Joint Memorandum from the Ministry of
Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (26 February 2002)
1. The Committee asked for a memorandum
covering our understanding of the international issues relating
to the development of missile defence systems (in the United States,
Europe and the United Kingdom), the threats they are intended
to face, and their technical progress.
2. This memorandum has been prepared jointly
by the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
3. We currently assess that at present there
is no significant threat to the UK from ballistic missiles. Nevertheless,
it is a serious cause for concern that some states have developed,
or are seeking to develop or acquire, ballistic missile capabilities
of increasing range. We continue to monitor developments closely.
We also recognise that our Armed Forces are often deployed to
areas of the world in which ballistic missiles are available to
our potential adversaries, and in which such weapons have been
used before. Furthermore, the ballistic missile threat to some
of our NATO Allies is already very real, either because they are
closer to regions of missile proliferation than is the UK or,
in the case of the US, because they have security commitments
in areas of the world that we do not.
4. A number of states that have ballistic
missile development and/or production programmes have the potential
to develop, or to obtain, inventories of longer-range ballistic
missiles. They include North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
North Korea and Iran are among the states that possess medium
range ballistic missiles. And North Korea has the technology needed
to develop ballistic missiles of intercontinental range. A particular
cause for concern is the fact that North Korea appears to be willing
to sell its missiles to any country prepared to pay for them.
Were a country in the Middle East or North Africa to acquire a
complete long-range ballistic missile system, a capability to
target the UK accurately could emerge within the next few years.
5. We also take very seriously the fact
that some states that are seeking to develop or acquire missiles
of increasing range have, or are seeking to acquire, weapons of
mass destruction. Iraq is an example. Of course, ballistic missiles
are not the only method of trying to deliver weapons of mass destruction
andas the events of 11 September showedmassive damage
can be achieved by the use of other means. We believe we must
be vigilant in respect of all these threats, including that which
could be posed by ballistic missiles.
6. We recognise that threat depends on both
capability and intention. We currently have no evidence that any
state with ballistic missiles has the intention specifically to
target the UK. But intentions can change rapidly, and the fact
is that the proliferation continues of weapons of mass destruction
and their means of delivery. We believe that all responsible nations
need to remain alert and take action to deal with the potential
7. A comprehensive strategy to address the
proliferation problem should encompass diplomacy, conflict prevention,
non-proliferation, counter-proliferation, arms control, export
controls, intelligence co-operation, law enforcement, deterrence
and defensive measures.
We are already working hard in all of these
areas with our allies, partners and friends. And we must look
to do more where we can.
8. Defence against missiles is not a substitute
for other measures in response to the proliferation threat. The
US Administration recognises this. Last February,
President Bush and the Prime Minister agreed that:
"We need to obstruct and deter these threats
with a strategy that encompasses offensive and defensive systems,
continues nuclear arms reductions where possible, and strengthens
weapon of mass destruction and missile proliferation controls
and counter-proliferation measures."
9. This is the context in which we need
to set the missile defence debate, and specifically US plans.
The US has made clear its commitment to deploying limited missile
defences against emerging threats as one element of its response
to the threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
This commitment raises a number of issues with an international
dimension, including the US's relations with its NATO Allies,
with Russia, and with China, and more widely to arms control and
concepts of deterrence.
10. The current US Administration, like
its predecessor, is committed to consulting NATO Allies (as well
as others) on its plans for missile defence. It has kept Allies
closely informed of progress in its dialogue with Russia on a
new strategic framework. The UK continues to engage actively and
constructively in these NATO discussions, as a close ally with
common strategic interests. Other allies have done likewiseall
are committed to a serious and constructive dialogue on the subject.
Separately, NATO is pursuing work on theatre missile defencethe
Feasibility Studies it has commissioned will be completed at the
end of this year. There is also a continuing dialogue with Russia
on the subject.
11. The US has set out its intention to
conduct an intensive programme of research, development, testing
and evaluation of a wide range of missile defence options. Some
of these options are currently prohibited under the terms of the
bilateral 1972 Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. The US has
made clear that it will not violate the Treaty while it remains
in force, and on 13 December 2001 announced that it had given
Russia six months notice of its intention to withdraw from the
Treaty, as entitled under Article XV of the Treaty. Her Majesty's
Government takes the view that the ABM Treaty is essentially a
bilateral issue for the US and Russia and that its future is a
matter for them.
12. But we believe it is important to recognise
that the strategic context is changing. At the Crawford Summit
last November, both 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 enmity. And both
recognise the need to focus on tackling today's emerging threats,
including international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons
of mass destruction and their means of delivery. And both have
emphasised that this new relationship is strong enough to withstand
differences of view on individual issues. HMG welcomes the fact
that the US and Russia have both committed themselves to significant
reductions in their levels of operationally deployed nuclear weapons,
and that they are this year continuing discussions on future arrangements
for transparency and verification of their nuclear arsenals. The
two Presidents plan to meet again in the coming months.
