Rome, 20th-21st April 1993

Official Record

Office of the Clerk of the Assembly of WEU




Wednesday, 21st April 1993

Conditions for a European anti-missile defence policy


Anti-missile defence in a global European strategy

Mr. LEIRA (Counsellor to the Secretary of State for Defence, Spain).


The now usual confrontation between offensive and defensive weapons, between guns and armour, has been a constant phenomenon throughout history backed by means that are continuously being developed by science and technology. The twentieth century, almost the whole of which we can contemplate now that we are in its last decade, has witnessed and been the theatre of many such confrontations: it should be recalled that it is during this century that, for better or for worse, weapons of mass destruction appeared in all their brutality. I refer to chemical, nuclear and biological weapons.

Just as chemical weapons were developed during the first world war, nuclear weapons were developed during the second, making use of new knowledge of atomic physics; their effects, which put an end to the war, led to a precarious but effective balance between the United States and the Soviet Union in the context of the cold war.

We are now witnessing a spectacular breakthrough in biology and genetic engineering which may allow the production of biological weapons of even greater devastating consequences than their predecessors.

A growing number of countries, whose political reliability is, to say the least, dubious, are known to have or to be about to have one or more of these three types of weapons; however, it is also clear that the latter are only a limited threat if their holders do not have the necessary means of reaching targets outside their territory.

Weapons or other devices of mass destruction may reach the territory of a country by surprise, but in a conflict situation it is most probable that means of delivery such as aircraft, cruise missiles or ballistic missiles would be used; a characteristic of the latter is that, once they have been launched towards their target, they can no longer be stopped except in the case of an internal defect or their complete destruction by an anti-missile system.

The end of the cold war, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the expansion of political and religious movements which consider the West - and Europe in particular - to be at the origin of all their ills have modified the notion of a threat stemming only from the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries, replacing it with a range of scattered, changing risks situated mainly to the east and south of Europe and including possible attack by ballistic missiles carrying nuclear, chemical or biological warheads. To add to the confusion, one might also imagine the accidental launching of missiles from the former Soviet Union as a result of a mistake or an unauthorised action, defective servicing, a weakening of the political and military hierarchy or because a terrorist group had managed to get hold of one of these missiles and use it in an unforeseeable manner.

This is the shifting, complex situation in which the questions to be discussed at this symposium are set: is there a real risk for Europe due to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles? If there is a risk, what would be the appropriate means of countering it? Would political measures be enough? Should an anti-missile system be set up? If so, should this defensive system be worldwide, national or local? In what time-scale and what form should this system be deployed? How much would it cost? There is obviously no definite answer to these various questions but it seems perfectly possible to obtain partial answers and guidelines as to the course to be followed.

Analysis of Europe's environment

A study of the technological and industrial capabilities of the countries surrounding Europe leads to the conclusion that, at present and in the near future, there is no certain risk of a deliberate attack on populations or targets in Europe by states possessing ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction.

