US Missile Defence: Towards a new cold war?

A report on a meeting from Rosemary Addington


CND organised a conference entitled "US Missile Defence: Towards a New Cold War?" on September 1st.  The introductory speaker was Professor Dave Webb of Yorkshire CND.  He explained that USA and Britain now have a first strike policy, even against countries with no nuclear missiles.  The so-called missile defence system will allow the USA to strike a smaller nuclear power first, on the assumption that any weapons they manage to launch  that have survived the first strike can be taken out by the missile defence.  This is obviously highly dangerous. 


The next speaker was Jan Neoral, Mayor of Trokavec, a small rural community in the Czech Republic, in the area where the Czech Government is going to allow the missiles to be sited.  He said that there is great oppostion amongst the local villages, in spite of bribes of grants for development and jobs being offered.  His village held a referendum, and 86 voted against and 1 for the plan.  Other villages then held referenda with similar results.  He seemed fairly confident, but many in the audience were sceptical of the ability of "democratic opposition to be successful. 

Kate Hudson then spoke of how this will escalate the cold war again - Russia is very worried about the plans, in spite of being told it is not intended against them, only against such states as IranRussia has actually offered a more strategically suitable site on its own soil, but the USA has turned this idea down out of hand.  She also reminded us that on the last day before the Parliamentary recess, Des Brown announced that Menwith Hill would be tied into the missile defence system.  This in spite of the fact that Tony Blair had stated that no decision would be made without a full parliamentary debate.  A group of 28 Labour MPs immediately wrote a letter of protest, and this will be an issue to be taken up as soon as Parliament resumes.


She was followed by Bruce Gagnon, an American who has been campaigning against Star Wars/SDI/Missile defence since 1982.  He pointed out that every year Canada and other countries have tried to get a Treaty against weapons in space, and USA and Israel have abstained - this year USA voted against it.  He says that the whole programme is really about the domination of space, and denying the use of space to other countries.  He is trying to get the American Peace movement to campaign more on this - they are undertandably very side-tracked by issues of troops in Iraq, but it is crucial they also pay attention to this issue.


We then heard from Marcus and Kay about the situation in Australia, the Government there are very much tied in with America also, there is a huge USA base at Pine Gap, where they test weapons and experiment with DU.  Uranium mining is also going ahead, often with much local, unsuccessful, opposition. 


I then went to a workshop on "The consequences of US commitment to National Missile Defence".  Lindis Percy spoke of her attempts to ascertain from Harrogate hospital what plans they have if Menwith Hill is attacked, as they will become a target.  Predictably the answer was, npthing more than the normal plans for 'every day' type of disasters.  Bruce Gagnon spoke of the massive cost which will cripple various social and environmental programmes in America, he says people are getting more aware, but don't know what to do about it "our democracy is not going, but gone" he said.  They had high hopes of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, but she has now ditched impeachment of Bush policy, and withdrawal from Iraq policy.  Cindy Sheehan is planning to stand against her.  Helen John stressed, we must try and alert people here to understand the dangers facing us, but it is an uphill struggle. 


Another workshop in the afternoon was about campaigning at Menwith Hill, gradually local people are becoming more concerned and more involved, but it is an uphill struggle, we need a Greenham size demonstration there, but this is hard to achieve partly because of the location, but also apathy needs to be overcome, and the Prevention of Terrorism Act makes demonstrating there very difficult.


All this was pretty depressing, but a closing speech from Andrew Murray of Stop the War Coalition spurred us on to attend the demonstration outside Parliament on October 8th when they reassemble.  And two speakers from Poland told us there is big opposition building up there against the siting of the missiles.  An international week of campaigning "Keep Space for Peace Week" will take place from Oct. 4th - 13th


CND have produced an excellent briefing paper, available from CND 0207-700-2393, or look at  I will obtain some for us to give out on our stall.

Rosemary Addington