Gordon Brown and the Missile Killers


Hopes that Gordon Brown will be more a democrat, less an autocrat than Blair were shown to be romantic and naïve when government permission for the US to use Menwith Hill as part of its Star Wars programme was given without a debate in parliament.  Even Blair had promised a free debate both in parliament and in the country on this issue, but the simple announcement came as a written statement in a form that precluded argument or debate.  The method was furtive and dishonest, and the decision itself was described as ‘idiocy’ by George Monbiot (Guardian 31st July).


He had good reason to say so.   Star Wars is justified on the tenuous assertion that you can never tell when a rogue state will launch an intercontinental ballistic missile at you – a scenario that becomes unbelievable after a moment’s rational thought.  The siting of the Star Wars system shows that the Pentagon does not believe its own professed concerns.  When Putin offered bases in Azerbaijan and South Russia, which would have better covered a threat from Iran, Bush turned him down in favour of bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, locations more suited to intercept Russian missiles. 


The effect of Star Wars has been to bring back Cold War thinking.  In response, Russia has been testing a new version of its short-range Ikander missile, and has been developing the RS-24, a new intercontinental ballistic missile with multiple warheads specifically designed to penetrate Star Wars defences.  The dangerous fantasy-thinking of decades ago has resurfaced.


Star Wars has led the US to abandon the hopeful anti-ballistic missile treaty, made Menwith Hill in Yorkshire a target for intermediate range missiles, and provided a bonanza for US arms manufacturers, ensuring an ongoing demand for innovations to cope with new-improved ballistic missiles the technology has itself provoked.


To return to the disappointment of Gordon Brown.  Credit where it’s due, Gordon Brown is undoubtedly a nice man, a family man with family values, a man with good intentions.  (Note his shelving of Blair’s plan to build giant casinos, the last thing this already badly indebted population needed.)  His coolness towards Bush, and his strong initiative at the U N that caused the Security Council to vote to send a 26,000-strong international peacekeeping force to Dafur, has been well received in Britain.  Brown also seemed to be a democrat at heart, with his talk of getting rid of the royal prerogative, his sensible, undramatic manner, his professed aversion to the ‘theatre’ of Prime Minister’s Question Time.  Was this a prime minister who would listen to his cabinet and even parliament at last?  But doubts have crept in when he said not a word about the folly of the invasion of Iraq, asked for an increase in detention without charge to 56 days, and has promoted ID cards to the centre of counter-terrorist strategy.  Certainly Brown is subtler than his predecessor, not so in-your-face vain or hysterical, yet for those very reasons, as Henry Porter pointed out in the Observer (29th July), he represents a greater threat to civil liberties than Blair.  The downright shifty fashion in which Menwith Hill was handed to the US military clinches the case for me.  Yet it is a pity.

Harry Davis