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What's the difference between George Bush's Star Wars and Ronald Reagan's

01:00 Fri 11th May 2001 |

asks johnjo:
A.
The answer is: not much. It was back in 1983 that Ronald Reagan, in his famous 'Star Wars' speech promised to make nuclear weapons 'impotent and obsolete'. George W Bush's $100 billion-plus National Missile Defence (NMD) has been dubbed 'Son of Star Wars'.

Q. How would Son of Star Wars work
A.
The idea sounds reasonable: a land, sea and air-based system comprising a network of satellites, laser-armed Boeing 747s continuously in flight, missile ships and ground missile launchers which would identify and destroy any threatening missile in flight. The idea is that any nuclear threat would be eliminated.

Q. So the US would abolish its nuclear weapons
A.
Er, no. It would cut them down, promises George Bush, but he'd hang on to some.

But that would mean...
...yes, the US would be the only country in the world which could possibly hope to hit its enemies with a nuclear missile. Meanwhile, other nations would be likely to increase their nuclear arsenal.

Q. Why
A.
A classified Pentagon report, which was leaked to the US media, predicted that China would react to the NMD by expanding its nuclear arsenal by ten times to ensure that at least one missile would get through the defence umbrella. And that China's regional rival, India, would follow suit, as would Pakistan.

Q. How does our Government feel about Son of Star Wars
A.
At the moment, the Conservatives are all for it, but Tony Blair is holding back for more details (Foreign Secretary Robin Cook insisted that it was not inevitable that Britain would support the project). The Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence are said to be sceptical about the technology and are worried about its capacity to destabilise world security.

Q. How would it affect us
A.
Son of Star Wars can't work properly unless we let the US use facilities in the UK - at Fylingdales and Menwith Hills in Yorkshire - to track incoming missiles. That makes those places vulnerable to terrorist bombs

Q. How long would it take to get NMD up and running
A.
Years. It will be all experimental because previous attempts at this sort of thing were abortive. However, it seems that Bush is determined to get something up and running before the 2004 presidential election, even if there are large gaps.

Q. Why
A.
This would create 'facts on the ground', i.e. a state of affairs that no successor could reverse.

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