Some analysts have highlighted in particular that once the system is operative, the US could launch a first strike with increased confidence that any retaliatory strike could be shot down.
US Missile Defence bases at Menwith Hill and Fylingdales in Yorkshire make Britain a front line target in future US wars. And they operate outside British law and Parliamentary scrutiny.
By allowing these bases to be crucial components of the system the UK is complicit in the US military agenda and has put Britain in the front line in any future US war. It has already sparked controversy and provoked a new nuclear arms race, with an increased danger of nuclear weapons use. A potential aggressor could seek to destroy US Missile Defence facilities in Europe in the context of an imminent war with the US.
There are fears that continued development - including plans to site bases in Poland and the Czech Republic - will provoke a new Cold War with Russia. They, and other states such as Canada, China and some European states are openly opposed to space weapons and are trying to develop a Treaty to ban them, but the US vetoes all attempts and the UK has so far played no useful role in opposing them.
In all three proposed European host countries for US Missile Defence bases - the UK, the Czech Republic and Poland - the majority of public opinion is opposed to the system. A YouGov opinion poll in the UK showed 54% believed US Missile Defence would make Europe less safe, while only 24% thought otherwise.
The US Missile Defence system is a provocative military system, under the guise of defence. It will make the world even more unstable and insecure. Already there is talk of a new Cold War. CND believes the UK and US governments should concentrate on peaceful, multilateral initiatives for dealing with threats - the only true route to peace, security and nuclear disarmament.
Fylingdales is one of five US Ballistic Missile Early Warning Radar stations across the world. In 2003 Tony Blair, the then Prime Minister, gave permission for the base to become part of the US Missile Defence programme. Despite major public and political opposition on the grounds of international security and local health concerns, the upgrade process continued, without planning permission, and became operational for missile defence in 2007.
This joint US/RAF base is intended to be able to track enemy missiles and determine their intended trajectories, allowing interceptor missiles to be fired from other locations to knock them off track. So far, the system has proved to be ineffective: controlled tests have had minimal success in terms of shooting down missiles, but this has not deterred the US from pressing ahead.
Fylingdales has operated since 1963 as one of several radar facilities that provide early warning of ballistic missile launches against the US. Data from Fylingdales is shared with the UK and NATO. The Upgraded Early Warning Radar (UEWR) has required software and hardware changes to increase the precision of the previous radar to track incoming missiles and provide detailed in formation about their trajectories to the US Missile Defence command centre.
Fylingdales is therefore a significant command, control, communications and intelligence installation. Information gathered by the radar installation is fed directly to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado. From there information is passed to the National Command authorities and to Headquarters, Strategic Air Command (SAC). In time of war, it would provide the US President with information on what has and has not been attacked, monitor trajectories of both surveillance satellites and incoming ballistic missiles and allow prioritising and accurate response and targeting on "enemy" satellites and ballistic missiles.
Menwith Hill is run by the US National Security Agency (NSA), operates outside US law and is not accountable in British law. It is part of a global network of bases used to spy on all forms of international telecommunications - including private phone calls, emails and faxes - and is crucial for the intelligence-gathering necessary for any US-led military attack.
In 2002 the UK Defence Select Committee expressed concern that Menwith Hill would be used for US Missile Defence without permission. The then Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon assured them that it was for early warning only and would be handled 'entirely separately from missile defence.'
However even after February 2007 when the then Prime Minister Tony Blair had promised a full debate 'when we have a proposition to put,' it was only five months later that the new Gordon Brown government announced that Menwith Hill would be included in the US Missile Defence system. The government decision, made with no democratic debate, consultation or accountability was announced by the Defence Secretary Des Browne one day prior to the two month long summer closure of Parliament. In response, a number of angry MPs wrote this letter to the press.
In 1996, Britain announced that the European Ground Based Relay station for the Space Based Infra Red System (SPIRS) would be established at the base. SBIRS is another aspect of the Early Warning and tracking system.
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For more detailed coverage of US missile defence and in particular its impact on the UK, we heartily recommend Yorkshire CND's website archives: http://www.yorkshirecnd.org.uk/content/blogsection/8/73/
US Missile Defence Q&A (74 Kb - Format pdf)CNDMissile Defence is a military system designed to protect the United States and/or its military forces (wherever they might be) from missile attack. The US missile defence system is made up of a series of ground based radar, command and missile interceptor bases around the world, with support from satellite and sea-based facilities. The system detects and shoots down incoming missiles. Missile Defence is a step towards achieving the US military goal of ‘Full Spectrum Dominance’, which aims to gain full US military control of land, sea, air, space and information. Missile Defence is also leading to the possibility of war in and from space.
Missile Defence - A Destabilising Provocation (187 Kb - Format pdf)CNDThe UK government’s support for this new era of US military ‘full spectrum dominance’ must be challenged and overturned through the British democratic process. We must put pressure on politicians to encourage peaceful and useful activities in space. The UK must not add any more support to the US’s military agenda. CND opposes the US’s national missile defence system as a provocative initiative, helping to further destabilise international relations, and already contributing to an increase in global tension. We oppose UK participation in the system and urge the UK government to withdraw its facilities and support.
US Missile Defence Leaflet (71 Kb - Format pdf)CND
US Missile Defence Postcard (56 Kb - Format pdf)CND