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National Missile Defence

1.26 pm

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton): Mr. Amess, it gives me great pleasure to be here for this debate under the fixity of your pensive gaze. I preface my remarks by making it clear that if I refer to "the Americans", I am speaking not about the American people—for whom I have a great deal of affection and regard and who remain warm and generous of spirit—but about the American Administration.

National missile defence, as it used to be known, is, I would argue, 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. I would also argue that it is against the interests of the United Kingdom, despite repeated Government denials that that is the case.

What is national missile defence? First, it no longer exists; it has been renamed missile defence. The reason for that is that the new title suggests that, in some way, it is a transportable system, appropriate to more than the defence of the continental United States. But as Southampton university's Mountbatten centre for international studies has argued:

Quite simply, it is important that we put on the table what missile defence is, as it is a piece of jargon for the average elector and, I would argue, possibly for the average hon. Member. "Missile defence" is the notion that missiles carrying weapons of mass destruction can, if they are in small numbers, be knocked out of the sky by other missiles. It has been likened to a bullet hitting a bullet at a combined speed of 15,000 mph.

It is further argued that it is important that this notion be embraced because there is a small group of rogue nations that might very well attack the United States using intercontinental ballistic missiles. Missile defence supporters say that this arguable threat needs to be met with a layered defence, giving the United States options to take out the rogue missiles at different stages in a putative attack.

Finally, the present American Administration argue that missile defence is entirely consistent with the legitimate interests of other powers in the world, including Russia and China.

I would aver that none of this is true, as I hope to demonstrate. Moreover, I think that our Government have hitherto been economical with the truth on these matters and are, in my view, failing to act in the British national interest.

I shall take hon. Members through some of the fallacies underpinning the American Administration drive for missile defence. The first general area of doubt about the efficacy of these proposals is the technology itself that is required. Ever since the ill-fated strategic defence initiative under President Reagan, trillions of dollars have been spent in researching missile defence. One of its prototypes was the Patriot system, which was devised by the Raytheon Corporation and deployed in the Gulf war. I am sure hon. Members will recall that we

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were told a great deal about its success in downing Iraqi Scud missiles. However, the House of Representatives noted that

The then Administration and their contractor, Raytheon, misled the public and Congress. Those are the words of a reputable Committee of the House of Representatives.

What has changed with the current research and promises of success? Not a lot. If people doubt that, they should read the Scientific American of August 1999, which contains an article entitled "Why National Missile Defence Won't Work", written by three authors. One of them is Theodore Postol, who developed the Trident 2 missile system. He is not a peacenik or naive about such matters, but he felt compelled to write to the White House and to contribute to the article to express his concerns about the distorted test results used to argue in favour of missile defence.

Even more convincing is a letter sent to the Republican and Democrat leaders in both the Senate and the House of Representatives on 12 November 2001, if for no other reason than that it was signed by 50 American Nobel laureates, each one an eminent scientist in his—there were no women—field. The letter stated:

That is aptly put. After all, the test flights that have been successful so far have been so only because a homing device was placed inside the target rocket and—as Theodore Postol demonstrated—a decoy was placed on the opposite side of the incoming extra-atmospheric kill vehicle, or EKV, which is one of those marvellous pieces of jargon associated with the Dr. Strangelove world of missile defence.

The tests in December were also delayed by inclement weather. Missile defence would appear to be a technological miracle that requires a homing device in the target, decoys on the right side of the rocket and fine weather before the intercepting missiles can be used.

I am humble enough to recognise that those technical problems might be overcome, but to what end? The standard response is to counter the rogue states, which appear to be defined as those which refuse to recognise US hegemony. Admittedly, many are nasty regimes—North Korea, Iran and Iraq, for example—but so are many American and British allies. The key might lie in what constitutes a threat.

The US Administration appear to rate as a threat those states which they know or suspect to be developing such missile technology. Traditionally, in this country and in Europe we have not restricted implied threat to capability but have linked it to intent to use the technology. Why should one of the three states that I have mentioned seek to threaten the US with an ICBM, in the knowledge that the retaliation by the US to an attack with weapons of mass destruction would be terrible and total? The events of 11 September demonstrate that there are far more devilish ways to wreak havoc than using an ICBM, without attracting the national annihilation that would surely follow such an attack.

