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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the threat?

Threat is a factor of capability and intention. There is no evidence that any state with ballistic missiles currently has the intention specifically to target the UK, although it is important to remember that intentions can change rapidly. And the proliferation of weapons from North Korea makes the capability more easily achievable.

Is there an immediate threat to UK?

No, we are still talking about years rather than months. When a capability might emerge depends not just on technical factors but also on a continued political commitment by states of concern to developing ballistic missiles, and the capability to procure expertise or complete systems from proliferators.


No. In the coming years we expect that a small number of states will further develop their ballistic missiles, improving their range, accuracy and also their supporting infrastructure. We must not ignore this potential threat and while there is no current threat to the UK, we need to start thinking about these issues now.

When might a threat emerge?

We cannot be absolutely sure when a ballistic missile threat to the UK might emerge. However, if a country close enough to Europe manages to acquire a complete long range ballistic missile system, a capability to target the UK could emerge within a few years.

Will there be an increased threat to RAF Fylingdales/UK?

The Government believes it is highly improbable that the use of Fylingdales for missile defence would result in an increased threat to the UK. The Defence Select Committee agreed with that analysis in their report dated 29 January 2003. For the foreseeable future, states of concern are very unlikely to have the capability or size of arsenal to consider targeting specific military installations.

Will there be an increased terrorist threat to RAF Fylingdales?

The Government believes that any increased terrorist threat to the UK from the existence of a US missile defence system which utilised the radar station at Fylingdales would be negligible. Developing ballistic missiles from scratch would be beyond the means of a terrorist organisation. Acquisition of a capability off-the-shelf is conceivable, but unlikely in the absence of state sponsorship or complicity. Likewise, a non-state entity is very unlikely to be in a position to operate a ballistic missile force without extensive state-sponsored or state-condoned assistance with land, training, maintenance and spares support. Terrorist organisations are more likely to seek covert means of delivering weapons of mass destruction, a potential threat we also take very seriously.

The security interests of the UK are already closely identified with the US and other NATO allies, and this will not change regardless of decisions on missile defence. The terrorist threat to all military installations is kept under constant review. The Government does not consider that the upgrading of RAF Fylingdales for missile defence purposes will significantly change the terrorist threat to the facility.

Will the US BMD System work?

The technological challenges involved in constructing an effective missile defence are considerable. The US is deploying an initial operational system which has undergone a great deal of testing. There have been successful test intercepts, including most recently the successful test of a ground-based interceptor missile on 1st September 2006. That is evidence enough that the beginnings of a capability exist, though we recognise that there is scope for further development and improvement as the technologies mature further.

Will ground-based interceptors be located at RAF Fylingdales?

There are no plans whatsoever to site ground-based interceptors at RAF Fylingdales, contrary to misleading press reports. As was stated in a letter from MoD to the Chief Executive of the North York Moors National Park Authority on 14th October 2004: “as regards future usage of the site… the MOD cannot foresee circumstances in which it would wish to propose any major new development at the station that is not commensurate with its current role [as a radar station].”

Is Missile Defence destabilising?

Missile defence is not intended to defend against responsible states with established strategic forces. Its aim is to tackle limited threats from states of concern which seek to acquire and threaten to use ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction in contravention of widely accepted international norms. The proliferation threat is not new; missile defence is a response to, not the cause of, the problem.

Is Missile Defence encouraging an Arms Race?

Many feared that the US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in June 2002 would spark an arms race – but it has not happened. In fact, Russia and the US committed themselves in 2002 to large reductions in their operationally deployed nuclear forces. The US missile defence system is not intended to defend against responsible states with established strategic forces.

Missile Defence opposed by Russia?

The US has made clear that its plans are not aimed at countering the Russian strategic nuclear forces. Moreover, Russia is working closely with NATO to examine the potential for interoperability of Russia and NATO theatre missile defence systems, and has offered to cooperate with the US over their missile defence plans.

The House of Commons Defence Committee report in 2003 agreed that arguments about international instability did not provide grounds for rejecting the US request to upgrade the early warning radar at RAF Fylingdales for use in the US BMD system.

Does Missile Defence undermine current deterrent effect?

Missile defence could reinforce the deterrent effect of our nuclear and conventional forces. Any regime contemplating the use of WMD-armed ballistic missiles would then face not only the near certainty of an overwhelming response, but also the probability that its attack would fail. This may not only deter potential aggressors from launching an attack, but might also dissuade them from embarking on the costly and difficult process of developing or procuring long-range ballistic missiles in the first place.

Could a BMD system take the place of the UK’s nuclear deterrent?

Ballistic missile defences are only designed to be able to defend against limited missile attacks. They do not, on their own, provide a complete defence against the full range of risks set out in the Government’s recent White Paper on the Future of the UK’s Nuclear Deterrent. They should be regarded as complementary to other forms of defence or response, potentially reinforcing nuclear deterrence rather than superseding it.

Have the events of 11 September 2001 had an impact on UK missile defence policy?

The events of 11 September 2001 have not had a direct impact on UK missile defence policy. However, these events show that there are those who will seek to threaten the US, its friends and allies with whatever means available. In future this might include ballistic missiles. Therefore, it is vital that we have a comprehensive strategy to tackle all threats posed to friends and allies.

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