US-British Cooperation in Meeting the Global Missile Threat

Report Defense

US-British Cooperation in Meeting the Global Missile Threat

March 13, 2001 17 min read
A Conference Report

Press reports on the findings of a classified intelligence community study, called a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), in August 2000 stated that it is the view of the U.S. intelligence community that the U.S. missile defense program has raised concerns in Europe that "could strain the Atlantic alliance."1 These reports have served to generate an impression in the United States that its missile defense program is a divisive issue within NATO.

It was with this issue of the future of missile defense in NATO in mind that The Heritage Foundation sponsored a conference on September 18, 2000. The conference was entitled "U.S.-British Cooperation in Meeting the Global Missile Threat" and was held at the Reform Club in London. At the conference, participants from both the United States and Great Britain exchanged views on the question of missile defense.

Far from confirming the impression left by the reports on the NIE, the conference revealed that there is the real possibility of an agreement across the Atlantic about the U.S. missile defense program. The areas of agreement could extend to recognizing the growing nature of the missile threat and the need to provide a defense of both the United States and NATO countries against this threat.

The conference also revealed that there is an opportunity for even deeper cooperation between the U.S. and Great Britain in particular, and the U.S. and NATO more generally, regarding missile defense. Indeed, conference participants assessed the opportunity for allied cooperation in the field of missile defense in nine issue areas. These issue areas included:

  1. The growing nature of the threat;

  2. The requirement for American leadership in the alliance;

  3. Missile defense as an opportunity for revitalizing NATO;

  4. Missile defense as an opportunity for revitalizing the special relationship between the U.S. and Great Britain;

  5. The need for a missile defense system that protects both the U.S. and Europe;

  6. The need for a missile defense system that protects Europe in particular;

  7. The necessity for missile defense to support allied expeditionary operations;

  8. Cooperative missile defense programs and stemming the proliferation of ballistic missiles; and

  9. Missile defense cooperation and opportunities for the greater sharing of defense technology within the alliance.

Further, a consensus emerged among conference participants that support for missile defense is likely to strengthen in Great Britain in particular and NATO Europe as a whole as the public's understanding of the missile defense issue grows. The Heritage Foundation, therefore, believes that dissemination of the essentials of the discussion that took place in London will not only facilitate an informed debate on the missile defense issue, but also generate support for the deployment of effective missile defenses on both sides of the Atlantic.

What follows are excerpts from the presentations made at the conference on the nine key assessments regarding missile defense for the United States and Europe.

Assessment #1: The missile threat to the United States and Europe is real and growing.

It is widely recognized that the [missile] threat is real and growing. The missile threat is not merely an American problem, but a British problem. Indeed, it is a European problem, and we believe a global problem. --Kim R. Holmes

I want you to get an impression on what's happening around the world as far as missile proliferation. And if you just watch [during my briefing] the missiles...the pictures, and the programs that are ongoing, I think it will make a story that will be very clear that we [have] a problem developing. --David Tanks

Even in the case of Iran, the missile that they recently tested, the Shahab-3, when you marry that capability to their work on biological weapons, Europe is already at risk to BW payloads from Iran. This is so because of the fact that a BW payload is typically on the order of 100 kilograms and that can have ranges that will cover all of Western Europe with the existing missiles. --William Schneider, Jr.

I say to you that the Ministry of Defense here [in Britain] has taken a clear view that there is a [missile] threat, that their intelligence is now telling them that U.S. intelligence is about right.... --Iain Duncan Smith

Assessment #2: American leadership is necessary for allied missile defense cooperation to succeed.

I think [President Clinton's] not consulting in detail with the British [on missile defense] is a good example that he was not very serious about it as policy, but was very, very serious about it as politics. I think that is absolutely wrong. And I think what we need to do is make the case that frankly the Administration should have made to you [the British], so that you can judge, on its merits, what is going on. --John Hulsman

If you had a President who firmly believed in the necessity of missile defense...and made it a test of his own leadership, he would be far more successful in explaining the merits of cooperation than a President, like Bill Clinton, who does not believe in it. In some ways, I don't blame the Europeans for being ambivalent about missile defense because (a) they hear about a national missile defense plan, which is not going to protect them, and (b) they sense, rightly so, ambivalence on the part of the Americans. --Kim R. Holmes

Assessment #3: Cooperation on missile defense can serve to revitalize NATO.