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The cost of missile defence is soaring exponentially. The Pentagon has claimed a cost for the life cycle of missile defence of $43 billion. Others place the true cost at anywhere between $60 billion and $120 billion. The cost of just one component—the space-based, infra-red, missile-heavy satellites, the eyes in the sky for the system—have increased already from $10 billion to £23 billion. That gives some idea of the way in which the cost of the technology is racing ahead of all the computations. The emergency funding remitted to the US Executive after 11 September was $40 billion, $20 billion of which has already been spent in Afghanistan, so I wonder how sustainable those huge costs will be.

The British Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Michael Boyce, commented on 28 July 2001:

As always, he was being remarkably frank. What would our Chancellor have to say about a British commitment to spiralling expenditure on missile defence? I raise that point because it is not only an American issue. If anyone doubts that, I refer them to the legislation sponsored by Representative Allan in the House of Representatives, entitled the Missile Defence Burdensharing Act 2001, which seeks hefty compensation from allies for any extension of missile defence to cover their countries to meet the purchase and research and development costs of missile defence.

It is remotely possible that we could overcome the challenges of technology and cost, but what of the politics and the alleged destabilising effects of missile defence? We must consider those issues in the context of the present US Administration's unilateralism and, in particular, its military application. The US Department of Defence issued a document entitled "Joint Vision 2020" on 30 May 2000, which stated:

That is a statement of intent for total and unbridled American power. Many people will go along with that and I can understand the Americans wishing to do so, but I question whether it is in the British national interest. For example, is it in our interest to see the militarisation of space?

We should set that declaration against America's actions in a wider context under the present Administration. For example, they have announced withdrawal from the anti-ballistic missile treaty; brought the biological weapons convention review conference to a halt; renounced international efforts to negotiate a verification protocol to the biological weapons convention; abandoned Kyoto; refused to reconsider the comprehensive test ban treaty; rejected the International Criminal Court; discarded the convention on the prohibition of land mines; gutted the United Nations conference on small arms; dismissed the UN convention on the rights of the child; boycotted the comprehensive test ban treaty review conference in New York; supported a continuing unilateral embargo on Cuba; and have now announced plans to place weapons in space.

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Is it any wonder that China is set at least to quadruple its force of ICBMs and equip it with multiple warheads, as reported by the CIA? Is it any wonder that Russia is feeling peeved and let down after the American admission that instead of negotiated weapons removal, the weapons will merely be mothballed? That is the context—the background for the decision. America is embracing the concept of missile defence in the context of a rapidly fading credibility as regards its commitment to any international agreements.

I ask hon. Members not to take only my word on these matters.

those are not my words but were part of an editorial in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on 13 December 2001.

On the same date, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch stated:

Again, those are not my words but those of a very sensible middle America and they are coming through strongly.

The key question for us is where does the UK stand? My argument is simple. We disingenuously await a formal approach from the US to use Fylingdales and Menwith Hill as part of the system, although we know that they are already being used under previous agreements. However, to use that as an excuse for avoiding debates such as this one is disingenuous.

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. Perhaps more critically for most people in this country in this rather improbable doomsday scenario of rogue states launching missiles against the United States, we become a front-line target in a way that beggars belief.

We knowingly defy the sound logic of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For 50 years, that logic 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.

I have the greatest regard for the Minister of State. He knows that my remarks are not personal; I am making a necessary and legitimate political argument. Will the Minister, on behalf of the Government, act as America does and put our national interest first? I do not object to America putting its interests first. I have no locus in American politics, but we all have one in the politics and national interest of this country.

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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 United States, we should be using it to tell the Americans what we really think. We should tell them how they are wrong. We should be critical friends of the Americans; we should point out that NMD is not in the American interest and that they are using the wrong strategy against the wrong enemy at the wrong time, especially post-11 September.

I ask my right hon. Friend not to forget about one Labour Government who were under great economic pressure from the United States, but managed to stay out of the fold when they felt that the involvement of the British people was inappropriate. I refer of course to Harold Wilson when he came under that pressure during the Vietnam war. Harold Wilson resisted that pressure in far more parlous times—politically and economically—than the British Administration face at present.

With all humility, and with the greatest respect to my right hon. Friend, I point out that, although Harold Wilson was no angel, only fools rush in where angels fear to tread; angels would very much fear to tread along this path.

1.45 pm

The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): I certainly do not speak as an angel but as a Minister. I do not know whether angels have ever been Ministers—after a long, hard search, historians might find one.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) on securing the debate, and I am grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to set out the Government's position on this issue. I take his point that his remarks were not aimed at me personally, because our friendship goes back a long way. We have shared the same political enemies, but I distance myself from his hypercritical comments about our closest ally—the United States. The tenor of my speech will touch on some of those points.

