23 October 2007: for immediate release

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament today responded positively to US Defence Secretary Robert Gates’ partial climb-down over Missile Defence. Gates proposed a delay in activating planned European Missile Defence bases showing that the US is susceptible to international opposition to the scheme. But President Bush’s almost simultaneous restatement of the urgency of the threat immediately undermined Gates’ initiative, further destabilising an already tense situation.

Speaking in Prague today after a meeting with Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, Robert Gates had said “We would consider tying together activation of the sites in Poland and the Czech Republic with definitive proof of the threat — in other words, Iranian missile testing and so on”. But speaking in Washington, President Bush restated US claims that the system is necessary to guard against an imminent threat, and overturned Gates’ acknowledgement that the Iranian missile threat is as yet unproven.

Kate Hudson, Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said, “Today’s contradictory statements, taken together with swingeing Congress cuts in funding for missile defence, are a clear indication that the US administration itself is not convinced of the need for – or wisdom of – the missile defence system. Gates’ partial climb-down on Missile Defence was a vital recognition of the scale of opposition to the system. US plans to build bases in central Europe face huge internal opposition from the majority of the Czech and Polish people. And they face huge external opposition from states including Russia. Polling shows that most people in the UK also think the plans put us in greater danger here too.”

She continued, “The US administration is clearly in disarray on this issue, and Gates’ proposal exposes the fallacious nature of Bush’s claims that the system is urgently required because of an immediate threat. Gates’ proposal is welcome, and it is profoundly to be hoped that his approach prevails over that of Bush. But only a full abandoning of the system by the US will resolve this problem. Having a system ready and waiting for the order to activate will not halt or prevent the new arms race that this plan is already causing. Other countries will still develop their military responses – a definitive rejection of the US missile defence system is necessary to prevent the new Cold War.”

These developments come as opposition mounts to US plans. This past weekend over 100 delegates from 16 European countries, 86 mayors from the Czech Republic and activists from international peace organisations gathered in Prague to develop coordinated opposition. They were backed by a video greeting by Mayor of Hiroshima Tadatoshi Akiba and a message from the London Mayor Ken Livingstone.

UK involvement in Missile Defence already includes the Fylingdales radar in North Yorkshire, with the government going back on a previous commitment that Parliament would discuss any plans: in July the government announced that the spy-base at Menwith Hill will also be used for missile defence. Last week the Defence Secretary declined to rule out the stationing of a further US radar in the UK, similar to that being discussed for the Czech Republic. Asked by Phil Willis MP whether missiles or a radar could be built in the UK or placed in UK waters, Des Browne responded only that there were no plans to site missiles in the UK.


Notes to Editors:

1. For further information and interviews please contact Ben Soffa, CND’s Press & Communications Officer, on 0207 7002350 or 07968 420859

2. A CND/YouGov poll revealed that 54% of the public agree (compared with 24% who disagree) that “the siting of US missiles and early warning bases in the UK, Poland and the Czech Republic as part of the US National Missile Defence programme, increases the security threat faced by the UK and Europe.” 22% did not know either way. Total sample size was 2,049 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 26th – 30th July 2007. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

3. Phil Willis MP: “To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) what discussions his Department has had with the US Administration on plans to develop missile silos and x-band radar on land or sea bases in the UK; (2) what discussions he and officials from his Department have had with the US Administration on plans to site interceptor missiles or related equipment in the UK.

Des Browne responded: “The Ministry of Defence continues to discuss ballistic missile defence issues with the US Administration. It is not the practice of the Government to make public details of all discussions with foreign governments as this would, or would be likely to, prejudice international relations. As I set out in my statement of 25 July 2007, Official Report column 72WS, we have no plans to site missile interceptors in the UK.” Failing to comment on any radar plans.

5. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) is one of Europe’s biggest single-issue peace campaigns, with over 35,000 members in the UK. CND campaigns for the abolition of all nuclear weapons everywhere.