Conversely, the fact that, by the beginning of the next century, six or more countries in the world may have ballistic missiles with ranges of between 3 000 and 5 500 km is reason for concern, particularly if one thinks of the time it takes to develop and deploy an anti-missile system. Yet we should not forget that a premature European initiative might start an arms race between Europe and countries that might have long-range ballistic missiles. The alternative might be to eliminate or reduce the threat by political means or by localised preventive measures. Although the treaties banning certain types of weapons, for instance the nuclear non-proliferation treaty have so far proved to be of only limited effectiveness, equivalent controls must be introduced for chemical and biological weapons. The missile technology control regime (MTCR), introduced in 1987, can help to reduce the risk of proliferation of ballistic missiles if measures to apply it are intensified. In parallel, technological, economic and industrial co-operation, the creation of reciprocal commercial interests and the accession of countries which might be sources of conflict to international institutions and treaties are channels that should be explored before setting up a costly, complex anti-missile defence system whose effectiveness is yet to be seen. In 1992, the President of the United States, George Bush, invited his European colleagues to study a co-operative programme for the development of global protection against limited attacks (GPALS), derived from the strategic defence initiative (SDI), and he proposed holding consultations on this matter in the Atlantic Alliance. The Europeans' favourable response allowed the discussion to be opened and an ad hoc group was set up in NATO to study in detail the various aspects of the problem: possible risks, choice of solutions, technological consequences, cost, etc. Furthermore, still in 1992, the Presidents of Russia and the United States, Mr. Yeltsin and Mr. Bush, analysed the bi-and multilateral aspects of the problem together "in a constructive, open spirit" and agreed to set up three bilateral groups to study a global protection system (GPS) with the participation of any countries which so wished, particularly European countries. The United States' anti-missile concept developed from the strategic defence initiative (SDI) to the global protection system (GPS): starting from the ambitious space shield which was to replace deterrence by intimidation by deterrence by invulnerability, it became a multilateral system that would make use of the large sums invested. At the same time, and this is not the least of the objectives, encouragement was to be given to political and military co-operation with Russia, committing it to join in a major joint undertaking with the West. However, Europe must not forget that there is some degree of incompatibility between measures of political control and co- operation and the establishment of a defensive system which neighbouring countries might consider to be a threat.

The policy of the new President, Bill Clinton, does not seem to differ radically from this programme since the 1991 anti- missile defence programme act was supported by both Democrats and Republicans. However, it cannot be ruled out that budgetary difficulties may delay the building of the first GPALS base, planned in principle for 1997; it may be delayed until 2000 or even later, since it is stipulated in the 1993 budget that the building of the first base will depend on the evolution of the threat and the progress made in the projects.

European opinions

In Europe, reactions to the United States proposals have been very diverse. First, countries with nuclear weapons (France and the United Kingdom) have expressed doubts about the complementarity between a vast anti-missile defence system and a credible deterrent, nuclear response; simultaneously, the far more general problem arose of the future of the world strategic situation and the possible status of the nuclear weapons of those two countries in the European Union, a problem which will have to be discussed when the time comes, prior to the introduction of a common European defence policy.

In Western European Union (WEU), protection against ballistic missiles had not been considered particularly urgent, although the Assembly had decided that it should be examined, in spite of reservations by certain countries which believed political measures to be more effective than military measures in view of current risks of proliferation. This was generally considered to be a complex matter whose various aspects deserved separate analysis, priority being given to political rather than technical and industrial aspects. The Assembly's Technological and Aerospace Committee conducted a study of anti-ballistic missile defence, the Rapporteur for which was Mr. Lenzer, and presented to the Assembly a recommendation to the Council and an order on the same subject that were adopted as Recommendation 533 and Order 83. In Mr. Lenzer's study the views of various European countries are described and I think they are worth summarising: France: the deterrence by intimidation exercised by the European military arsenals is more effective than an anti- missile shield. An answer to possible risks is to be found more in fighting proliferation than in deploying new defence systems.

United Kingdom: The effectiveness of current means of deterrence is perhaps doubtful; consequently, anti-missile defence systems would be a considerable advantage, particularly for protecting troops deployed abroad to defend important but not vital interests. Present strategic stability must not be compromised.

Germany: The threat is not perceived as being targeted on German territory but on the alliance's southern flank. Anti- missile defence would be necessary only for theatre missile defence (TMD). Italy: The threat of ballistic missiles is not considered a matter of priority; action should be concentrated on fighting proliferation.

Although the opinions summarised above cannot be considered conclusive, they show that it would be difficult, in the short term, to reach a consensus among WEU countries on participation in the GPALS or GPS programmes; this does not mean we cannot agree to pursue the study of the American proposals and observe the progress of the talks with Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union.

Moreover, the industries of a large number of European countries have taken part in the strategic defence initiative programme, the development of American systems such as THAAD (theatre high altitude area defence) and European programmes such as the family of future surface-to-air missiles (FSAF), now being developed by France and Italy.