The potential threat from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, which include ballistic missiles, and their means of delivery is widely recognised and accepted. Since the events of 11 September, the possibility that terrorists could use weapons of mass destruction against the UK or our allies has understandably been a cause of particular concern. Many people say that the world has changed since that day, and I share that general view.

However, that certainly does not mean that we should relax our vigilance against other dangers, including the danger that could be posed by ballistic missiles. The events of 11 September show us that there are people who will seek to threaten the US, its friends and allies with all available means—in future, that could include ballistic missiles.

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I do not want to be alarmist. Our assessment remains that there is currently no significant threat to the UK from ballistic missiles. Indeed, the threat from ballistic missile attack has diminished considerably since the end of the cold war. Furthermore, I can assure hon. Members that we continue to monitor developments closely. We are conscious, however, that the UK often deploys its armed forces to areas of the world where ballistic missiles are available to our potential adversaries, and where such weapons have been used previously. In parts of the world where tensions remain high, it is a cause of concern that some states are trying to develop or acquire ballistic missile capabilities of increasing range.

We need to tackle that potential threat. It is important to do so with a comprehensive strategy that encompasses diplomacy, arms control, export controls, counter-proliferation, conflict prevention, intelligence co-operation, deterrence and defensive measures. We are already working hard in all those areas with our allies, partners and friends. We must look to do more where we can. Furthermore, we must consider new elements for inclusion in that comprehensive strategy.

Before I turn to the detail of missile defence, I make it clear that the US agrees with us on the need for such a comprehensive strategy. There is no difference between us on that point. Missile defence is not a substitute for other measures as a response to the proliferation threat. I remind my hon. Friend that last February the Prime Minister and President Bush agreed in a joint statement that:

It is of course right that diplomacy should form a central strand of our response to missile proliferation—as for any security issue. Work on conflict prevention and resolution can reduce tensions and increase stability, thereby removing the conditions in which proliferation thrives and the use of ballistic missiles becomes more likely.

It is for that reason that the UK remains strongly committed to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the biological and toxin weapons convention and the chemical weapons convention. We want all nations to sign up to those regimes but, more important, to implement them.

Specifically on missile proliferation, the UK has played a key role in working towards an international code of conduct on ballistic missiles. Once established, this will be the first step towards a set of international norms in the field of ballistic missiles.

However, the fact is that implementing non-proliferation and arms control agreements, and seeking to enforce them, is simply not enough. While those mechanisms continue to play a vital role in slowing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, they have not stopped such proliferation. That is the harsh reality that has to be faced up to, and it is why the UK and our allies also need to be able to deter and defend against these threats.

My. hon Friend raised the issue of the threat level and the relationship between capability and intent. Threat consists of capability and intent, and it is important to

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take that into account. However, we must recognise also that the development of ballistic missile capabilities is a fact, and that intent can change rapidly. We must therefore take the potential threat very seriously indeed.

It is against that background that the US missile defence proposals have to be judged, based upon the world as it is, not as we would wish it to be.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Ingram: No, as I wish to consider a wide range of issues. I shall do my best to allow my hon. Friend to intervene a little later, but I want to deal with the issues raised in the debate.

The US has made clear its commitment to deploying limited missile defences against emerging threats. That is one element of its response to the threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

For our part, we have consistently made it clear that we understand the role that missile defences can play. We welcome the US continuing commitment to consult with NATO allies, Russia, China and others on this important issue. That shows that the US is not proceeding in a unilateral manner. We will continue to engage actively and constructively in these discussions as close allies with common strategic interests.

The US has made clear its intention to conduct an intensive programme of research, development, testing and evaluation of a wide range of missile defence options. Some of those options are prohibited under the terms of the anti-ballistic missile treaty. That is why the US announced in December that it had given Russia six months' notice of its intention to withdraw from that treaty, as it was entitled to do under the terms of the treaty. The ABM treaty is essentially a bilateral issue for the US and Russia, and its future is a matter for them.

I shall develop that point a little further, as it is important to recognise that the strategic context is changing even as the process that I have just described continues. We have all seen in recent months the emerging strength and stability of the new relationship between the US and Russia, which I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton will warmly welcome.

President Bush and President Putin have stressed their desire to work together to establish a new strategic framework based on openness and mutual trust rather than on enmity. Both recognise the need to focus on tackling today's emerging threats, including international terrorism and the proliferation of ballistic missiles, and both have made it clear that this new relationship is strong enough to withstand disagreements on individual issues.

