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An alternative, unilateral approach to missile defence has been a core element of the ideology of the American Republicans for the past 30 years, supported vigorously by the companies that form America's military-industrial complex and which have benefited so well from the enormous expenditure on the Star Wars programme over the years. When President Reagan promoted the strategic defence initiative in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher, to her great credit, used her personal relationship with him to insist that the SDI programme must remain compatible with existing arms control agreements, including the ABM treaty.

After the Cold War ended, the programme was scaled back, and scaled back further when the Democrats under Clinton recaptured the White House. But neo-conservatives and other believers in American exceptionalism kept the faith and declared their willingness to tear up arms control treaties to achieve it. This is, after all, an essential part of the Project for the New American Century: to establish global American hegemony behind a secure missile shield, unconstrained by treaties or by unreliable allies. The Rumsfeld Commission in 1998 encouraged the Republican Congress to push national missile defence forward; and the US Air Force Space Command, for which much of the additional funding was provided, developed proposals for the potential militarisation of outer space in response, which would break another pillar of the arms control regime.

It is astonishing how completely our Labour Government—a supposedly progressive Government committed in principle to international law, multilateral institutions and the limitation of armaments—have since caved in to the neo-conservative Bush agenda. In February 2001, Prime Minister Blair told Forbes magazine that the missile defence issue needed to be marked “handle with care” in Washington. By the autumn of 2002, the MoD, in a public discussion paper, cautiously indicated:

In January 2003, Mr Hoon announced that Her Majesty’s Government had agreed to upgrading the Fylingdales radar, telling the Commons that this,

He did, however, admit to Sir Menzies Campbell that the Government had not discussed this decision with any of our major European partners—so much for ensuring that it would strengthen the NATO alliance. Over the past few months the German Government in particular have asked for much more multilateral discussion about the current proposed deployment of

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US missile defence across Europe, but the British Government have not responded to the German Government on that.

In January 2003, in recognising that there were some arguments for upgrading Fylingdales, the Commons Defence Committee said:

Amid persistent rumours that the Government were negotiating with Washington for a major role in the US system, Des Browne assured the Commons as late as April last year that:

That must have been a misleading statement. Formal letters on the use of Menwith Hill were exchanged only two months later, although Parliament was not informed for several more weeks to avoid embarrassment to the Government.

Noble Lords may not be familiar with the exact status of Menwith Hill. I have a particular interest because this American base is sited on the ridge between Wharfedale and Nidderdale, and I see its multiple sensors and radars on the horizon—in their giant golfball cladding—every time I walk up from Saltaire on to Ilkley Moor. Unlike Fylingdales, which is operated by the RAF, Menwith Hill is under American control. It is a field station of the US National Security Agency. It has been described as the largest electronic monitoring station in the world. Between 1,500 and 2,000 US nationals from various agencies work at the base. Contacts in Harrogate council tell me that numbers rose by several hundred in the months after September 11 2001, although that was unreported to the British Parliament.

I hope that the Minister can enlighten us on the exact status of this base. As I understand it, it was granted to the United States under a bilateral exchange of letters in December 1951, and a 21-year lease was confirmed by a further exchange of letters in 1955. In 1976, when the first 21-year period was up, the Pentagon admitted that it had lost the original exchange of letters. Nevertheless, the MoD granted a further 21-year occupation until 1997. In February 1997, Nicholas Soames, as a Conservative Minister, stated:

He went on to say that,

Nevertheless, the base is still very much there, serving American interests on British soil. Noble Lords will remember the European Parliament inquiry several years ago which investigated the Echelon programme when it was said that Americans were being allowed to listen in on European communications and to feed back commercial as well as security information to the US authorities and the companies with which they had close relationships. The British Government at the

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time had no comment to make on these investigations. My good friend Norman Baker MP has tried without success through successive Parliamentary Questions to discover exactly what the terms are under which the US NSA now occupies and operates this base.

