ConservativeHome has been arguing for our party to support missile defence for some time (and Mark Pritchard MP discussed the issue on YourPlatform last May). It is encouraging, therefore, to see the issue finally on the national agenda.
In yesterday’s Times, Michael Evans, the newspaper’s Defence Editor, wrote that "the simple idea of killing an incoming ballistic missile with another missile up in space merely by aiming it right and hitting it with even a glancing blow was technologically achievable." The Telegraph agrees. Yesterday it noted the evolution of Ronald Reagan’s programme from a catch-all defence system to one with more limited but still vital aims:
"The defence shield is a development of the 1980s Star Wars programme that planned to destroy any multiple rocket attack from the Soviet Union. Rather than shooting down dozens of rockets, this system would take out only one or two missiles in space with 16,000mph interceptors."
Mr Evans acknowledges the political difficulties of UK politicians embracing missile defence but concludes that it must be done:
"Putting American interceptors on British territory would be political dynamite and is bound to give renewed life to the anti-nuclear lobby which has such strong and bitter memories of the days when this country hosted US cruise missiles at Greenham Common in the Cold War. However, what is the alternative? Britain cannot afford to go it alone in developing an anti-missile system, but if Iran and other countries in the Middle East become nuclear weapons powers, there will have to be an insurance policy, and the only material one on offer at present is Son of Star Wars."
On Friday Liam Fox issued this statement:
“If there is a request to base part of the US National Missile Defence system in the UK, we would need to see the exact nature of that request before taking a decision. In today’s climate where we have rogue states developing new long range missiles it’s vital that we don’t rule anything out. Despite asking a number of questions in Parliament, we have had no information from the Government about any discussions with the US administration or detail. If the Government really does want to maintain what they regard as a bipartisan approach to defence in this country, they need to be more honest with the opposition.”
It is 100% right that Her Majesty’s Opposition asks the tough questions but we must not seek to divide Labour’s leadership from its increasingly anti-American backbenchers if that could risk losing UK support for missile defence. The Tory leadership must do as David Cameron did on the Trident decision and seek bipartisan support for our only possible defence against a rogue missile attack.