Missile defence: the wrong route to peace

Military missiles (source US Army)

A submission to the Ministry of Defence by Federal Union, 19 January 2003

1. This submission falls into four parts. First, what is Federal Union? Secondly, what is missile defence? Thirdly, we outline the choice that faces Britain. Fourthly, what should Britain’s answer be?

What is Federal Union?

2. Federalism divides political power between levels of government to achieve the best combination of democracy and effectiveness. It is not the bureaucratic centralisation of popular myth. Federal Union was founded in 1938 and campaigns for federalism for the UK, Europe and the world. It has argued since then that democracy and the rule of law should apply to states as well as within them.

What is missile defence?

3. The key point is that missile defence is not aimed only or even mainly at so-called “rogue” states, but against established states such as China and Russia with missile capabilities. It will drive them either to enter a renewed arms race with the United States, which they cannot hope to win, or to develop alternative means of military assertion. It would serve to undermine rather than enhance such international stability that exists at the moment.

4. The concept of the “rogue” state is wholly incidental to the missile defence proposal. It just so happens that since 11 September 2001, the “rogue” state has become a useful rhetorical device. It is no more than that. It has been publicly demonstrated that a much lower level of technology is perfectly adequate for a strike on the United States, were a “rogue” state so minded.

The choice that faces Britain

5. Britain is faced with a choice of whether or not to cooperate because of an accident of geography. Our island happens to be in the right place. We should not flatter ourselves that it is our opinion that is required on missile defence, merely our cooperation. But the American need to ask for our assistance offers both a duty and an opportunity.

6. If our conclusion is that missile defence is the right way forward, then we should accept the siting of the relevant installations. Suggestions that we are out of missile range of any potential “rogue” state or that accepting such installations would make us a bigger target should be rejected. If the world needs missile defence, and if Britain is the best place for part of it to be sited, we should accept that. That is the duty.

7. The opportunity is that we can influence the way the world looks at missile defence. We do not have to display a reflex support for the American proposal. We can, and should, look at this in a broader context.

8. Federal Union is clearly and unambiguously of the view that the defence interests of the United Kingdom are inseparable from those of our European neighbours. The idea that national sovereignty can be defended by national armed forces is at least 100 years out of date. The British decision about hosting a missile defence installation is an example of this. The proposed missile installations may be in Yorkshire, but they are also in Europe.

9. A unilateral British decision without reference to the rest of the European Union would defy Britain’s ultimate national interests. Because geo-political and geo-strategic factors dictate that these ultimate national interests reside within the framework of the European Union, it is essential that the decision be taken in this context and no other.

What should Britain’s answer be?

10. Federal Union believes that a model of international relations based on law is preferable to a model based on force. The history of Europe – compare the last 50 years with the previous 50 years – shows clearly why. This experience makes it doubly important for the countries of Europe to argue this case at the global level.

11. The American proposal for missile defence is an example of precisely the wrong vision of international relations. It would entrench the role of the threat and use of military force in resolving international disputes; it would fossilise the distinction between weak and strong.

12. In his introduction to the US National Security Strategy, President George W Bush writes:

13. “In the new world we have entered, the only path to peace and security is the path of action.”

14. Federal Union disagrees: the path to peace and security is the path of law.

15. The institutions that should shape relations between the different countries in the world should be the United Nations and World Trade Organisation, and not the Pentagon and the National Security Council. Federal Union wants to see the world move beyond the present precarious imbalance between the nuclear powers towards a stronger role for democratic and law-based supranational organisations.

16. And if the Americans are truly worried about “rogue” states, missile defence is the wrong way to go about it. By the very definition of “rogue”, there must be an international mainstream of which the “rogue” state is not part. The way to deal with a “rogue” state is to rally that international mainstream – using an effective and genuinely democratic United Nations – rather than attempting to isolate or neglect it. A small fraction of the cost of missile defence could buy a great deal of goodwill from that international mainstream around the world. Even in its own terms, even if the technology works, missile defence is very poor value for money.

17. As the world sits on the edge of a war in Iraq, the world needs to rethink the way it deals with the relations between states. Missile defence is an example of the way the world should not be going. Britain, and the European Union, should say so.

The submission was prepared by the committee of Federal Union in response to the government’s consultation paper on missile defence, and submitted on 19 January 2003.

More information

Ministry of Defence, consultation on missile defence

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