Letter: Ruinous addiction to hi-tech arms

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The Independent Online
Sir: Polly Toynbee ("the cost of being Europe's squaddies" 6 November) is right: we are indeed military "hardware addicts on a wild spending spree". And further ahead there is no end to the spree.

It will go on after the multi-billion Eurofighter and the Tomahawk missiles (which weren't so good in September against Iraq), and all the rest of the computer-rich gear that grows ever more vulnerable to the electronic warfare gear that we and others are so enthusiastically developing against it. Here are today's arms races: one firm's weaponry against other firms' weaponry.

There is the expansion of Nato that the Government supports, even the immediate cost of which neither HMG nor Nato have yet estimated. The Americans expect the Europeans to pay perhaps 80 per cent. This would be in the hundreds of billions range according to US estimates. The longer term cost of reacting to Russia's reaction is ignored.

Then there is the whole Ballistic Missile Defence boondoggle, which HMG is sitting on three confidential reports about. Although useless - unmarked vans are far better launchers than ballistic missiles for weapons of mass destruction - this would cost more tens of billions - and put us under automated, computer-driven (therefore vulnerable), space-based, US command, to engage in what is called "pre-emptive counter-proliferation". The United States military seems to be hoping for a kind of global hegemony, and the last Congress was giving them more money than they asked for while continuing to default on UN and WHO dues.

It looks as if Mr Clarke has given several blank cheques to Mr Portillo, to be presented to the taxpayer only after the election.

WAYLAND KENNET

(Lord Kennet)

ELIZABETH YOUNG

House of Lords

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