Rifkind looks to elite defence role

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Defence strategy has been redefined in the 1992 White Paper published yesterday with a new emphasis on 'promoting the UK's wider security interests'. But Malcolm Rifkind, Secretary of State for Defence, said: 'We are not a global power, nor do we have any aspirations to be a global power. We are primarily a middle-ranking European power.'

Mr Rifkind announced that the Government was placing the order for a fourth Trident ballistic missile submarine with Vickers at Barrow-in Furness. On Britain's role in the uncertain world, Mr Rifkind said that Britain - 'a country of only 56 million people, a small island in the northern hemisphere' - could nevertheless 'be a contributor that can have a considerable impact.'

In his introduction to the White Paper, Mr Rifkind says the Ministry of Defence has carried out a 'fundamental reassessment of the potential for conflict within and outside Europe and how this should be reflected in defence strategy, policy and the structure of the armed forces.'

The White Paper acknowledges that Britain is now free to spend as much or as little as it wants on defence. The disappearance of 'a clear and quantifiable threat from a single dominant adversary' means that 'governments can decide their defence spending on the basis of obligations and responsibilities and their view of what role in the world the UK can seek to fulfil.'

But the White Paper indicates Britain will choose a prominent role. It contains details of the Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps, Nato's elite, quick-reaction force, which Britain will lead, and stresses the need to respond to unexpected crises, worldwide. The White Paper also contains sections on European security structures, with the overlapping international organisations - EC, Nato, CSCE, WEU and the North Atlantic Co-operation Council - and on arms control.

The Government's commitment to the nuclear Tactical Air-to-Surface Missile to replace free-fall nuclear bombs at the end of the century looks doubtful. The White Paper does not mention it, merely referring to studies into the possible replacement of the ageing WE-177.

Labour and Liberal Democrat spokesman seized on the omission last night and predicted that the Government would quietly abandon the deployment of TASMs because the need for mid-range nuclear weapons had gone with the collapse of the Warsaw Pact.

Mr Rifkind confirmed that the Government was prepared to consider reducing the number of warheads below the 128 on each Polaris boat which it believes is a minimum deterrent.

Paul Rodgers, of the School of Peace Studies at Bradford University, said yesterday: 'They are talking about it having a tactical use - having maybe one warhead per missile rather than eight - so it could be used in quite small conflicts.'

Strategic analysis, page 4

Leading article, page 18