Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Politics and International Studies

Research Student: James Simpkin

The Incorporation of Ballistic Missile Defence into the Labour Government’s Security Policy: 1997-2010.

Photo of James Simpkin

While in office from 1997 to 2010, the Labour government incorporated the US' ballistic missile defence (BMD) system into the UK's defence policy. Based on an upgrade of the radar systems at Fylingdales and Menwith Hill, this experimental technology was intended to detect, track and launch US intercepter missiles against ICBMs should they be fired from rogue states. What is unusual about these developments is that they took place during the administration of a Labour government initially committed to the maintenance of the ABM Treaty. These events cannot be explained without referring to two themes running within and above British domestic politics. First of these is the skill of the Conservative party in appealing to voters on defence issues. New Labour's pro-militarism, including support for BMD, was an attempt to triangulate the Conservative's dominance in this field. The second and perhaps overriding factor is the UK's 'special relationship' with the United States. The UK relies on the US in order to augment its power internationally, and missile defence is part of this. Due to these constraints on the Labour Party, this research draws on the theoretical concepts of structure and agency, specifically the strategic-relational approach, to examine the room for manoeuvre that Labour may or may not have had in pursuing a different policy on BMD. Labour's involvement with BMD during this time should be an area of substantial research. Yet it has been almost totally eclipsed by the UK's involvement in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. This research hopes to readdress this balance and examine the structural constraints on Labour's policy towards BMD and whether this can be placed within the wider context of its shift to the right.

Background

For the past 5 years I have been teaching at Craven College in Skipton. I live in Keighley with my wife and daughter. I am also practically involved in politics as a Town Councillor in Keighley, where I represent the Morton and Sandbeds ward and sit on the town’s Policy and Governance Committee. I have a 1st class BA (Hons) in politics from the University of Huddersfield, and a Distinction MA from the University of Sheffield. Prior to teaching at Craven I worked for three years as a constituency case-worker for Rose Winterton MP.

What motivated me to undertake PhD study?

My main motivation comes from wanting to be a university lecturer. I knew I should have undertaken PhD study after I completed my MA several years ago, and so it was inevitable that I would come back to it. Of course, I am interested in my chosen area of research, and I wanted to prove to myself that I was up to the intellectual challenge of completing a PhD.

What makes me passionate about my subject?

What first sparked my interest in ballistic missile defence was the sheer amount of money involved in developing it and the futuristic technology involved. The US Congress estimated that $100 billion had been spent on R&D by 2006 alone, several billion dollars of which went towards developing lasers to intercept incoming missiles. It does feel like the next step in warfare; space being the ultimate high ground. Growing up in Yorkshire I have long been aware of the odd structures at Fylingdales and Menwith Hill, and began to think about the role that they play in the US’ ballistic missile defence system while doing my MA. As a member of the Labour party I then became interested in how the last Labour government engaged with the US’ ballistic missile defence plans. I feel that Labour would much better serve the principles of internationalism, solidarity and the UK’s defence if it committed to use the money allocated to BMD on international development. So, by understanding why the last Labour government went along with BMD, it might help to envisage how a different policy on this issue could be developed.

What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?

My long-term goal is to become a university lecturer, and I hope to submit journal articles, present papers at conferences, teach at undergraduate level and undertake administration tasks in order to build up my CV in order to apply for such positions. I have also identified several potential research projects which spin-off from my PhD that I would like to take further. In particular I would like to research the Labour party’s attitude towards missile defence from the Second World War to the present day.

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