Since the Cold War ended, the Eurasian land mass is no longer under threat to be dominated by a single power. That changes...the security calculation because if Europe loses a city, the United States is not going to fall. For U.S. defense planners that means that we [have] a problem. The linkage to NATO is not as strong today as it was. We see it as being in our interest to re-establish that linkage with keep that transatlantic bond that we have had for so long. --David Tanks

So key to this, I think, is that this ballistic missile defense issue is one of the main ways in which we could actually reunite NATO, give it a focus, demonstrate that it is potent, that it has relevance to today, it isn't just about interference in regional affairs, but also, again, about the absolute defense of the nations of Europe.
--Iain Duncan Smith

There is no debate [in Europe over missile defense]. And I say to you the reason for that lack of debate is the fear that such debate would lead to the conclusion that we should unite with the United States to create such a defense policy. That would throw a spoke in the wheel of those who wish to see a separate European defense. --Iain Duncan Smith

The structure of the NATO missile defense problem closely parallels other alliance-wide efforts in air defense, airborne early warning, command and control, and so forth. An alliance system can bring together the elements of a continental defense that may be augmented by national systems. The difficulties in mounting an effective defense of Europe based largely on European national systems are now well understood. First, there is a need for long-range sensors to cue land-based or sea-based missile defense engagement radars that would require costly duplication of effort if it were done on a national basis. National systems in Europe would be unable to benefit from the use of a layered continental system. Such a system could contribute to overall system effectiveness and could also diminish the effectiveness of hostile countermeasures. A layered defense is likely to be too costly for any single nation to finance, although it is well within the means of the alliance as a whole. And the battle management, command and control, and coordination among several allied entities is going to be substantially more difficult if done on a national basis than through a multinational effort. --William Schneider, Jr.

Lastly, won't [missile defense] make the U.S. more isolationist? And to this argument I reply with a little bit of history. The United States, after World War II, had a nuclear monopoly, yet it set up the Marshall Plan, it set up NATO, it set up the Truman Doctrine, it was probably more involved, in a bipartisan way, in terms of creative diplomacy than at any period of the 20th century. Why? Because it didn't feel as vulnerable. Because it knew it could do something. It knew that with deterrence, once the Soviets developed their weaponry, and before deterrence when they hadn't, the United States could confidently go forward and engage in alliance building. I think it is counterintuitive but true that the more the United States feels secure the more likely it is the United States will do more in the world. The less secure it feels politically, the less the United States will do in the world.
--John Hulsman

Assessment #4: Cooperation on missile defense can serve to sustain the special relationship between the United States and Great Britain.

There is a broader implication to missile defense that is seldom mentioned. It could be an effective way to revitalize the special relationship between our two countries. As the UK continues its absorption into the European Union, even flirts with European concepts of defense, new ways need to be found to link the United States to the defense of Europe. What better way to bind our futures together than to join hands in a mutual effort to defend our peoples from nuclear blackmail? --Kim R. Holmes

It is important for all of you to know that we believe that it is inevitable that some form of missile defense will be deployed by the United States...because I think the case, particularly against rogue states, is so compelling that there is already, as you saw with the National Missile Defense Act that was signed last year, a consensus that something must be done. So I think in that respect it is vitally important that we keep close cooperation with our allies, particularly in the UK, as we proceed to deploy. And I think it is important that we do this not only for our own security, not only for the benefit of the NATO alliance, but as Iain Duncan Smith said today, it is also critically important for the special relationship between the United States and the UK. --Kim R. Holmes

Assessment #5: A properly designed missile defense system will protect both America and its allies.

