PAUL WILENIUS: Military machines must always
be ready for war. And for America, that means the next stage of the war
against terrorism. Its awesome air force made it the world's only superpower.
And now it's preparing to use that strength against any rogue state that
President Bush is ready to use air bases like this one at Lakenheath in
Britain to step up the war on terrorism. And Tony Blair is under pressure
to back him, especially after Bush's controversial "Axis of evil" speech,
which targeted Iran, North Korea and Iraq. But that speech caused deep
concern in Europe, worries over the future of NATO and now inside the Labour
Party there's considerable anxiety, and substantial opposition, to this
sort of aggressive foreign policy.
American Air Force ground crew fire up an F15 fighter bomber at this Suffolk
air base. It's a visible sign of the special relationship between the two
countries, which grew even closer after the attack on the World Trade Center.
But recent messages coming out of Washington are more bellicose. A senior
member of the US administration explains why.
BETH JONES: Americans still feel very vulnerable
to the threat from terrorism. One of the best ways to understand it is
to understand that Americans haven't lived with terrorism the way Europeans
have, and the way people in other countries have. So what happened to
us, and to so many on September 11th is still very, very vivid.
WILENIUS: The determination of
the Americans to go it alone during the war in Afghanistan had already
caused resentment in the European Union and NATO on this side of the Atlantic.
But the anxieties over this more unilateralist policy have grown since
Bush's 'State of the Union' address. It clearly pointed the finger at Iran,
North Korea and Iraq.
PRESIDENT BUSH: States like these and their
terrorist allies constitute an "Axis of evil" arming to threaten the peace
of the world, by seeking weapons of mass destruction. These regimes pose
a grave and growing danger.
WILENIUS: One politician who has
just come back from a week long trip to Washington agrees.
BERNARD JENKIN MP: "Axis of evil" is a very apposite
description. The Americans have made a very simple connection between what
happened on September 11th, the development of rogue states and the development
of weapons of mass destruction and missile proliferation. They are all
of a piece.
WILENIUS: So if these young American
pilots at Lakenheath were sent off to attack any of these states, it appears
the Tories would be behind Bush. It's not yet clear if Tony Blair will
do the same. Already the Germans, French and even some in the government
have expressed doubts, and inside the Labour Party disquiet seems to be
On The Record has tested the strength of backbench feeling over American
policy. Researchers asked one-hundred-and-one Labour MPs - do you agree
with President Bush that Iran, Iraq and North Korea constitute an "Axis
of evil?" An overwhelming majority of eighty-six said "no", with only twelve
saying "yes", with three "don't knows."
MALCOLM SAVIDGE: I think there is a concern that
this very simplistic terminology which takes three very different countries,
two of which were actually at one time at war with each other, and tries
to suggest that they can all be treated together, that they can all be
regarded almost as if they were working together, that sort of simplification
of an extremely complicated world, I think does cause concern, as does
the implication that this could lead to unilateral military action against
any of them.
WILENIUS: Like these American air
traffic controllers, Bush likes to run military campaigns his way. He gathers
together loose coalitions for a specific purpose. Some have dubbed it "posse
DONALD ANDERSON: At its most simplistic there is
the sort of western film idea that the Sheriff in the wild west town when
the baddies in the desert will gather his deputies together, ride in to
the desert, sort of finish them all off or hang them high, well that doesn't
work in international relations that, one the people like to be consulted
on a far wider basis, but also of course, if there is a high noon situation
and the Sheriff hasn't bothered to take the deputies into consideration,
when the time of trial or testing comes, the Sheriff will look around and
there won't be any deputies there.
WILENIUS: Indeed that time of trial
may come sooner than many think. Despite the precision of America's laser
guided bombs dropped in the Gulf War, a decade later Saddam Hussein's still
in power, almost taunting the West. President Bush appears to want to finish
the job his father started, and the talk in Washington is of invading Iraq
within a year, perhaps with two-hundred-thousand troops.
JONES: I think it's fair to say
that nothing is off the table. Obviously we'd much rather have, the international
community would much rather have inspectors go in to, to assure ourselves
of what is going on there or is not going on there. But otherwise it's,
it would be hard for me to say what necessarily would happen, but it's
certainly the case that nothing's off the table.
RICHARD PERLE: At the end of the day, the
President has a responsibility to defend the American people, it's his
first responsibility under our, our constitution, and if he concludes that
Saddam Hussein poses an intolerable threat and we cannot afford to wait
and hope for the best and he chooses to take action, he cannot be deterred
from that by the sentiments of Germans or Frenchmen or even citizens of
the United Kingdom.
WILENIUS: A final check before
one of America's top pilots takes to the sky. But the big question for
the Bush Administration is, will the British be along for the ride? Although
Tony Blair hasn't said anything publicly over here, one recent visitor
to Washington is confident that that over there, the Prime Minister has
given the clear impression to the Americans that Britain will be fighting
in Gulf War Two.