Over the coming months we will hear a great deal in both Houses and in the British press about the limitations to British sovereignty involved in ratifying the EU reform treaty. But the abandonment of British sovereignty involved in the operation of Menwith Hill—and of course in the more distant Diego Garcia—presents a far deeper incursion into British sovereignty than anything the EU has to offer. The Ministerial Statement of 25 July 2007 stated clearly that,

This is Britain as “Airstrip One” for a hegemonic USA, not the basis for a co-operative partnership among allies. It seems appropriate that Menwith Hill should have appeared in a slide map presented by an official from the US Missile Defence Agency to the WEU Assembly in December last year in military newspeak as the “UK situational awareness node”. An even clearer indication of Labour’s subservience to the Rumsfeld-Cheney agenda was the Defence Secretary’s use of the term “rogue states” in his 25 July Statement in order to explain “the emerging threat” which this US system is intended to counter.

Do the Government really believe that there are states beyond the reach of international pressure or diplomacy that presently constitute existential threats—an axis of evil against which only a military response is possible? In January 2003 Mr Hoon justified the upgrading of Fylingdales in terms of the threat from Iraq, but the threat was then defeated and discovered to be rather insubstantial. Some Washington policy makers then were more focused on North Korea; but the United States has, sensibly, shifted towards a multilateral effort to contain North Korea through sanctions and negotiations. Libya used to be on the list; but successful British and American diplomacy has persuaded Libya to dismantle its nuclear programme. Now it is Iran which is called on to justify the project, assumed to remain an implacable enemy over the 10 to 20 years needed to get the system up and running and justify its cost.

Why has there been so little public concern about this in Britain so far? Well, the Conservatives have given their unconditional support to this neo-conservative project, so also giving the Government a free pass from proper parliamentary scrutiny. William Hague, the MP for a constituency that neighbours on Menwith Hill as well as Conservative foreign affairs spokesman, replied to one of his own constituents last October with the robust declaration:

We might expect the Conservatives to support this essentially Republican project, even if it marks a sad retreat from the traditional Tory support for

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multilateralism and international institutions. What is extraordinary is that the Labour Party has been so silent on this betrayal by its own Government of traditional internationalist principles. In the American presidential campaign, it has been Rudy Giuliani and John McCain who have made missile defence a major theme in their campaigns. Both of them have made it clear that they see the system as aimed at containing Russia as well as emerging nuclear states, and that they do not care if further development worsens our already difficult relations with Putin’s Russia. But, as my noble friend Lady Williams will argue later, we need Russia as a partner in strengthening the global arms control regime, and in tightening controls over trade in fissile materials and nuclear components.

The Economist story last February reported, on good authority, that our then Prime Minister, with the support of our then Chancellor, was pressing the American Administration to station not only sensors, radars and communications networks in Britain, but also missile interceptors. In the event, Washington chose to place the interceptors in Poland rather than in Britain, with additional radar facilities in the Czech Republic. A change of government in Poland has since thrown this in doubt, with the robustly right-wing Polish Foreign Minister, Radek Sikorski, bluntly stating,

which jeopardises Polish relations with Russia unnecessarily.

On 8 October, the Daily Telegraph reported that the British Government were still pursuing negotiations for closer involvement; that—quoting a Foreign Office spokeswoman—

when he took up his post as UK ambassador in Washington; and that the likeliest site for a UK missile interceptor base would be at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk. Well, at least that makes a change from placing everything in Yorkshire. Can the Minister possibly assure us that in the event of the new Polish Government declining to accept these missiles, the Government will not leap into the gap to accept them instead?

Foreign Minister Sikorski raised another query about current US plans in his interview last week, reported in Monday’s International Herald Tribune. He said that,

leaving Poland to carry the costs of a deterioration in relations with Russia without any gain in longer-term security. The same fate could of course meet our Labour Government, to find themselves—after years of subordinating their principles to Republican unilateralism—faced with a Democratic President who thankfully prefers a multilateral course. I, for one, hope that that indeed will be the outcome. But in the mean time, this House, and this Parliament, deserve a much fuller justification from the Government of the commitments on the use of British soil for US missile defence than they have given over the years. The British public deserve that explanation, too. I beg to move for Papers.