We will examine whether it is possible for Europe and America to reach agreement on the need for deploying a missile defense system that protects both America and Europe. We plan to spend the day specifically examining U.S.-British cooperation in meeting this global missile threat. --Kim R. Holmes

British support is very important to the cause of missile defense in the United States. Opponents of missile defense in the U.S. argue that our long-time ally--and loyal ally--the UK would never consent to the deployment of missile defense tracking radars on British soil. It concerns me that the impression is gaining ground in the United States that the British, on whom we have depended for so long to protect our own security, would take an action that would prevent Americans from defending themselves from nuclear attack. Now, I do not believe that is true, but a lot people in the United States, unfortunately, believe it is true. --Kim R. Holmes

The American approach towards ballistic missile defense, the National Missile Defense program, has raised new concerns in Europe about missile defense in general and the nature of the U.S. program in particular...since there is no effective defense provided by the current U.S. architecture to Europe. This contrasts with the situation a decade ago. Some of you may remember the U.S. proposed a system in the late '80s and early '90s called Global Protection Against Limited Strikes, known as GPALS. And the nature of that system was that it used U.S. space-based sensors to detect ballistic missiles and contribute to the tracking of these weapons in flight, but the means of intercepting them was distributed among the U.S. and its allies throughout the world. That differs from the architecture of the Clinton Administration's National Missile Defense system, which uses U.S. space-based sensors to contribute to the ability of the ground-based missile defense system to operate. However, the system operates only in the United States, and hence no protection is afforded to U.S. allies. --William Schneider, Jr.

The benefits of effective transatlantic missile defense are numerous.... Among the ones that seem particularly important, at least to me, are that the transatlantic integrity of the alliance will be strengthened when all its members benefit from an equally effective defense, rather than only its members that are best positioned to make the investment. --William Schneider, Jr.

When we [at The Heritage Foundation] talk about "defending America," we are not talking about the territory of the United States [alone]. We are talking about our alliance system, our vital interests in the world, our expeditionary forces. That is why ultimately the system The Heritage Foundation's Commission on Missile Defense proposed is considered a global defense. --Baker Spring

Fylingdales [the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System at Fylingdales Moor in North Yorkshire], under this sea-based option, would be used for defending not just the United States, but also Great Britain. --Baker Spring

So that shows how [the sea-based system] is a dual-purpose system that provides protection to U.S. allies and the territory of the United States on essentially equal terms. --Baker Spring

It would be damaging to the alliance if America were perceived as defending itself in a way that exposed its allies to serious risk. But equally, I think it needs to be stressed that it is not in [Europe's] interest for the leader of the Western alliance to be vulnerable to attacks by rogue states, terrorists, breakaway groups, from the more mature missile states, or as result of accidental launch. A global BMD system of the kind described here earlier today...would not be open to this criticism, which is why the members of the [British] Missile Proliferation Study Group, chaired by Lord Chalfont, found much to recommend it. --Gerald Frost

Others can assume that the Conservative Party will take the lead in building support in Europe for cooperating with the U.S. in the development of ballistic missile defenses to counter the new threat from rogue states and terrorists equipped with weapons of mass destruction. The document entitled "The Conservative Revolution" commits the party not merely to ballistic missile defense, but a global system to which national states would make a contribution via NATO and American leadership. --Gerald Frost

Assessment #6: Europe in particular must be defended against missile attack.

I think missile defense is important for the British, as well. You face a ballistic missile threat no less than do we Americans. Proliferation is here to stay. And no matter how hard we try to use arms control to restrain the growth of the missile threat, Britain no less than Europe as a whole will still be exposed to nuclear intimidation. You will remain exposed so long as you are members of the NATO alliance and so long as there are international terrorists and terrorist states intent on acquiring nuclear weapons. --Kim R. Holmes

David Tanks said that one of his conclusions was that Europe itself needs to take some action about [missile defense], leaving aside whatever might be done by the United States, and it struck me that we made a very relevant statement in [a British study of the missile threat, entitled "Coming Into Range"] where we said in the abstract at the end that Europe's mood of introspection and obsession in institutions of common security appeared to have blinded it to the most daunting security threat of our times. --Lord Chalfont

This whole issue of ballistic missile defense is one rather like the mid-'80s [when the debate focused on deploying INF missiles].... Clear decisions and clear leadership need to be given without much fudging or prevarication from the political leaders, particularly on this [the European] side of the Atlantic. --Iain Duncan Smith

