Britain must stop America's national missile defense plansby Shirley Williams / June 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
A year ago, it seemed quite a sensible and modest proposal: a limited national missile defence of the US, just sufficient to deal with a small number of long-range ballistic missiles that might be lobbed at the US by “rogue states” intent on blackmail. The system would not be big enough to upset the balance of deterrence on which peace between the nuclear powers has been maintained for nearly 40 years. It could not protect the US if, for instance, Russia were to launch a full-scale attack on it. But it did seem to offer a way to deal with a new and unpredictable threat.
Even then, there were some doubts. A limited national missile defence (NMD) system would require amending the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty-the 1972 American-Soviet treaty that had ended a potentially disastrous arms race. Russia, already uneasy about Nato expansion and bitter about the Kosovo war, was adamantly opposed to any such amendment. The US’s European allies were concerned about a strictly national missile defence, for fear that the US might become “decoupled” from Nato. An NMD system would be controlled by the US, not by Nato, and the allies would have no voice in its deployment.
Moreover, even this first stage of NMD requires upgrading the existing early warning radar systems both inside and outside the US. The two EU countries which are part of the system are Denmark and Britain. The difference between the systems in these two countries and their equivalents in the US is that the former will carry with them no additional protection, despite the attractive target they will present.
From the beginning, the NMD proposal has had a much greater potential than its modest first stage. In the original proposal, NMD had three phases. The first was for 20 ground-based interceptor missiles based in Alaska; the second for 100, a figure to be achieved by 2007; and the third for a much more ambitious missile defence capable of dealing with a substantial number of warheads, involving some 125 missiles on two sites, in Alaska and North Dakota. Beyond the third stage (C3), to be achieved by 2015, lay the possibility of further development, towards something that might resemble Ronald Reagan’s dream of a Star Wars defence. According to the white paper on NMD just published by the US-based Lawyers Alliance for World Security, “the NMD system is designed to be…