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11.55 am

Lord Giddens: My Lords, since I am the first to respond I am happy to be the first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, on having initiated this debate on what is manifestly a fundamentally important topic. To begin with, I should say that I have very considerable disquiet about how the Government have approached this issue and its wider implications. Many points can be made about this and I am sure that they will be made by other speakers. I will not discuss whether the thing will work because I find it impossible to conceive that a failsafe anti-missile system could be constructed. You would need a hell of a lot of trust in it to sit underneath it while someone launched a missile at you. I want to raise three points which to some extent overlap with those made by the noble Lord.

First, I turn to the manner in which the decision was taken by the Government on further involvement with the US missile system. As they say of marriage, it left a lot to be desired. The Defence Select Committee said:

That is a strong statement. The Government responded to it by saying, “Oh well, we have had quite a bit of consultation with different interest groups”. But that is not the same as having a proper public debate on the issues, so I agree fairly strongly with what the noble Lord said about that.

The other countries involved in the missile shield are Poland and the Czech Republic, both of which at least were governed by far-right Administrations. It is quite significant that the new Polish Government have started to make different noises from those of the previous Administration about their involvement. A YouGov survey in this country showed that only 26 per cent of the population thought that our involvement with the missile shield might make either the UK or Europe safer, and the percentages against it in the Czech Republic and Poland are considerably higher, at around 70 per cent. Therefore maybe this should have been a more substantial debate given that, at least in those parts of the European Union affected by the shield and that have agreed to go along with it, the weight of public opinion is against it.

Secondly, the literature the Government have published on the missile shield seems consistently to downgrade its importance. They speak of an upgrade in our radar protection system. Of course, in a technical sense it is an upgrade because it is in large part a modification of what we already have, but in a wider sense it is very different from that. As the noble Lord also said, the initial introduction of the missile shield was made against the backdrop of one of the most significant shifts in international relations that we have seen for the past 30 to 40 years. Most noble Lords, and I am sure most noble Lords present, will have read President Bush’s address made at West Point in 2001, not long after the attack on New York, where he said that he would define the world primarily in terms of American power, that America would be the dominant state in world society, and that he did not intend to go along with the multilateral

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agreements which have existed so far. Even before that, the United States had withdrawn from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, so the existence of this project is quite interlocked with—I do not like the word “neoconservativism”, which is a sort of scare term—a fundamental shift in international relations in which, if I understand the position of Prime Minister Brown’s Government, to whom I now belong, there is a return to multilateral negotiations. There is a clear inconsistency here.

Thirdly, the Government say blandly that they will work on further co-operation with the EU and NATO, but the decision to take part in this endeavour is fraught with implications for the whole of Europe and beyond. When the Minister in the other place was asked about the effects of this, he said that it would make Britain a safer place. But if it creates a belligerent and hostile Russia on the edge of Europe, in what sense are we in a safer place? We all know that Russia’s response to the missile shield has been consistently hostile. The latest statement, made yesterday by the Russian Foreign Minister, reiterates the position taken previously, so you cannot pretend that this decision does not have very wide geopolitical implications.

I ask the Minister three questions. First, would she accept that the siting of installations here marks a distinct loss of UK sovereignty? I do not mean this question in the same way as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, asked it, because I do not think that the issue here is who controls the base—whether you have an American commander or British control. I take it that this Government will have sovereignty over what goes on inside the base, but will we not lose sovereignty in terms of wider decision-making? If we get involved with an installation, we are involved necessarily in a wide project whose parameters will be sketched by the large-scale powers, not by the UK—by America, Russia and, it is my hope, anyway, the European Union and maybe China. I cannot see that the UK will have a significant impact on something that it has committed itself to. Therefore, it seems a loss of sovereignty in a rather broader and more significant sense than the noble Lord sketched in.

