Report from the Forum
on U.S. Missile Defence, London

31 May 2001

Nigel Chamberlain, CND

Professor Paul Rogers (Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford);
Caroline Lucas (MEP South East England);
Lindis Percy (Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases);
Nick Cohen (Journalist, the Observer);

Chair: Bruce Kent

Time: Thursday 31st May 6.30 p.m.
Place: Essex Hall, 1 - 6 Essex Street WC2 (off The Strand)

Sponsored by: Abolition 2000 UK, BASIC, CAAB, CND, MEDACT, UNA, Quaker Peace and Social Witness

PAUL ROGERS, Professor of Peace Studies at the Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford

Paul Rogers opened the panel discussion with an overview of the history of Inter- Continental Ballistic Missiles and Missile Defence systems, particularly the United States futuristic Star Wars plans of the 1980s under President Reagan. These plans, though highly controversial at the time, were for the most part written off as far too ambitious and consequently were supposedly abandoned. However, it has become increasingly evident that these plans were not halted and research has continued throughout the past twenty years.

During the Cold War era the main objective of Missile Defence was to incapacitate Russia economically and militarily knowing that it could not afford an arms race. The same purpose exists today with China.

Paul also talked about the militarisation and nuclearisation of space, which will restart a new arms race. He referred to a leaked CIA world report, which examined the future in 2015 and predicted that the US will be the predominant player in international politics.

He continually referred to this idea of 'liddism' with US plans for Missile Defence being a prime example of this. An attempt by the US to 'keep a lid' on world politics and the threats generated by 'states of concern'.

Paul described the Bush administration's determination to pursue missile defence as part of a worldview, which perceives an increasing need for military control to support a globalised free market. As he concluded in a Guardian article, "National missile defence is a nonsense, abandoning arms control treaties is stupid and seeing any opponent as a rogue state or terrorist is a form of arrogance that is as dangerous as it is misconceived".


Caroline Lucas began by noting that the absence from political debate during the election period of this subject was in itself conspicuous. As member of the European Parliament she has been helping to "raise people's awareness and understanding about the real and devastating consequences of introducing an NMD system." Caroline has put down parliamentary questions as well as the equivalent of an early day motion in an attempt to stimulate debate.

However, despite all these efforts she is astounded by how little people know about NMD, and how little its impacts have been properly discussed - even here in the UK, "which will be so affected by any decision to go ahead and use Fylingdales and Menwith Hill, and when the Labour Government has come closest to saying that they think the initiative is a 'good idea'."

Caroline also talked about European military ambitions for space. A report from the European Space Agency (ESA) last December revealed its intentions: "Embarking on development of a European defence system including a space component will ... provide a significant part of European public investment that is missing today compared to the US", and it concluded that "We see it as logical to use the capabilities of ESA also for the development of the more security-oriented aspects of European Space Policy."

Caroline referred to how the United States how "want to control space, to dominate space, to fight in and from space.  And, hugely significantly, they want to use this technology to protect their corporate interests and investments around the world from the insecurities borne of a world based on increasing divisions."

In examining the so-called threat of 'rogue' states Caroline pointed out that China has only 20 nuclear missiles capable of hitting the US, while the US has 3,500 with which to "hit back".  North Korea, another so-called possible enemy, has suspended its missile-testing programme and is now negotiating reunification with S. Korea.

Thus, leading us to conclude that the "US impetus for NMD has got very little to do with genuinely dealing with real threats --and a lot more to do with lining the pockets of the aerospace and defence firms who are the real drivers of this process - Boeing and Lockheed Martin, for example, who both stand to gain billions from this project, and who have contributed significantly to Bush's election campaign."

In looking at ways forward, Caroline drew on the example of an International workshop of the International Network of Engineers and Scientists Against Proliferation and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation which was held in the US in March.  Goals of the workshop were to begin a process of examining the technical and political problems posed by missile defence and to explore alternatives.  The Workshop recommended:

  • An international missile control regime should be established, and the 1972 ABM Treaty should be preserved and strengthened until more comprehensive international framework can be established
  • The weaponisation of outer space should be prevented by international agreement
  • Finally, security must be fundamentally redefined from the military dimensions of national interests to the fulfilment of human and environmental needs.

