Monday, April 14, 2003
Missile Defence: Costs and Benefits to the UK - 14th April 2003, 21.20

A dated but relevant article from The Engineer on missile defence. The author, Andrew Lee, argues that national missile defence will be unable to provide protection for the United Kingdom. Yet, the act of upgrading Fylingdales will integrate the United Kingdom further into the missile defence system of the United States and increase the likelihood of an attack designed to degrade the early warning radar system. Fylingdales is designed to detect missile launches from the Near East and raises the profile of the United Kingdom in this unstable region.

National Missile Defence does not form part of the strategy of the 'war on terror'. The system is designed to destroy missiles from hostile states and, as a consequence, this unproven technology potentially destabilises the current hierarchy of power based upon nuclear weapons. It undermines the claim to great power status on the part of France and the United Kingdom. (China, India, and Russia, due to their vast size, remain viable claimants).

NMD is also vulnerable to countermeasures, especially as the system has never been fully tested and requires as yet unproven technologies. The question therefore arises: what advantages does the United Kingdom possess for proceeding with the upgrading of Fylingdales?

Any thought that UK involvement in the missile defence programme will leave the nation nestling under a US-built protective umbrella belongs in the realm of science fiction, according to most commentators. By agreeing to the upgrade of Fylingdales the UK will be buying a share of any future benefits from the limited NMD planned by the Bush administration. Michael Clarke, professor of defence studies at King's College, London, said these are likely to come in the form of intelligence, and possibly some protection for UK forces overseas. 'The possibility of the UK mainland being protected is just not a realistic one,' said Clarke. 'We would be buying a share of the information the system provides, and maybe some benefits for our troops operating in particular theatres.'
Clarke said the concept of an over-arching shield above the UK, or for that matter the US, is a legacy of the ambitions of Ronald Reagan that has lodged in the collective consciousness. 'Given enough time and resources, all the bits of such a system could probably be made to work. But could they be scaled up 100 or more times to the level that would be needed? It's just not realistic.'

The upgrade may allow us to retain a superior intelligence capacity compared to our continental rivals and maintains or deepens the close relationship between the defence industries of the United Kindom and the United States. This is the trade-off: better intelligence and defence technology in return for an increased possibility of attack as part of the defence network of the United States.


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