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US & UK Co-operation on Missile Defence - BASIC Press Release

BASIC can reveal that Britain IS deepening its cooperation with the United States on missile defence, but is unlikely to agree to host missile interce ptors. Lt Gen Trey Obering, head of the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA), disclosed at a military conference in Washington on 20 March that the United States had formally selected Britain as a possible site for European interceptor missiles, as part of its Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system. However, the Pentagon has said that no negotiations have taken place on basing interceptors in the UK. \"[There has been] no planning, no approach, no request, and no invitation.\" (Financial Times, 23 March). Speaking in a brief debate in the House of Lords on 29 March, Defence Minister Lord Drayson insisted that, \"No decisions on further UK participation in missile defence have been taken\". He also said that \"The US has made no request about an interceptor site in the UK\" and \"it would require a full debate if such a request was made to the United Kingdom\". However, the decision in December 2002 to accede to the US request to upgrade Fylingdales as part of their BMD plans set a poor precedent in terms of process, transparency and accountability. The Defence Committee at the time \"strongly regretted the way in which the issue had been handled by the Government\". All the indicators suggest that Tony Blair is unlikely to grant basing rights for interceptor sites in Britain - Poland or the Czech Republic remains the most likely host - but without a clear ministerial statement on the issue, the rumours are likely to continue. So what is going on? Increased US-UK Cooperation According to a recent entry in the Congressional Record(8 February 2006), the US equivalent of Hansard, there is \"an intent to sign a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the United States and the United Kingdom concerning Joint U.S./UK Sea-Ballistic Missile Defense Studies\". And the Congressional Record further states (14 February) that there is \"an intent to sign a Project Arrangement concerning the U.S./U.K. Missile Defense Situational Awareness Node\". Officials on both sides of the Atlantic are staying tight lipped about what this latest cooperation involves. It is probably an extension of the UK-US Framework Memorandum of Understanding on missile defence signed by Donald Rumsfeld and Geoof Hoon in June 2003, which was designed to help facilitate UK industry participation in US missile defence programmes. More specifically, it could be an industry-to-industry arrangement in relation to the Sea-Based X-Band Radar or the Aegis BMD system or something else. We just don\'t know. Several other key US allies have already concluded extensive missile defence agreements with the United States. In 2005, for example, Japan agreed a high-tech BMD cooperation deal with the United States in a series of hugely ambitious projects, including the purchase of more than $1 billion worth of missiles. And India signed a far-reaching series of strategic accords with the United States that included joint cooperation on BMD. Is Britain next in line? The British Government: Still Sitting on the Fence (and keeping the Public, Parliament and Allies in the Dark) Rumours of secret deals to place interceptors in the UK have been around for some time. In October 2004, Geoff Hoon, then UK defence secretary, told parliament any such decision would \"be open to scrutiny and debate in the normal way\" but that specific parliamentary approval would not be required. But the UK Government has still not established a clear position on missile defence, and continues to be ultra-cautious in its public announcements. Whitehall has drifted towards supporting the US administration and the use of British bases, but no final decision has been made - at least not in public - on Britain\'s wider role in the US BMD system. BASIC Executive Director, Dr Ian Davis said: \"It is apparent that the United States is spending astronomical amounts on Ballistic Missile Defence, a system that has a very low probability of functioning effectively, and an even lower relevance to contemporary security risks. It would be irresponsible for the UK to squander any resources on this expensive Maginot line in the sky when there are higher priority defence and domestic programmes that remain under-funded.\" He added: \"There is an urgent need for more information on the purpose of these joint US-UK BMD studies. The lack of transparency and accountability on such an important issue is an affront to our parliamentary democracy. Recent opinion polls reveal that the British people have indicated a strong wish to pursue policies that are more independent of the United States; and for Parliament as a whole - not the Prime Minister - to decide Britain\'s international policies.\" BASIC is calling for: The Defence Secretary John Reid to issue a statement clarifying the extent to which British officials have discussed missile defence issues with their US counterparts. It is inconceivable that the US would have announced the UK as a possible location for interceptor missiles without having discussed the issue with London. At a minimum, there must have been some contact between British and US officials in the negotiation of the proposed US-UK Memorandum of Agreement cited in the Congressional Record. In October 2005, then Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon gave an unequivocal denial of any talks taking place. The latest proposed US-UK missile defence agreements to be made available for prior parliamentary scrutiny (i.e. before being signed). The numerous UK and NATO ballistic missile threat assessments and industrial studies to be declassified and placed in the public domain.