JENKIN: Tony Blair has left Washington
in no doubt that when the crunch comes he'll be there. So why he is dissembling
and hanging back now, you can only put it down to the advice of the spin
doctors who clearly think that that's a more popular thing to do. Why doesn't
he just come clean and stop dissembling?
WILENIUS: One reason may be that
a war against Iraq would worry Labour backbenchers. We asked one-hundred-and-one
Labour MPs "Do you think there is sufficient evidence to justify a military
attack on Iraq by America and its allies?" A clear majority of eighty-six
said there was not, while only eight said there was; there were seven "don't
QUIN: I think there's also
a very strong feeling which, Members of Parliament have that any action
against Iraq would have to be very, very clearly justified by evidence
of activities that they're undertaking at the present time. I think that
any increase in that military effort would have to depend on evidence being
available that...such, that activities were taking place in Iraq, which
were directly either fuelling international terrorism, or constituting
a threat to the west through the development of new and dangerous weapons,
or indeed through some evidence of further action against his own people.
SAVIDGE: There is concern that
will be felt across the UK, the population of the UK, across the Parliamentary
Labour Party that it would be very, very worrying if the United States
were to take action unilaterally. It's a concern that's been expressed,
indeed publicly expressed by government Ministers and I think it would
be an open secret that it's a concern that is shared in private by many
senior members of the government.
DOUG HENDERSON: I think a lot of us would have
severe worries, one that the action wouldn't be successful, that Saddam
wouldn't be toppled and it would be left with an invasion force in Iraq,
or secondly that we'd alienate too many of the other countries whose support
we need to fight terrorism internationally.
WILENIUS: Britain allows America
to use air bases like this one to mount operations in Europe, the Middle
East and beyond. But the government will face heavy pressure to allow the
Americans to use other UK facilities as part of the Son of Star Wars missile
America is determined
to build a system capable of knocking out incoming rogue missiles before
they hit the US. But it'll need to use the early warning listening stations
at Fylingdales and Menwith Hill in Yorkshire, to make it work. This would
put Britain in the firing line and Labour MPs aren't as happy about the
system as those in US who are developing it.
PERLE: Well we are going ahead
with the missile defence. It takes a long time to build one and to develop
it to the point where one can be confident of its ability in a variety
of different situations. If we don't start now, we run the risk that one
or more countries will acquire missiles with which they might choose to
attack us before we have a defence in place. And we've got to get started.
WILENIUS: Many in the Labour Party
are deeply concerned. On the Record asked one hundred and one Labour MPs
" Do you support the British government giving permission for the Americans
to use British facilities, as part of America's proposed missile defence
system?" Seventy-eight said they did not, while only eighteen said they
did, with five don't knows.
ANDERSON: I think we are very wary
about the whole concept of missile defence. It in itself, it can involve
a sort of unilateralism that we, the US can hide behind our shield and
therefore we are invulnerable Of course the very concept of invulnerability
is a nonsense because there could be the suitcase terrorist and so on,
and indeed, September 11th could have happened with a national missile
defence or not.
SAVIDGE: I think the strong message
to the Prime Minister would be that the British people do not want us to
be involved in this. The vast majority of the Labour Party and the vast
majority of Labour Members of Parliament don't want us to be involved with
this. As Prime Minister for Britain, and as a Labour Prime Minister, consider
British interests and British safety first and the interests of the United
States and of this particular administration second.
WILENIUS: Tony Blair slipped effortlessly
into his role as a world statesman following September 11th. But things
may not run quite so smoothly in the future. Already he's starting to
face criticism for being little more than America's poodle, while those
close to the Bush Administration expect him to ignore his critics and stand
firm with the President.
PERLE: Well I'm sure there are
Members of the Parliamentary Labour Party and others who don't like the
policies we're pursuing. We can't please everyone, we happily didn't choose
to acquiesce to the left wing of the Labour Party during the Cold War or
we'd all be speaking Russian. So we're never going to be very comfortable
with the views of the Left Wing of the Labour Party frankly. And I don't
see how we could defend ourselves if we allowed their views to guide our
WILENIUS: This sort of sharp remark
is hardly likely to please many Labour Party figures. Indeed Ministers
may have to start listening to the views of those MPs, who are concerned
that the government is lining up too closely with the US.
ANDERSON: The Prime Minister really
has to take to heart, the concerns of back benchers. We know that there
is still, a special relationship, but that should not be taken for granted
and the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary I think should be advised
to listen very carefully indeed to the concerns of our own backbenchers,
Labour backbenchers which I understand to be really more widespread in
the country as a whole.
HENDERSON: I think there are times when
political leaders have to lead, they have insight that the public doesn't
have, sometimes because of security information. But I think they've got
to be extremely careful to carry public opinion with them in these tense
international situations and that means that they've got to do the right
thing, that they've got to stand up, for what's right and also what's courageous.
They've got to be their own man, not just a puppet for some other leader
in another part of the world.
WILENIUS: So where will Tony Blair
be when things really do heat up? If he listens too closely to his backbenchers,
things could go cold with the Americans. But if he gives Bush his full
backing, he may find his support in the party could start to evaporate.