Secondly, how would the Minister counter the argument that the introduction of a missile shield, or a missile shield project, inevitably brings a strong possibility of further confrontation, and further escalation in the existence of missile systems and hostile arrangements of armaments in the world? Russia has already said that it is producing a missile system with multiple warheads, more sophisticated than those that have existed for some years previously, and which it says will outwit any possible missile shield. How can one prevent further escalation—if you like, a renewed arms race—in which Europe again might be the pawn, caught in the middle, if such an escalation should happen? I think that the Government at least owe us an explanation of why this would not be the outcome of the project in which they are involving us.

Thirdly and finally, if there is indeed to be a new missile system—and unlike the noble Lord, I am not a fundamentalist; I am not against the idea in principle, under certain conditions—it would manifestly be

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safer if Russia, the EU and the United States collaborated on it. Russia, of course, has set out a plan, which the American President has straightforwardly rejected. My final question is: does the Minister see a way in which Russia could be involved, and in which therefore there could be a missile shield that would indeed protect us all, because it would be based on a multilateral set of agreements, rather than the international relations regime that the Bush Government have perpetrated?

12.03 pm

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, we owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for enabling us to debate an extremely important matter. I will not repeat the interesting points that he made about how this system evolved, nor will I address the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, save to express some surprise at his great concern over sovereignty in this matter. The issue of sovereignty in the matter of collaboration with the United States over defence has not been a real problem for the great majority of us for a very long while. I personally do not see any difference between what is now proposed in terms of sovereignty and what has been happening for a long while.

I believe that the debate about missile defence must be seen in the historical context of modern warfare. For this purpose, I define the start of modern warfare as the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in August 1945. It must also be seen in the context of missile offence, and on this I suppose history goes back a year earlier, to September 1944, when Hitler launched his V2 rockets on London. Indeed, if one is talking about the essence of modern warfare technologically, one sees that the crucial development was that of radar, by Sir Robert Watson-Watt, which took place in Suffolk, near where I live, in 1938 and which arrived just in time to save Britain in the battle against the Luftwaffe.

There is still much criticism of the American atomic attack on Japan. One of my early schoolboy memories is hearing the Emperor of Japan, translated on the radio, denouncing the use of this “new and most cruel” weapon. Even as a juvenile, I thought it strange for the Japanese to be denouncing cruelty. The attack did of course end the war within days. Had the nuclear weapon not been used then, I believe that it would have been used later, probably between nuclear powers—in other words, it would not have been a one-sided matter—with far more devastating results. The point that I am making is that, once used, the reality of nuclear warfare has meant that it has never been used again. It had to be used to demonstrate the science fact. Otherwise, it would have remained science fiction, which would never have been as effective a deterrent.

The missile defence system entered the big league of international affairs in June 1983, when President Reagan announced the Strategic Defence Initiative, or Star Wars. In March 1985, Gorbachev took over as Soviet leader. Between then and October 1986, when at the Reykjavik summit Reagan offered a world free of nuclear weapons—an offer that in my view fortunately foundered on the Star Wars complications—the Soviets

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must at some time have come to the conclusion that they could not negate the American SDI without a level of expenditure that Gorbachev recognised as unacceptable to the Russian people. At any rate, within five years the Warsaw Pact was dissolved, in June 1991. By the end of that year, Yeltsin had succeeded Gorbachev and dissolved the Soviet Union, thus ending the Cold War.

Now we have had the Government’s Trident White Paper of December 2006, with a £15 billion to £20 billion plan for the replacement of that weapons system, which was approved by the House of Commons last March. Meanwhile, the issues that we are debating today concern collaboration with the USA for its National Missile Defence system.

We all know that the prospects of stability in the world are vanishing rapidly. It is not just that there is a frightening lack of world leadership. So many world leaders, including some leaders of the great powers, are either weak in their home bases, deeply flawed or on their way out. Furthermore, the influence of the great powers has declined. Tragically for the world, the United States seems to have used its military power to diminish its world influence.

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