European Affairs

A Loyal Ally's Views on Missile Defense     Print Email
His Excellency Sir Christopher Meyer

British Ambassador to the United States

As Washington argues over controversial plans for a U.S. National Missile Defense, it is probably fair to say that none of America's allies has been following the debate more closely than Britain. Three fundamental considerations have guided our approach.

First, we understand American concerns about the threat from "rogue states." Our assessment, partly on the basis of our own intelligence reports, is pretty close to that of the U.S. government. Second, as a long-standing ally of the United States, we want to be helpful as Washington seeks to respond to this concern. I think that is also true of other long-standing European allies of the United States.


Third, in making these two points, we want also to raise a number of very important questions which NMD gives rise to, including the implications for NATO, for wider international relations (in particular with Russia and China), and for arms control and nonproliferation arrangements.

We are not trying to tell America what to do. It is up to the United States to decide whether to pursue NMD, what kind of system to introduce, and how much to pay for it. Views differ in the United Kingdom, and in the rest of Europe, about issues such as the technical feasibility of an effective system, just as they do in the United States.

But that is not our concern. The British interest is to help find a way forward that reconciles legitimate U.S. security concerns with the equally legitimate concerns of the United Kingdom and of other allies.

Let us not jump the gun. President Clinton has postponed the decision to start deploying a system, saying that it should be taken by his successor. Mr. Clinton has rightly argued that it would be wrong to give the go-ahead now because of uncertainties over the technology and over the wider diplomatic and strategic consequences.

Nevertheless, given current positions on both the Democratic side and the Republican side, some kind of NMD deployment seems a matter of when, not whether - whichever party wins the elections in November.

We in Britain have had consultations with the United States over NMD for quite a long time now. Sometimes this takes place bilaterally, sometimes within the Alliance as a whole. These discussions, which continue, and will have to continue, have given us the opportunity to ventilate some very important issues. I would like to enumerate seven of these.

First, there is the nature of the threat itself. There is room to debate the timing, or the evolution of the threat, and the nature of "rogue regime" intentions. But, as I have already said, American and British assessments of the threat are pretty close.

Second, we share the U.S. view that a range of responses is needed to counter proliferation threats, including bilateral diplomacy, international treaties and traditional deterrence, and that active missile defenses may also need to be a part of this mix.

Third, we need to reflect on the impact of national missile defense on the cohesion of NATO. That means tackling the issues of collective security and shared risk. The question that you often hear posed is "could NMD erode the concept of a common response to a common threat?"

Fourth is the impact of NMD on NATO's concept of deterrence. People ask: "Does NMD imply a loss of confidence in the effectiveness of traditional deterrence strategy?"

Fifth, there is the issue of Russia. I have to say that we in Britain warmly welcome the Administration's efforts to engage Russia in negotiating changes to the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, and we very much hope that these efforts succeed. That is why we have also urged the Russians to respond seriously to the U.S. demarches.

In London, we regard the ABM treaty as an absolutely key component in strategic stability. We need a stable strategic relationship with Russia and indeed with China. And we welcome the fact that many Republicans have also acknowledged the importance of these issues.

Sixth, together we must examine the relationship of NMD to wider arms control and nonproliferation regimes. There are concerns in some quarters in Europe about U.S. attitudes following last fall's Senate rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

The seventh issue is peculiar to the United Kingdom, although it is partly shared, I expect, by France, as the other European nuclear power. It is the possible impact of NMD on British nuclear deterrence. What are the implications of NMD for our radar facilities in the United Kingdom, and what does it mean for any new threat to British security?

Out of these seven issues, one that is very important for us is the relationship with Russia, particularly in the early months of a new Russian government. One of the reasons Tony Blair went to St. Petersburg with Mr. Putin before he was elected president, and why then-President Putin came to London a few weeks later, was precisely to emphasize the importance of a positive engagement with the new Russian president and the new Russian government, in what is by definition a formative period.

There are other elements in the NMD debate that are just in their infancy. For example, the issue of missile defense for Europe. We in London see this as a medium-term, not an immediate, issue. One key question will be the cost. Missile defense for Europe, if it comes about, will be expensive, however configured; and if this debate arises, we will have to decide where it fits into our other defense priorities.

Contrary to reports that usually appear in the press, there has been no change in the British position on this complex of issues. I read a report suggesting that the British government was taking a kind of "judgment of Solomon" approach, seeking a position of equidistance between the United States and Russia. That is not true.

As Tony Blair made absolutely clear at a press conference in London with Mr. Putin, the point that he has been trying to get across to the Russians is that one way or another, in his view, NMD is coming. It is not aimed at Russia, and it would be in the interest of Russia as, indeed, the world as a whole, that the Russians get into serious negotiations about it with the United States.

We see no reason why most of these seven issues cannot be satisfactorily resolved. I am pleased to say that Washington has been receptive to the concerns that we have expressed. Indeed, it should be, because it is as much in America's interest as it is in ours that we should talk these things through and come to mutually satisfactory conclusions, on which the continuing cohesion and effectiveness of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will depend.

If we are to do this, the allies must feel comfortable with U.S. plans, and particularly those Allies whose territory may be physically affected. So, to state the obvious, Alliance consultations around this subject are absolutely indispensable.

Such consultations began last year, and have been warmly welcomed by all the allies. The recent NATO meeting in Florence once again explicitly endorsed the principle of consultation, and that is very good news.

In conclusion, I would like to focus on the three most compelling points. These are the importance of negotiating with Russia, the importance of the United States and Russia finding a way ahead that preserves the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (this is not to say that the Russians should have a veto over how the United States or any of us in NATO should organize our security), and the importance of NATO unity.

We have to realize that even in an age when technology appears capable of producing miracles - whether in the military or civilian sphere - NMD will not, on its own, be a panacea for our security concerns. It may be part of the answer to missile threats, but it cannot be the whole answer. Other nonproliferation efforts are also important components.

This is not an either/or choice. NMD should be pursued alongside, not instead, or to the detriment of, these other tools.

 

This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number I, Issue number IV in the Fall of 2000.

 
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