UK wants US missile defence sites
By Stephen Fidler, Christopher Adams and Daniel Dombey in London
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: February 23 2007 11:38 | Last updated: February 23 2007 22:09
Britain has pressed Washington to site important elements of the US missile defence system in the UK, British officials said on Friday.
The US, which says the system is designed to shoot down missiles from problem states such as Iran and North Korea, is building a multi-layered missile defence system aimed at protecting the US.
Part of the programme is aimed at building a system to shoot down missiles during the middle of their trajectory.
An elementary version of this “mid-course system” has already been set up in the Pacific to protect the US west coast, and the US is now holding talks with Poland and the Czech Republic with a view to protecting the east coast.
Washington is discussing siting missile interceptors in Poland, near the Baltic Sea, and a high definition X-band radar in the Czech Republic.
UK officials say Tony Blair has pressed Washington to place at least some of those interceptors on British soil. The UK prime minister is said to share US concerns about the threat posed by missiles from states of concern.
“In the face of rogue states, this is something that can assist in Britain’s defence,” a UK official said on Friday. The official added: “The fact that the Poles and Czechs were involved prior to us does not diminish our wish for discussions to continue. The prime minister is keen discussions continue to see if we can be part of the outcome. ”The UK position was first reported on Friday by The Economist magazine.
The discussions with Warsaw and Prague have brought protests from Russia, which claims to feel threatened by US expansionism. The US insists that the system is not directed against Moscow, and could not handle in any case the number and sophistication of Russia’s many intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The possibility that the interceptors could be on UK soil will raise questions about whether it will make Britain safer. Some US scientists argue the early warning radar could not pick up Iranian missiles fired at Poland and the Czech Republic, because their trajectory would be hidden by the curvature of the earth.
Philip Coyle, a senior adviser to the US-based Center for Defense Information, said that the missile interceptors were close to the size of an inter-continental ballistic missile and their deployment at short notice could make the Russians nervous. “When they first take off, you can’t be quite sure where they are headed if you’re a Russian.”
Mr Coyle and others also say that, contrary to US official claims, the system has not been shown to work under realistic conditions.
Ian Davis, director of the British American Security Information Council, described the system as a “Maginot Line in the sky”. He said the system “has very low probability of functioning effectively, even lower relevance to contemporary security risks, and a danger of provoking long-term missile escalation with Russia and China”.
Britain agreed in 2003 to an upgrading of the early-warning radar facility at Fylingdales in Yorkshire, which US officials say should be complete later this year. Any UK-based interceptors would not be located near the early warning radar.
In a January 23 letter to Washington’s US Nato allies outlining US intentions for missile defence, Victoria Nuland, US ambassador to Nato, mentions UK offers of assistance for the programme. It also refers to Denmark, which is responsible for a radar facility on Greenland that may be upgraded, and says other nations may be approached for assistance.