The Government welcome the fact that the US and Russia have committed themselves to significant reductions in their levels of operationally deployed nuclear weapons, and that they will this year continue discussions on future arrangements for transparency and verification of their nuclear arsenals. We see no reason why the process of nuclear arms reduction should not continue.

It has been suggested that US missile defence proposals could cause a new arms race. That is simply conjecture; it is not a proven case. I would argue that, in

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debating this matter, we have to distinguish between cause and effect. I recognise the view taken by my hon. Friend and others, but I would ask him to consider the opposite point—that missile defence can be viewed as a response to an existing proliferation problem, not as a cause of that problem.

Improved defences against ballistic missiles carrying weapons of mass destruction may indeed help to tackle proliferation by reducing the perceived value of pursuing such programmes for any state that has not yet renounced weapons of mass destruction capabilities, or which is seeking to acquire them in contravention of its international legal obligations.

We should not underestimate the extent to which proliferators—rogue nations and others—have been trying for many years to get hold of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, nor how great have been the efforts to prevent those weapons' non-legitimate use. We will continue to face that challenge, regardless of how the US decides to proceed with missile defence. The current context of world events shows that the threat will remain.

I would also point out that we understand the US argument that missile defences might actually reinforce deterrence. Not only would any attempted ballistic missile attack by an irresponsible state on the US meet with a powerful response, but defences would make a potential aggressor unsure whether his attack could succeed at all.

There is a wider point here. We need to get away from the idea that the concept of mutually assured destruction is relevant to deterring all the threats of the future. It has been argued that mutually assured destruction, or the balance of terror, was a logic which, although deeply unpleasant, led to stability between the two superpowers in the bipolar cold war world. The thousands of warheads aimed at each country's territory threatened the destruction of each country.

The cold war is over, and Russia and the US are no longer enemies. It is hard to see how the logic that applied to their cold war relationship is relevant to the future deterrence of multiple limited threats to the US. It is indeed ironic that many of those who vigorously opposed the deterrence logic of the cold war now object to the US seeking to explore alternative ways of deterring and defending itself against ballistic missile attack in a changed and changing strategic environment.

My hon. Friend raised questions about the efficacy and cost of the US missile defence proposals. He quoted extensively from expert witnesses to the effect that the system would not work. I could ask my hon. Friend what he is worried about: if the expert opinion is that the system will not work—and those eminent people seem to know better than anyone else—why is he worried about the US proposals?

Mr. Kilfoyle: The answer is simple. I believe that the money could be put to better use—in the military sphere, or in terms of aid or peacemaking. The amount of money involved is inordinate, given that the experts say the system will not work.

Mr. Ingram: I was coming to that point. The efficacy of certain US systems is, first and foremost, a matter for

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the US. That does not mean that my hon. Friend cannot comment on it, but it is a matter for the US and its people. Too much tends to be read into the success or failure of any given test. I am sure that my hon. Friend and his expert witnesses would accept that these are long-term programmes. They will need to be judged on final results, rather than on the smoothness of progress along the way. Indeed, I think that my hon. Friend recognised in his contribution that the experts may have got the matter wrong.

It is also up to the US Administration to decide how they spend their money, and to determine their relative priorities. Of course, as I recognised earlier, there are other means of delivering weapons of mass destruction, but it is wrong to think there are either/or choices here. Responsible states should consider their options for defending against all such possible forms of attack.

My hon. Friend commented on the view of the Chief of the Defence Staff. In that context, I should like to set out briefly the UK's own position on missile defence. We believe that it would be premature to decide now about acquiring such a capability, either for deployed

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forces—for which we already have considerable capabilities for passive force protection against weapons of mass destruction—or for the defence of the UK.

However, our options for the future remain open. We continue to assess the threat posed by ballistic missiles, and to assess ballistic missile defence technologies, which are evolving rapidly. As well as this national work, we fully support the ongoing NATO theatre missile defence feasibility studies, and we have a long-standing technical dialogue with the US on the subject.

Let me make it clear that it also remains the case that the US has not decided what sort of missile defence system it will ultimately seek to deploy. As I have said, it is currently considering a range of options. These include sea and air-based systems, as well as the land-based system that was at the heart of the thinking of the previous US Administration.

The simple fact is that the US has not yet asked us for facilities. Clearly, we will consider such a request if, and when, it is made.

As I said at the outset, the Government welcome this debate. It has allowed me to touch on some of the important issues that have to be addressed. I recognise that my hon. Friend has strong views on this subject—

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