On the possibility of setting up an independent anti-missile system with cinetic energy interceptors, European industrialists believe the necessary technology already exists or is now being developed in Europe and that a co-operative European programme would have considerable chances of success. Nevertheless, it should be recalled that, on the European mainland, only Russia has anti-missile systems and that the United States has expressed the wish to obtain technology available in that country, which they consider most important for the development of future systems, for instance liquid-fuelled propellants, electric rotors, space-based nuclear enegy generators using uranium as a fuel instead of plutonium, tacitron switches, neutral particle beams, high-power lasers, etc.


In this context, economic parameters are particularly critical for taking decisions. In the absence of detailed data but in order to give some idea of the order of magnitude, it will be recalled that, in the framework of the strategic defence initiative, the United States invested $28 000 million in a programme that was devoted exclusively to research and development and that, during the financial year 1993, $4 500 million were earmarked for the anti-missile defence programme. According to the Congress Bureau of the Budget, GPALS might cost between $27 and 87 000 million to be invested over a period of ten years, the most accurate estimate probably being $41 000 million. The cost of deploying a ground-based interception system on a single site would vary between $16 and 18 000 million while the deployment of a complete system with six different bases would be $35 000 million. According to estimates, in Europe, a system for the protection of specific objectives in France and Italy would cost about F 50 000 million.


It may be concluded that, at present, an attack by ballistic missiles carrying weapons of mass destruction is not perceived by Europe as being an immediate risk and this risk will become a real threat only in ten to fifteen years' time; this lapse of time might be prolonged thanks to the control of technology transfers and co-operation and confidence-building measures committing the Soviet Union and countries on the shores of the Mediterranean and in Eastern Europe. Although the development and production of an anti-missile defence system, be it European or the result of co-operation with other countries, may lead to very large-scale industrial and technological mobilisation that should be studied in depth, one should nevertheless not forget the considerable economic investment, the burden of which would have to be shared between participants in accordance with criteria that are very difficult to determine for the time being. It is alleged that a delay in taking decisions might face Europe with the fait accompli of a GPS developed in co-operation by the United States and Russia, leaving Europeans out, but at present it seems that completion of the study and the preliminary analysis stage of the GPS is behind schedule.

The development of an independent European system not linked to the GPS does not seem viable at the present juncture but, since it is planned to set up a European armaments agency under the aegis of WEU, whose main aim would be to co-ordinate military research in Europe and to encourage co-operation between member countries, consideration might be given to instructing this agency to study the technical and economic viability of developing a European system and of Europe

participating in GPALS and GPS.

The European earth observation system which WEU is promoting and which might come into service between 2000 and 2010 would require total investment, including maintenance, of some $7 600 million. This system would allow risks and threats to be assessed and followed and would pave the way for an anti-missile defence system to be built later. The opposition between political and military measures will be overcome only when relevant technical and strategic studies are available, but it is most certainly possible to advance at political level without delay by strengthening the missile technology control regime (MTCR), taking appropriate decisions to avoid the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, analysing the obstacles that the ABM Treaty may place in the way of a bi- or multilateral system in which the United States and Russia would participate and studying the juridical provisions relating to the use of outer space as a permanent base for weapons or anti-missile interceptors. Finally, by examining these three aspects of the problem - political, military and economic - the following conclusions may be drawn:

Politically: Europe must take part in the international debate and keep open the internal debate since it is a matter of greater importance for its security. The process of consultation must be continued in the Atlantic Alliance and WEU. Militarily: Europe is not threatened by ballistic missiles but this situation may evolve in the next ten to fifteen years. Consequently, whether or not it is decided to adopt a system of protection, the fight against proliferation must be continued, as must the control of technology transfers.

Economically: The technological development that will accompany the design and production of an anti-missile system is a major stimulus to its establishment, but the budgetary restrictions that are becoming general in Europe make one wonder seriously how a programme of this type can be fitted into current defence priorities. In the United States, similar economic difficulties are forcing delays in the time-table laid down in the 1991 anti-missile defence programme act: it would therefore seem that Europe will have some time in which to ponder on these problems.