She also promoted the importance of peace education in cultivating the skills of conflict resolution, mediation, and non-violent social change to address global injustices, making international institutions like the World Bank and the WTO more open and democratic.  They include fundamentally rethinking our economic system which persists in putting profits before people; it involves cancelling debt and promoting human rights.

Caroline ended by reminding us: " we're faced with this idea of weapons in space and a new round of world threat and arms race, let's remember that we do have the strength and the power to bring about a more peaceful world."

Lindis Percy, Campaign for Accountability of American Bases (CAAB)

Lindis began by talking about how US bases came to Britain and that the occupation and control of Menwith Hill by the Americans rested solely on the 'exchange of correspondence'.  The 'security of tenure' for the US Army at Harrogate was initially given for 21 years from 1955 and then renewed in 1976. As Lindis pointed out, the Americans set out to have full control of these bases and any constructions without being accountable to the British public or parliament. It was only through secret documents released during court proceedings that CAAB found out about this.

Lindis went on to talk about the campaign and the work that it does. CAAB is a campaign grounded in deep concern and opposition to weapons of mass destruction in general and nuclear weapons in particularly - specifically the proposed US National Missile Defence system. It focuses on American bases in the UK and abroad while raising public awareness, scrutiny and accountability of American bases in the UK. CAAB works by using the democratic processes by asking parliamentary questions and workings with MPs; taking action through the legal system to change unsafe law; and by regularly monitoring US bases and Planning Departments with regards proposed developments, specifically the monitoring planning office at Harrogate.

It was through such monitoring that CAAB first found out about the new role for Menwith Hill, namely the European Relay Ground Station for the Americans and the Space Based Infra Red System (SBIRS) which are crucial to NMD. Lindis brought the Claim in the High Court in October 1999 in which CAAB had tried for about two years to get the lawyers interested in going down the legal route as they became more aware of what the new role of MHS was - i.e. European Ground Relay Station and two SBIRS radomes being constructed. CAAB did it with no legal help - modelled on the form from five permanent injunctions Lindis has!

Media interest only began to take off in late 1999 when Richard Norton Taylor wrote an article in Guardian on the first demonstration at Menwith Hill in March 2000. Now the media interest in US Missile Defence and the role of Fylingdales and Menwith Hill has increased rapidly at the local, national and international level. CAAB's campaign is also growing.

Lindis concluded describing her deep scepticism of the Government and that you cannot trust the Government or those in authority who make these major decisions. She firmly placed the emphasis on the public: " it is up to us the people to stop star wars." Demonstrating the potential of this Lindis reminded us of various examples of how - including peaceful civil disobedience - demonstrations at all US base have worked. She ended by saying the 'Romans came and the Romans went', the Berlin wall came down, apartheid ended because of the people. "It is up to the people - together we can, we must, we will stop star wars."

Nick Cohen, Journalist from the Observer

Nick talked about how missile defence undermines everything the defence establishment had believed in and supported for the last 50 years. The theory of deterrence has been completely redefined to accommodate new theories driving missile defence, gradual nuclear disarmament via agreed international treaties has been discarded and their understanding of patriotism has been undermined by subservience to US requirements for bases on British soil.

He described how Missile Defence undermines the basics of British conventional wisdom. In a recent Observer article he reiterated that "Star Wars can't defend Britain" and that the establishment is exposing the country to an unprotected attack from America's enemies. At the same time the UK is saying very little to oppose the US as it proposes to abrogate bilateral and multilateral arms control treaties. Blair has told Bush that Britain shares 'American concerns that they are highly unstable states who
are developing nuclear capabilities. We have go to look at all the different ways, including defence systems, that we can to deal with that threat.'

