by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
August 31, 2001
STAR WARS REDUX: PEACE FOR A PIPE DREAM
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- During the week that marked the 10th anniversary of the failed coup in the Soviet Union - the event that led to its eventual collapse - President Bush took two steps that showed that in some cornersof Washington, the Cold War never ended.
President Bush announced that the U.S. was going to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty "on our own timetable" and appointed Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, a proponent of space-based weaponry, as the newhead of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
These were just the latest moves in a seemingly inexorable march toward developing a national missile defense system - a system that remains technically unfeasible, strategically unadvisable and totally unaffordable.
President Reagan came up with the vision of what came to be knownas "Star Wars" in 1983 - an impregnable shield that would protect the U.S.against Soviet nuclear missiles without having to bother with unverifiable treaties or messy diplomacy.
The conservative view of history is that this pronouncement by Reagan helped to convince the Soviets that its missiles would become useless and once the Soviets realized this, the "evil empire" collapsed.The reality is somewhat different.
The pretense that spurred the huge U.S. military buildup in the 1980s -the Soviet Union was rapidly expanding its military - was a lie.It never tried to match U.S. spending, because it did not have the resources to do so. At the same time, the U.S. had more missiles that were more accurate than anything the Soviets had - even before the Reagan buildup.
As for Star Wars, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev knew the score and dismissed the U.S. plan as a waste of money on technology that wouldn't work.
Gorbachev, who had to do more with the breakup of the Soviet Union than any words or deeds by Reagan, turned out to be right. The U.S. has spent more than $70 billion over the last two decades on Star Wars and it has yet to pass a realistic operational test.
We know that since the demise of the Soviet Union, the U.S. defense establishment has frantically tried to create other enemies to justify maintaining military spending at Cold War-era levels. We are now supposed to believe that North Korea (a backward country racked by famine), China(America's biggest trading partner), and maybe Russia (a country that can't keep track of or maintain all the nuclear missiles it has) are all potential threats.
But the lack of credible threats and the technological impossibilities of missile defense haven't stopped the flag-waving superpatriots from touting Star Wars as a strategic priority. They are blind to the real threats that face this nation.
For instance, if you wanted to nuke New York City and didn't have a missile, you could just as easily level the city by putting a nuclear device on a freighter and detonating it in the harbor. An anti-missile missile system wouldn't do you any good there. Or how about a "suitcase nuke," one of the smaller tactical nuclear weapons that's portable and doesn't need a launch vehicle, only someone to carry it? How about anthrax or other cheaply-made biological agents? And let's not forget the havoc that a truck loaded with diesel fuel and fertilizer can cause.
Terrorism relies on low-tech weapons of destruction combined with the element of surprise. The attack by a "rogue nation" that will most likely happen will be the kind of attack described above, an attack that a space-based defense will not stop. So why is the U.S. prepared to spend another $60 billion to $240 billion on something that has absolutely no real-world strategic value?
Wasting money is bad enough. Wasting a chance at maintaining peace is worse. The Bush team is willing to risk igniting an arms race to realize its dream of total and unquestioned global dominance. Instead of deploying something that is guaranteed to prompt China, India, Pakistan and other nuclear powers to build more weapons, the U.S. would be better off continuing with diplomacy to reduce nuclear danger.
Russia's Vladimir Putin has an offer on the table to reduce the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals to 1,000 or less per side. Combine that with stepped up efforts to help Russia safely maintain its existing arsenal (the Bush administration has called for reduced funding for this program that was started during the Clinton administration), and you can make a real difference.
Resuming negotiations with North Korea to end its nuclear program wouldn't hurt either, since North Korea poses more of a threat through selling its weaponry rather than the unlikely scenario of developing long-range missiles targeting the U.S. This same advice holds true for India and Pakistan, one of the most likely spots in the world where a nuclear shootout is going to happen.
But diplomacy doesn't fit into the conservative vision of an invulnerable United States that doesn't have to be concerned with any other nation on earth. Diplomacy is for sissies. Only by spending money we don't have on weapons we don't need can peace be assured.
The only people who will benefit from Star Wars are the defense contractors. The rest of us will have to deal with a world that's less safe as a result of a warped vision that wasn't right in the 1980s and isn't right today.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for morethan 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).