February 24, 2007

Blair Wants Missile Shield In The UK

Tony Blair stunned observers on both sides of the Atlantic by revealing his efforts to have the American missile shield system installed in the UK. Backbenchers of his party worry that Blair will try to lock them into a partnership on a system whose costs may not be known, and the Tories apparently feel slighted about not having been consulted:

Downing Street yesterday confirmed it had asked the US to consider Britain as a possible launching pad for US missile interceptors as part of the Bush administration's proposed "son of Star Wars" anti-ballistic defence scheme.

The government had previously played down such reports and the admission that talks were under way came only after The Economist reported that Tony Blair was lobbying the Bush administration

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: "Discussions with the US have taken place at various levels. Decisions on additional support for the missile defence system are at a very early stage and no decisions have been taken as to whether any element of that system would be based in the UK or where they might be based in the UK. We welcome plans to place further missile defence assets in Europe." ...

Both Labour backbenchers and the opposition complained that the government had not raised the issue with MPs at any point. It has been suggested the US would want work to begin in 2008 with the anti-missile system in place by 2012. Such a scheme would be controversial and raise the spectre of a return to Greenham Common-style mass peace protest.

Gordon Brown is understood to be aware of the discussions - and the financial implications - but not to have played an active role in them. Several Labour MPs expressed concern that Mr Blair might be attempting to cement Britain's close ties to the US before standing down.

This will pull the rug out from under those here in the US who want to put an end to the missile-shield program. Blair has legitimized the program in a way that George Bush could not. Blair's push to get the UK considered for the European sites shows that people outside the Bush administration takes it seriously, and the effort indicates that Blair thinks it will work.

However, that seems to be the very problem that causes Blair's party such consternation. Western Europeans have little enthusiasm for the embodiment of the Reaganism they abhorred twenty years ago, until it proved effective. While the US and its Eastern European allies point to the rising threat of Iran and its missile program, their Western counterparts want to keep Vladimir Putin and Russia appeased. At the very least -- and this seems like a reasonable objection -- they expect to be consulted on any moves by the Prime Minister to enter into a program that has the potential to unsettle the political status on the Continent.

As far as "cementing" Anglo-American ties, I had no idea that the notion would create such unease. The alliance between the USA and the UK has always extended to the deepest cooperation on strategic and military concerns. If the US develops an effective missile shield, the UK would be one of the first we'd trust with it, and one of the first we'd want working with us on its deployment. Even beyond the missile shield, Americans believe the British to be their best friends in the world. Why would Labour MPs feel concern about Blair ensuring that those ties stay strong before he leaves office?


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