Nick also pointed out that 'rogue' or otherwise states are more likely to use the cheaper alternatives than nuclear: chemical and biological weapons. The technical difficulties involved in making missile defence work is, as Nick described in a recent Obsersver article, "false comfort." This has further disturbing consequences as there are those in Washington who advocate using nuclear weapons to destroy nuclear weapons. A conventional missile needs a direct hit to take out a warhead whereas a nuclear weapon detonate in the path of a missile can destroy a warhead.

Nick also talked about the huge weight of the corporate sector behind the 'divine project' of Missile Defence which included the likes of BAe, Lockheed Martin and others. The military sector is heavily subsidising business and university research to help legitimise its interests.

Questions and Comments from the Floor

Following the presentations by the speakers questions and comments were received from the floor. The first question to Professor Paul Rogers queried the legitimacy of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty since the situation has now changed following the end of the Cold War. Paul Rogers argued that the ABM Treaty should be left as it is since US unilateral abrogation would set a dangerous precedent encouraging Russia to transgress all other treaties.

Paul Rogers also warned about technical developments of Missile Defence pointing out that conventional warheads may be inadequate at intercepting missiles and the US instead may look towards the use of 'mini' nuclear weapons. He also argued that Missile Defence needs to be considered in the wider military context of being used alongside conventional forces and new nuclear developments.

The second point raised alluded to the question of employment that Missile Defence would create in the UK through the use of Menwith Hill and Fylingdales. Lindis Percy agreed that this was a difficult problem but should not detract from our opposition to it. Nick Cohen pointed out that Missile Defences was less about the UK defence industry and more likely to create problems in the Pentagon over splits in the allocation of defence budgets. Caroline Lucas concurred with Lindis Percy in saying that we shouldn't stop campaigning just that we need to be more sensitive. She also recommended that the peace movement ought to link up with the anti-globalisation movement.

Another member of the audience questioned the use of the language 'status quo' which appeared to underplay the role of the US. Paul Rogers responded by arguing that this is a question of a small transitional elite of which the US was the most powerful actor but our discourse should refer to this. Paul Rogers stated that the military/industrial/bureaucrats and academic complex were hugely significant in pushing for the deployment of Missile Defence.

One question alluded to the 'fall-out'' effect of an interception and queried why this has not be highlighted more. Another member of the audience inquired as to the logistics of using Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles with multiple warheads and decoys. Paul Rogers explained the possibility of using small nuclear weapons that are detonated in the path of the missiles. He also argued that Missile Defence is more about 'mopping up after a first attack.

The final question raised the point about the US using its leverage through trade agreements to exert pressure on different countries to fall into line and support Missile Defence proposals.  This was answered in conjunction with some final comments from the panel. Lindis Percy reiterated the need to stop star wars, while Caroline Lucas argued that within this campaign there was room for everyone such as the anti-globalisation protestors. Nick Cohen advised that we should concentrate on the issue of Star Wars, as it was one we could potentially win.

Following the end of the discussion Mark Bromley from BASIC announced the Missile Defence Working Group's intention to shortly release a joint statement outlining our concerns and inviting various organisations, academics and individuals to support. For those who would like to become more involved in campaigning against missile defence please contact any of the organisations below for more information.

Helen Hughes
The United Nations Association-UK (UNA)
3 Whitehall Court, London SW1A 2EL
Tel: 0207 930 2931

Mark Bromley
British American Security Information Council (BASIC)
Lafone House, 11-13 Leathermarket Street, London SE1 3HN
Tel: 0207 407 2977

Nigel Chamberlain
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND)
162 Holloway Road N7 8DQ
Tel: 0207 700 2350

Gill Reeve
601 Holloway Road, London N19 4DJ
Tel: 0207 272 2020

David Gee
Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPWS)
173 Euston Road, London NW1 2BJ
Tel: 0207 663 1067

Claire Poyner
Abolition 2000UK
601 Holloway Road, London, N19 4DJ
Tel: 0207 281 6281

Lindis Percy and Anni Rainbow
Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases (CAAB)
8 Park Row, Otley, West Yorkshire, LS21 1HQ
Tel: 01943 466405/01482 702033

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