What’s going on in the UK concerning Missile Defense?

By Lindis Percy

Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases (CAAB)

April 17, 2009

Friends, I am so delighted to be here – thank you for asking me to say something about the situation concerning Missile Defense in the UK.

I would like to address two specific questions.

1)  What’s going on in the UK about Missile Defense?


2)  What’s going on about public awareness and protest in the UK?

Before I do however address the first question - let me give you a brief overview as to the extent of the Missile Defense connection in the UK.

There are two bases the UK that are confirmed as playing a crucial part in the US Missile Defense system.  There are probably more US bases in the UK that may be, in some way, involved with Missile Defense because of the very nature of their roles – these are not publicly confirmed.

Both bases are in the county of Yorkshire in the north of England where Dave Webb and I live.  I live 8 miles from the American intelligence and surveillance base – the National Security Agency of America-run base at Menwith Hill.  Although referred to as ‘Royal Air Force’ Menwith Hill, the base is occupied and controlled by the US authorities and their Agencies.  It is the largest such base outside the US and will play a crucial part in the Missile Defense system – should it ever work which as we know, is far from certain.

The other base is RAF Fylingdales – an important early warning station detecting missile launches.  Data collected at RAF Fylingdales is shared between the US and UK.  The radar facility was upgraded for Missile Defense last year.

What’s going on in the UK about Missile Defense?

In 1997 CAAB found out, by chance, that Menwith Hill was to be designated the European Relay Station for the Space Based Infra Red system – SBIRS.  We have campaigned ever since – and were eventually joined by more groups and individuals over the years.  The two SBIRS radomes at Menwith Hill were constructed in 2000.

On 5 February 2003, the then UK Secretary of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon, made a statement to Parliament announcing the Government's agreement to a request from the U.S. Government to upgrade the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System at RAF Fylingdales.

Any semblance of public or Parliamentary debate has been a farce and in its usual subordinate way, the UK government has waited for the US government to dictate terms and conditions - assuming that the UK government will comply – and they have - with no questions asked.  It’s part of the ‘special relationship’.

In an interesting article entitled – ‘Assessing the special relationship’ William Wallace (a Member of the House of Lords) says, “The US–UK special relationship today has a political and ideological superstructure and an embedded military and intelligence substructure.

Its political dimension rests partly on privileged access for British politicians and diplomats in Washington, partly on the perception that British and American interests are—or should be—closely aligned, and partly on sentimental assertions of shared values – however it is high time that a more open and critical debate should take place on its costs and benefits to the United Kingdom”. So there are some critical and questioning voices in high places.

The ‘special relationship’ was a concept thought up 60 years ago.  The ‘special relationship’ allowed Missile Defense to come to the UK – with a network of US bases already historically established.

Two years ago in July 2007, a statement was made in Parliament, by the then Secretary of State for Defence in the UK.  There was no chance for questions to be asked, as he announced that the UK government had given permission for Menwith Hill to be used for Missile Defense.

The latest development at Menwith Hill consists of an £8M contract to build an extension to one of the strategic buildings housing the hard ware technology of the base.  We think it is probably Missile Defense grinding on but we are not sure.  The firm that was awarded the contract has just gone into liquidation – part of the global meltdown - however plenty more firms will be waiting in the wings to take this on.  The latest news is that it is delayed two years.

What’s happening about public awareness and protest to Missile Defense in the UK?

CAAB has always been interested in using the law to effect change and in 1998 we brought out a legal action in the High Court London, to try to stop the building of the two SBIRS radomes.  The case went on for nearly a year - however we had to concede when Bill Clinton handed on the decision to deploy Missile Defense to….George W Bush…

The legal action was worth doing as we learnt a lot about Missile Defense and international law.  It brought publicity about what was being planned.  Gradually more groups became interested and the campaign took off in a limited way – always very limited because Missile Defense is a difficult concept to grasp – it’s out of reach and there is nothing specific to show – no silos with missiles in, or runways or visible signs and it’s all about space.   The two SBIRS radomes at Menwith Hill are two of over 30 now and blend in with the rest.

We work with specific Members of Parliament who tirelessly ask questions on Missile Defense and all things concerning US bases.  It is important to use the democratic system – however unhealthy – (and it is) - to chip away for information.

Protests continue at both bases.  CAAB organises a weekly protest which has been going since the SBIRS radomes were built in 2000.  There are a few people each week. The important thing is that it happens – a faithful witness each week to oppose what goes on at Menwith Hill and directed at people who come and go on the base.

The UK government has eroded many of the civil liberties which have been struggled for over centuries. Many draconian laws have been slipped in – involving the right to protest and which particularly affects us at Menwith Hill.  Over the years the police have made it harder and harder to protest and we have struggled to keep the weekly protest going.  However it does keep going  – every week – winter and summer, rain, snow and shine!

Things are quiet at the moment however – concerning Missile Defense.  A debate in both Houses of Parliament was eventually allowed.  It was hardly a debate however – a Member of Parliament making a statement to oppose Missile Defense and limited questions following.  There was no vote.  Now the Government can say and does, there has been a debate on Missile Defense.   The UK government however are impotent as the true masters are the US government. 

But a new era dawns with the arrival of Barack Obama.  It’s immensely exciting and a huge global sign of relief - after the dark days of the Bush regime.  Barack Obama said good things running up to his election.  There are cuts to Missile Defense and he has said that he is not in favour of allowing any more resources until the system is proven.  He wants to talk to the Russians – who are deeply upset by Bush’s hopeless policy of silos and radar stations in Poland and the Czech Republic.  And he has made overtures to the Iranians – surely the most intelligent way forward – we must give him and his administration a chance.

The Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said recently that he was "counting on" the new U.S. administration to live up to its pledge to "reset" relations between the two countries, while a senior Russian diplomat sought to link the fate of a key nuclear arms control treaty to American concessions on missile defense.  There is a new tone and it’s encouraging. 

What we have to get across is what Mary Beth was talking about this morning.  Missile Defense does not work, it costs too much, it creates international tensions and we have to do things differently.  The cry always goes up about jobs – jobs for the locals and jobs for the military industrial complex – but as Mary Beth so well articulated – there are jobs to be done – building schools, hospitals, houses, recruiting teachers, jobs crying out to be done.

In the meantime massive and scandalous amounts of money continue to be poured into this crazy system – the military way ahead of the politicians – unaccountable and reaching into the coffers regardless and all this despite the caution by the new President. 

Our job, in the UK or whatever part of the world we live where there is a connection with Missile Defense – is to campaign with even more vigor and persistence.  We need to make the connections to the fact that we can’t afford Missile Defense and the US can’t afford the web of bases round the world.  I understand that people in the US have no idea as to the extent of the US bases empire.  In the UK it is the same.

CAAB campaigns for Independence FROM America.  We have allowed the UK government to make these decisions behind closed doors – unfettered and unaccountable.

In the UK we have a huge continuing task to keep attention on the issue of Missile Defense and to keep the spotlight on Menwith Hill and Fylingdales.  There are, however chinks of light appearing which is encouraging.

It’s increasingly clear that the outcome to the global meltdown could just mean that there is an historical opportunity to order world in a very different way – there is no choice.

Hope is the fuel of human progress.  This could be the moment we have been waiting for – a special moment in history.  For without justice there can be no peace.   We much seize the prize and YES WE CAN!

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