There’s an article in today’s Times which says that having considered using Poland or the Czech Republic as sites for its missile defence system, opposition within both countries has forced the Pentagon to reconsider basing the system in Britain:
British officials have said that “discreet inquiries” are being made by American defence planners about whether the Government would accept the ten interceptor units, designed to knock out a ballistic missile fired by terrorists or states such as Iran before it reaches the US…The prospect will alarm Downing Street because Tony Blair has paid a heavy political price for being seen by voters as too close to George Bush over the Iraq war and unable to turn down any request from the US. One senior British source said: “A few weeks ago it looked like we were out of the woods on this one. That has changed because Central Europe no longer looks like such an easy option.”
Both the Polish President and the Czech Prime Minister have publicly expressed doubts over hosting the inteceptor units in their countries, where polls show strong opposition to the idea, and so Riki Ellison of the Missile Defence Advocacy Alliance, described by the Times as “a pressure group with close ties to the US Defence Department”, has said that “The UK has always been the fall-back option and there is some concern about whether Poland and the Czech Republic will turn out to be stable partners in the same way that you guys have been.”
Although the planned site is expected to provide up to 1,000 jobs, critics point out that the host country would receive no protection, and that the base would be a target for attack by those countries it’s intended to protect the US against. The CND website quotes former Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff Sir Timothy Garden as saying that the sites “would become the forward eyes of a defence system. They would therefore become the priority targets for any enemy that wished to strike the US with ballistic missiles”.
Now I’m not an expert on international defence strategy, whatever you may have heard, and don’t know enough about the pros and cons to say with any certainty that it’s a bad idea to host a base in Britain whose purpose is to protect the USA, but what Sir Timothy says seems quite logical to me. And if the Czech and Polish governments don’t want to host the base, and the Czech and Polish people don’t want to either, and if – from the “out of the woods” quote above – it appears that the British government also doesn’t to, we could always try saying no.
If Tony Blair has paid a heavy political price for being seen by voters as too close to George Bush over the Iraq war and unable to turn down any request from the US, he could always try turning down a request from the US. Or alternatively, if there really are compelling reasons why we should host the base, can we hear what they are?