I think the reality for those nations to understand [in the alliance] is they won't do away with the [missile] threat, but at the same time, they must feel they are protected against that threat, and that will secure them in the alliance. Otherwise, they are going to create a problem that destabilizes them because they will fear the only solution, without such a defense, is to withdraw from the alliance. --Iain Duncan Smith

So what are the kinds of missiles this [sea-based missile defense] system could be used against at the initial stages? The Iranian Shahab-3, an intermediate-range missile that could in the future target major portions of Europe. --Baker Spring

As you can see, [I have hypothesized] an Iranian...missile threat...and a sea-based interceptor that is located in the Mediterranean...and would provide a footprint of defense against that missile that [covers much of Europe, including Great Britain]. One of the things I really want to bring to your attention though is [that] this...assumes the upgrade of early warning radar, including Fylingdales, as you know. What is assumed here is that this footprint can be as large as it can be because the British system would be there to support the sea-based defense for Europe, including Great Britain. --Baker Spring

When [Britain's vulnerability to missile attack] finally has an impact on British debate, I believe it will call into question not only the adequacy of British security policy, but also traditional attitudes toward deterrence and arms control, the role of NATO, and current attempts to create the European security and defense identity, and even the larger project of closer European political integration. --Gerald Frost

Assessment #7: Missile defense is necessary to sustain allied expeditionary operations.

If you just look at [the description of the missile proliferation problem] you could [ask] what do we do in the future when the next Hitler arises in some region and we need to do something about it? If, in fact, they can target you [with a WMD system], and you can't do anything about it, with a WMD system, are you going to be in a position to resist? I think that's the critical issue, particularly when we look at it from the transatlantic alliance point of view. --David Tanks

This vulnerability [to missile attack] converges with a diplomatic incentive for other nations to acquire WMD and their means of delivery. As both ad hoc and alliance-based military expeditionary campaigns have shown, Europe is an important staging area for operations in Africa and the Middle East. Nations that may be the target of allied expeditionary campaigns have an incentive to acquire WMD and their means of delivery to deter, or in extreme, defeat such expeditionary campaigns. --William Schneider, Jr.

Assessment #8: Missile defense cooperation will serve to stem missile proliferation.

And if this [system] is effective, it may not only be able to provide a viable defense against ballistic missiles, but in fact discourage some people from deploying them. --William R. Graham

Assessment #9: Missile defense cooperation offers opportunities for the shared development and use of defense technologies.

Unlike the Cold War, a defense against ballistic missiles is no longer country-specific. Rather, it is a generic requirement of an effective military force since the use of ballistic missiles is likely to increase in the future. In this respect, the requirement for missile defense is likely to parallel similar needs for integrated air defense, command and control, integrated logistics, and so forth. --William Schneider, Jr.

The opportunities, I think, are now especially good [for technological cooperation in the field of missile defense]. The way the industrial consolidation process has taken place in Europe, where in particular British Aerospace has now developed very strong transatlantic links because of its manufacturing and research and development presence in the United States. This presence enhances the ability to transfer technology within the alliance very significantly. --William Schneider, Jr.

Obviously, we would like to [undertake missile defense] in cooperation with our allies. I think you can actually argue for a pretty good bargain in this situation because you can deploy systems in the UK, some of which need to work together with other ballistic missile defense systems, like Fylingdales Moor, some which you should be able to get for the marginal cost of manufacturing them, as opposed to the cost of developing these systems, which tends to be comparable to or greater than the cost of manufacturing them. --William R. Graham

As it relates to [allied] cooperation in technology, programs, and contracts, my judgment is that it can be done. In terms of the Navy Theater-Wide system in particular, we already have an agreement with Japan. It is an agreement that I think could be open to modeling with regard to any number of European allies within NATO, either collectively or among themselves. There is the cooperative program with MEADS. While that program has had some difficulties, I think it shows that at least there is a willingness to cooperate. --Baker Spring


1. Roberto Suro, "Study Sees Possible China Nuclear Buildup," The Washington Post, August 10, 2000.


A Conference Report