, UK
Son of Star Wars is a wonderful idea - if you're a shareholder with Boeing, McDonnell Douglas or Raytheon. If not, it's just a "Maginot Line" in the sky, which can in like manner be outflanked by any dedicated terrorist, who can secrete a nuclear bomb across the USA's borders.
Nigel Baldwin, UK

Modern day Don Quixotes tilting at the windmills!
Mohansingh, India

Missile defence is another form of welfare for companies that rely on warfare. Contracts will be doled out, billions of dollars will be wasted, and after years of more testing, the same conclusion will be reached, namely, that the whole system still won't work.
SAF, United States

Given the fantastic pace at which technology is advancing and is also becoming available to all, a missile threat from the likes of Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic could be a worrisome reality. Leaders of any country must accord protection to its citizens especially from the threat of mass annihilation. Hence Bush or the proponents of an anti-missile defence system are quite right to give impetus to the idea, which if reliable and properly developed would in fact deter an arms race.
Tahir Nawab, NY,USA

Nobody can convince me that the US really feel threatened by the likes of North Korea etc. There is no justification for such a missile system. As some people have stated here, maybe it would be better for Britain to became an integrated part of the US and leave the EU. It is nothing but trouble for the rest of us Europeans anyway.
Andy, Greece

The US isolationist point of view is not helpful to those of us who don't live in the US

Will McDonald, UK
Only Tom McDonald (no relation!) actually addresses the point of debate. Is this a good thing for the UK and should our political leaders be voicing their support for it? The answer seems to be "no". Besides the vague guarantees that we receive, the entering of the UK into the US "umbrella" will only encourage "rogue states" to attack us. We are lucky to have much more constructive relations with many "rogue states" than the US, which is why it is not our embassies that are bombed. The US isolationist point of view is not helpful to those of us who don't live in the US.
Will McDonald, UK

The issue is not so much about securing the US from attack or professing support for an ally, rather the crucial point is how a NMD system will affect the global balance of power. The likelihood of the system being 100% effective is unlikely in the first instance, what system is? Secondly, any potential enemy will be encouraged to seek a numerical or technological means of counteracting the advantage an effective NMD system would give the US, subsequently sparking a potentially lethal new arms race.

In the history of warfare there has never been a weapon's system that has proved effective indefinitely. The NMD system may well be labelled as defensive but will it be interpreted that way by others?
E Drennan, Scotland

Let's weigh up the arguments: It probably costs billions. With the decline of the cold war, there is no obvious "enemy" against which to defend ourselves (most conflicts are localised; none are global. Like it or not, we still have our UK "deterrent" in the form of Trident, and the USA maintains a vast arsenal of weaponry which could respond instantly in the event of threatened attack. The technology is unproven. "Star Wars 1" was written off by many analysts as unfeasible and likely to fail. Finally, it increases the likelihood of targeting rather than reducing it. In consequence, this system would not be a good investment by anyone's appraisal criteria.
Andy Millward, UK

For a man who is so diametrically opposed to Europe, Hague seems a little keen to put foreign interests ahead of the safety of the British people. We do not get any protection from this ludicrous testament to America's new isolationism, and all we get from it is complicity in igniting a new cold war and breaching international treaties, as well as lighting up North Yorkshire as a nuclear target.
Toby Jones, UK

I think it's a great idea. It will allow the US to act with impunity against any regime they feel is not following the free American way. The minor shortfall is that the UK will become a prime target for rogue nations as well as their terrorist groups acting on their behalf. Still, a small price to pay for US security.
Ron, UK

I fail to see why anyone should object

Neil Warwick, UK
I think that William Hague is right, as one of America's allies we should promote the use of such systems. Since the system is a defensive one that is designed to protect against weapons that should be reduced under disarmament agreements, I fail to see why anyone should object. With countries such as Russia unable to account for all of their nuclear weapons, I can understand why such systems are needed. The UK should be doing more to align itself with the US and move away from the EU.
Neil Warwick, UK

The reason that America (and the other significant powers in the world) signed arms treaties was to prevent the start of a futile arms race. The building of a missile defence shield will inevitably trigger massive investment in arms to the detriment of many countries who can ill afford the waste of scarce resources.
Tim Rose, Scotland

The missile defence system was never designed to protect the UK; all the US wants to do is use Britain as an early-warning radar for missiles aimed at the good old US of A, which makes Britain a valid target for anyone wishing to nuke America the Cold War way.
Steve Wehrle, UK

I think it is very much up to the US government to decide what level of protection is in their nation's best interest. The US may not be the ideal "global policeman", but they have played a vital role in keeping world stability. The arms exporting nations and countries with less ethical foreign polices such as Russia, China, and even France, have too much of a vested interest in having a little instability.
Solomon, UK

Two points are clear. Although the system is solely for defence purposes, it can easily be seen as giving the impression that the USA mistrusts some of its current allies, and will clearly ruffle a few feathers unnecessarily. In fact, it may lead to an old-style arms escalation. Secondly, Hague is being so prematurely supportive in order to get into Dubya's good books by showing his party supports the system before the Government has made a decision. It's political points scoring, nothing more.
Paul, UK

Dodgy, but it will have to be done. We've avoided nuclear war for fifty-five years by the guarantee of mass destruction on both sides, but once every country in the world knows how to make nuclear missiles, the day will come when a maniac will come to power in a nuclear country and fire them anyway. Negotiate installing NMD across all the existing nuclear states at the same time if necessary - if we don't we could regret it later.
CNS, Durham, England

William Hague seems to be overlooking one vital part of this debate

Tom McDonald, UK
William Hague seems to be overlooking one vital part of this debate. He has ignored the fact that current US proposals for National Missile Defence will make the UK a target for future aggressors by including Fylingdales in the early-warning radar network, thereby rendering the UK more, not less vulnerable. Vague promises from incoming administration officials to extend missile defences to protect allies look extremely uncertain in light of the continuing technical challenges. It is surely premature to call for the UK to support a proposal which will have an immediate and negative impact on our own national security without some discussion of these facts.
Tom McDonald, UK

In principle it is a good idea, but I'm not sure how much help it will be against the more localised terrorist cells of the 21st century. Russia is unlikely to launch its missiles on the US and the smaller nations know that a single missile launched is likely to result in their entire nation being levelled. A scientifically intriguing project, but not entirely relevant anymore.
John B, UK

I have to admit that I'm baffled. Virtually every nation on earth builds a disgusting array of weapons of mass destruction with hardly a peep from the global media. Yet the US dares to consider a shield system aimed at thwarting attempts to kill millions of innocent civilians with these same weapons and gets pounded in the press. To say this logic is twisted would be an understatement.
Krow, USA

As this is a purely defensive system, I cannot see the problem with it ... even though I would agree with the argument that if so-called "rogue states" deploy a nuclear weapon, it is more likely to land at JFK in a suitcase than via an inter-continental ballistic missile! The more honest argument might be that the technological spin-offs are likely to be enormous in building a system that pushes the envelope of our scientific knowledge ... this is how the United States subsidises R&D in American industry; in just the same way, EU governments subsidise Airbus. I criticise neither, though ... it's just the way of the world!
Mark M. Newdick, USA/ UK

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See also:

12 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Hague backs 'Star Wars' scheme
02 Aug 00 | Americas
Bush backs missile defence system

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