Thursday, July 25, 2002
The 'war on terror', missile defence and the US woos Europe

The House of Commons Defence Select Committee criticised the Blair administration for a confused response to terrorist threats by Al-Qaeda. The air of masterly inactivity that all thought hid 'behind the scenes' moves to counter the terrorist threat, cloaked by the British devotion to secrecy, has proved to be frenetic and incompetent complacency, lots of noise achieving little. Not something that this government has been accused of in the past...

A further blow to this government's ambitions to stand as Bush's principal ally in Europe must be two further developments this week on missile defence: the Americans softened up the Danes in order to obtain permission to use the radar base at Thule; Boeing has joined forces with the Franco-German combine, EADS, to pursue joint research on missile defence. (Boeing has already signed a similar understanding with BAE Systems).

What these developments show is that the US does not really have to worry about keeping the United Kingdom onside, and therefore expends its diplomatic energies on more unreliable allies. Furthermore, as our sole defence contractor, is the Anglo-American BAE Systems, our defence industry is now so tied into the US military-industrial complex, that it is possible to state that our defence has become a sub-contractor to the Pentagon, and no longer has the primary purpose of defending our shores.

Within such constraints, there is one move that Britain and BAE Systems can take to prevent a stronger defence industry in Europe that is independent of British influence. EADS does not have the systems platforms to add to their aerospace infrastructure, a deficiency that BAE rectified when it bought the defence companies of Marconi. BAE would be wise to snap up Thales, the French contractor, and deny EADS the opportunity of setting up a rival systems specialist in European defence.


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