13. China has expressed concerns over US
plans for missile defence. The US has stated its intention to
to China on missile defence, and has since then sought to engage
constructively with her on the issue. The US has also made clear
on numerous occasions that its missile defence proposals are intended
to deal with very limited threatsin the first instance
a handful of warheads - from states of concern with emergent missile
capabilities. They are not intended to defend against responsible
states with established strategic forces. And it is a fact that
China has for some years been pursuing a programme modernising
its nuclear forces irrespective of US missile defence proposals.
14. Concern is regularly expressed that
US plans for missile defence could lead to new arms races. These
concerns are understandable, but we believe it is important to
look at the facts, and distinguish between cause and effect. As
set out above, the US and Russia are both aiming to make significant
reductions in their operationally deployed nuclear weapons regardless
of the US giving notice of its intention to withdraw from the
ABM Treaty, and China's nuclear modernisation programme continues
irrespective of missile defence. And US missile defence proposals
do not drive the dynamics of the regional relationships between
China, India and Pakistan.
15. More generally, improved defences against
ballistic missiles carrying weapons of mass destruction could
help to tackle proliferation. They could do so by reducing the
perceived value of pursuing such programmes for any state that
has not yet renounced its weapons of mass destruction capabilities,
or is seeking to acquire them in contravention of its legal obligations,
or might consider doing so in the future. Of course, it could
also make some states try harder to maintain or develop the capability
to threaten the US, its friends and allies with these weapons,
but the substantial technical and financial implications of that
should not be underestimated.
16. It is important to remember that missile
defence is a response to an existing proliferation problem, not
the cause of that problem. Proliferators have been trying very
hard for many years to obtain weapons of mass destruction and
their means of delivery, and great efforts continue to be made
to prevent their non-legitimate use. These efforts pre-date, and
are not the consequence of, US missile defence proposals; and
they are likely to continue regardless of how the US ultimately
decides to proceed.
17. Implementing and seeking to enforce
agreements on non-proliferation and arms control will continue
to play a vital role in a comprehensive strategy to tackle the
proliferation problem. They continue to slow the proliferation
of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, but
even with these agreements in place, such proliferation has not
stopped. That is why these elements of a comprehensive strategy
must be complemented with the ability to deter and defend against
such a threat.
18. Concern is sometimes also expressed
that missile defences could undermine our ability to deter states
with emergent ballistic missile capabilities. Put simply, deterrence
is about preventing aggression in the first place by presenting
potential adversaries with the prospect of losses outweighing
any gains they might hope to make. Therefore, US plans to defend
against missile attack could in fact reinforce their ability to
deter. A potential aggressor contemplating a ballistic missile
attack on the United States would need to reckon not only with
the likelihood of a powerful retaliatory response, but also with
the possibility that active defences would prevent his attack
from succeeding at all. And missile defences for the US would
not undermine the efforts of states without missile defences to
deter attacks on them that use weapons of mass destructionfor
the UK, we continue to make clear that such an attack would invite
a proportionately serious response. What is important is that
all states should consider how best to deter the use of weapons
of mass destruction and their means of delivery in a changed and
changing strategic environment.
19. It follows from the analysis of the
threat and the international dimension above that we understand
the role that missile defences can play as one element of a comprehensive
strategy to deal with the emerging threat from the proliferation
of ballistic missiles. But it is important to distinguish between
missile defence as a concept, and any specific proposals or systems.
For our part, we believe it remains premature to decide on acquiring
a ballistic missile defence capability for either deployed forces
or defence of the UK. And it remains the case that the US has
yet to decide how it will seek to proceed with the deployment
of a missile defence system for defence of its territory.
20. We would emphasise that it is difficult
at this stage to provide details of specific US systems or plans.
While President Bush has made clear his commitment to missile
defence, the detailed thinking of the US Administration is still
evolving and questions about their deployment plans, as well as
the capabilities, efficacy and cost of the systems they are considering,
are first and foremost a matter for them. The US Administration
has told us they are currently considering a range of options
for future missile defence systems. Their aim is to develop systems
that could defend US deployed forces against the ballistic missile
threats they might face, and against limited ballistic missile
threats to US territory. They have said that such systems might
also be capable of defending the US's friends and allies.
