70% of Britain Fears US-Driven Arms Race

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.*

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.*

The poll, conducted by MORI on behalf of a coalition of UK-based arms control organisations,** shows that 70% of Britons 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."

* The MORI survey interviewed a nationally representative sample of 2,110 British adults aged 15+, throughout 193 sampling points, between 5-9 July 2001. Interviewing was conducted face-to-face in respondents' homes. Data has been weighted according to the GB profile. Results have a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points.

** The UK Working Group on Missile Defence is an informal coalition of arms control organisations including Abolition 2000UK, the British American Security Information Council (BASIC), Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases (CAAB), Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), MEDACT, the United Nations Association (UNA), and Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW)

Missile Defence - Topline Results (12/7/2001)

  • 2,110 interviews among a representative sample of GB adults aged 15+, conducted face-to-face, in-home, between 5-9 July 2001 across 193 sampling points
  • Data weighted according to GB population profile
  • Where responses do not add up to 100%, this is due to computer rounding
  • Base: All (2,110)

As you may be aware, United States President George W. Bush is proposing the development of a missile defence system. This system is intended to shoot down missiles fired at the US. To make it work, it will be necessary to install new radar facilities in Britain to track missiles fired at the US.

  1. Supporters of the project say it is a defensive system, and that it will promote greater international peace and stability.
  2. Opponents of the project say it may be used for attack as well as defence, and that it could start a new arms race.

Q Bearing this information in mind, could you please tell me whether you agree or disagree with the following statements I am going to read out, which might be made by supporters or opponents of the missile defence system.

  Strongly agree Tend to agree Neither agree nor disagree Tend to disagree Strongly disagree No opinion
  % % % % % %
The development of the US missile defence system will encourage other countries to build more advanced nuclear weapons 28 42 12 11 3 5
 
In general, the approach of President Bush to international affairs is helping to make the world a safer place 3 14 22 30 25 6
 
The development of the US missile defence system will make it more difficult to reach international agreement on nuclear disarmament 21 42 18 11 3 6
 
Relations between Britain and the United States will suffer if Britain does not co-operate in the US missile defence system 13 45 17 15 4 6
 
Using British radar facilities in such a missile defence system would make Britain a military target in a missile attack on the US 31 41 12 10 2 5
 
On balance, it is in Britain's best interests to allow the use of radar facilities in Britain as part of the US missile defence system 6 24 20 25 18 6

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