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70% of Britain Fears US-Driven Arms Race
18 July 2001

A majority of the British public believes that America’s controversial plan to build a missile defence system will start a new arms race, make nuclear disarmament harder to achieve, and may even make the United Kingdom a military target, according to a new opinion poll.*

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The poll, conducted by MORI on behalf of a coalition of UK-based arms control organisations,** shows that 70% of Britons voters agree that: “The development of the US missile defence system will encourage other countries to build more advanced nuclear weapons”.  Over 60% of those surveyed also believe that international agreement on nuclear disarmament would be harder to achieve in the wake of US plans to deploy the system.

President George W. Bush arrives in the United Kingdom today for talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair.  The two leaders are expected to discuss missile defence plans which will be likely to involve the use of UK-based facilities.  The British government recently confirmed the completion of two new radomes at RAF Menwith Hill in Yorkshire.  The radomes form part of the ground relay station for a network of satellites and will likely become an integral part of a future US missile defence system.

However, a forceful 72% of those polled feel that such a move could make the United Kingdom a target for an attack directed at the United States’ system.  In addition, while over half of those surveyed feel that denying use of UK-based radar facilities to be used in the system may harm transatlantic relations, less than a third think that it is in Britain’s best interest to cooperate.

President Bush arrives in Europe buoyed by the successful intercept of a dummy warhead in a test early Sunday morning, and his administration is determined to press ahead with the controversial project in the face of strong international opposition.  Allies were informed recently of Washington’s plans to violate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty “in months, not years”.

Dan Plesch, Director of BASIC, one of the NGOs who commissioned the poll, said:  “The involvement of UK facilities would represent the biggest shift in UK strategic orientation since the World War II, yet Blair has neither sought nor gained a mandate for such a reorientation.”  Mark Bromley, BASIC Analyst, added: “This opinion poll gives one of the first indications of the strength of the British public’s unease, and it is a message that Blair must take to President Bush.”