Letter: Rich nations need missile defence

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The Independent Online
Sir: 'What we need', in answer to Elizabeth Young (letter, 14 July), is to acknowledge that many more states are, or will soon be, in possession of nuclear weapons and delivery systems. These states may have politically unstable regimes and patchy command and control over their new arsenals which they may see more in war-fighting than in deterrent terms. Where such states also have some grudge or mission against us ('us' being Britain, the US, Nato, 'the West', etc), then we would need effective self-defence.

What is 'repugnant' and 'aggressive' about 'the rich' wishing to defend its cities and its forces deployed on peace-keeping duties against missile attack? With ample proof that the nuclear non-proliferation regime has its limitations, the time has surely come, not to discard the regime but to consider how it could be supplemented.

In debating this important issue, the last thing we need is to repeat the arguments of the early 1980s and to hang on grimly to the Cold War dogma of strategic vulnerability. Theatre missile defence and counter-proliferation could offer a mix of self-defence and basic preventive deterrence, although careful calculation of cost and reliability is obviously required.

This approach, unlike a posture of vulnerability to maverick missile attack, offers some hope that the new owners of nuclear weapons will be dissuaded from using them. Or is it Mrs Young's view that we should not defend ourselves if the only available technology is American?

Yours sincerely,

PAUL CORNISH

TREVOR TAYLOR

Cambridge

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