21. Rather than thinking in terms of "National
Missile Defence" and theatre missile defence, the US is considering
how it might best defend against short, medium and long range
ballistic missiles in all phases of their flight. These are: the
boost phase as the missile accelerates away from the launch point;
the mid-course phase spent mainly outside, or high up in, the
atmosphere; and the terminal phase as the warhead approaches its
target. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages, and
poses different technical challenges. By looking at a full range
of approaches, the US "will evaluate what works and what
before making decisions on what systems it will seek to deploy.
The US will evaluate the role that fixed and mobile ground-based
systems, as well as sea-based and airborne options might play.
And the US is conducting some research into the longer-term possibilities
of space-based interceptors and lasers.
22. In order to consider a wider range of
possible approaches than previously and to enable more varied
testing programmes, the US intends to expand its missile defence
testing range. This expansion will include developing test facilities
in Alaska that could be used to give an operational rudimentary
ground-based mid-course system to defend against an extremely
limited threat from North Korea within two to three years, if
such a capability were judged necessary. The US might also consider
using a prototype airborne laser, which would aim to engage a
hostile ballistic missile in its boost phase, against such threats
if early flight tests, planned to start in 2003, are successful.
And it will consider what sea-based options might be available
within this time frame.
23. PAC-3, a development of the Patriot
system used during the 1990/91 Gulf conflict, is starting to enter
service. It is a point defence for deployed forces, and aims to
engage shorter-range missiles in their terminal phase. But longer-range
missile defence systems are in earlier stages of development,
and are generally scheduled to start entering service towards
the end of this decade, or even later.
24. We would emphasise again that, as the
foregoing illustrates, the US continues to consider a wide range
of options, and has made no decisions on how it will seek to proceed
with deploying specific systems for defence of its territory.
The possibility that the US will envisage the use of facilities
in the UK, specifically at RAF Fylingdales and RAF Menwith Hill,
has been the subject of great interest. However, it remains the
case that the US has not asked to site elements of a missile defence
system in the UK. Nor are we able to say when we might receive
any such requests or what their exact nature might be. It also
remains the case that if we do receive a request, HMG will consider
it very carefully and respond on the basis of our national interest,
which of course includes our very strong strategic relationship
with our closest ally.
THE UK AND
25. It is important to remember that active
missile defences are only one potential element of an overall
defensive posture against weapons of mass destruction and ballistic
missiles. We believe it is still premature to decide on acquiring
an active ballistic missile defence capability for either deployed
forces, for whom we already have considerable capabilities for
passive force protection against weapons of mass destruction,
or for defence of the UK. But we have for some years been monitoring
developments both in the potential ballistic missile threat and
in the missile defence technology available to counter it, which
is evolving rapidly. The Technology Readiness and Risk Assessment
Programme (TRRAP) set in train by the Strategic Defence Review
was completed last year, and an unclassified report on it will
be placed in the Libraries of the House.
26. We need to evaluate further the potential
role of missile defences as one aspect of the broad-ranging defence
response to missile proliferation, and two further programmes
of work are underway. They are focusing on the technical feasibility
of defending against more complex and longer range threats, and
continuing to assess the significance of active theatre missile
defences as part of a balanced defensive posture. We will continue
our national work, and rule nothing out for the future. We will
also continue to support fully the ongoing NATO TMD Feasibility
Studies, and we have a long-standing technical dialogue with the
27. As well as supporting the NATO work,
some European allies are pursuing national procurement programmes
or collaborating with the US. For example, the Netherlands and
Germany have the Patriot system and are procuring PAC-3, and Germany
and Italy are, with the US, working on MEADS (Medium Extended
Air Defence System), which is intended to complement PAC-3 next
decade. For most European nations (including the UK), the focus
is on looking at the protection of deployed forces, who can already
face a missile threat in certain parts of the world. But emerging
ballistic missile capabilities are already able to reach the territory
of some allies, for example Turkey, and as they develop will be
able to reach further. In this context, the US Administration
has made clear its wish to see friends and allies protected. No
specific proposals have yet been made, and we expect that the
issue will be discussed in more detail in due course.
28. Issues relating to potential threats,
technology, and the international dimension, are closely linked.
Missile defence raises complex issuestoo often in the debate
the complexities are ignored, and missile defence is simplistically
characterised as being either a "good" or "bad"
thing. HMG believes it is important to take full account of this
complexity in formulating our policy on the issue. Above all,
we need to recognise in the debate the reality of the proliferation
of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery. HMG
believes it is right for the US, its friends and allies, and all
responsible states, to consider carefully how best to tackle it
with a comprehensive strategy, and the role that missile defences
might play as one part of this.
1 Joint Statement by President Bush and the Prime
Minister, Camp David, 23 February 20. Back
President Bush in speech at National Defence University, Washington
D.C., 1 May 20. Back