Both sides of the missile defence debate wheeled out their big guns in Prague this week, and for the “anti” camp the secret weapon is Philip Coyle, one of America’s leading experts on missile defence technology. Mr Coyle, who served as Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration and was in charge of all weapons testing at the Pentagon from 1994 to 2001, has worked on missiles and how to stop them for the last 40 years. Today he’s a senior adviser to the Washington-based Center for Defence Information, and is a leading opponent of the Bush administration’s missile defence plans. He was invited to Prague by Greenpeace, and is speaking at a number of seminars on the issue this week.
“What we do is try to provide information so that American citizens can get both sides of a story and can be fully informed. They invited me to come here and do the same thing here, and I think it’s important for the citizens of any country to have full information about the important decisions they make.”
We’re living in a very unstable world, a world of “rogue states” and non-state actors such as terrorist groups, all of whom have nuclear ambitions. What’s so wrong in developing systems and technologies to protect ourselves from attack?
“There’s nothing wrong with trying to do it. I support research and development in missile defence. What I don’t support is deploying systems that are not effective, that are not ready to be deployed, or for people to believe that they’re being defended when they would not be.”
But surely this system is an ongoing process, it’s not perfect now and it will take some time to develop. Does that mean though that we shouldn’t fund it and we shouldn’t build these sites?
“It means that we shouldn’t deploy a system until there is demonstrated capability that it will work. The system proposed for the Czech Republic – first of all it doesn’t exist, the pieces aren’t all developed, so there is no demonstrated capability that the proposed system could defend Europe, let alone the United States.”
Doesn’t the very presence of such a system act as a deterrent?
“That’s what the Bush administration has been hoping. They’ve been hoping that missile defences would deter North Korea, that it would even intimidate North Korea. But it just didn’t work, it was not an effective policy. I think they’ve been hoping that it would deter Iran and intimidate Iran also, and it appears that’s not working in Iran also.”
Can you ever see a time in the future where it will be possible to hit bullets with bullets and knock down incoming missiles?
“It’s hard to get a scientist to say that anything is impossible. But the Achilles’ heel of missile defences is decoys and counter-measures. If the enemy uses various schemes to confuse the defences, then it becomes difficult.”
So what would your message be to the people of this country?
“The people of this country, if they decide to go forward with this system, are actually putting the country at risk, because this would now become the first place an enemy would attack, because of the presence of the radar if it were located here. I think Czech citizens shouldn’t accept that risk until they’re sure the system will work.”
And in you’re mind it’s not certain the system works.
”Not at this point no.”
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