Star Wars; Phantom Menace or New Hope?
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The Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, signed in 1972, between the United States and the former Soviet Union (now applying to Russia) was to prohibit the use of defensive systems that might give an advantage to one side over the other in a nuclear war. The Mutually Assured Destruction scenario was invoked here to assure that each nation had enough weapons to survive a nuclear attack and therefore have the ability to annihilate the other. Their rationale was that as long as both sides remained defenseless, in this respect, neither country would dare attack the other.
While the United States has now withdrawn from this treaty (as of mid-December 2001), even before that, was controversially spending a lot of public money on research and development of a "Star Wars" missile defense program. While bound to the treaty, such research and development was breaking the treaty. However withdrawing from the treaty completely, allows research and development to proceed.
The missile defence program has been based on the assumptions that:
- There is a significant threat of missile attack to the US to warrant such measures
- It will actually work
- International relations will be unaffected
- Costs will be acceptable
On this page:
- There is a significant threat of missile attack to the US to warrant such measures
- It will actually work
- International relations will be unaffected
- Costs will be acceptable
- So why is development continuing?
- U.S. Withdraws from the ABM Treaty, December 2001
- More Information
There is a significant threat of missile attack to the US to warrant such measures
In reality, as well as violating the ABM treaty, only China and Russia have the capability to launch such intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach US soil. However, they are unlikely to do so, which has even been admitted by the CIA.
There are fears that "rogue" states such as North Korea, Iran and Iraq could develop such missiles. However, that is unfounded and could be regarded as fear-mongering:
- Foreign Policy In Focus points out2 that the U.S. State Department acknowledges that North Korea has not been involved in international terrorism for over 15 years. Furthermore, North Korea has been unsuccessful in developing long-range missiles and has many other internal and regional issues to contend with, rather than directing any attacks at the US. They have also constructively engaged in discussions that have even seen the US lift some sanctions on North Korea. They had also halted development of their missiles since around 1998. (Although recently they have indicated that they would continue to sell missiles3, which in the past has also been a sore point.) (And as the above seemed to ironically predict, in late 2002, North Korea admitted to pursuing a nuclear development program. In January 2003, North Korea annouced its withdrawal from the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, and has also threatened5 to resume ballistic missile threats, accusing the U.S. of nullifying agreements.)
- It seems absurd that Iraq could even try to create such missiles, given the sanctions6 that have decimated the country and the reparations it pays for the 1991 Gulf War. The continuous spotlight on Iraq and posturing against them will probably ensure that they cannot develop such weapons. They did not even dare to use the chemical weapons it had against the US and its allies, for fear of even worse reprisal. It is therefore unlikely that they would use nuclear weapons. It would be a suicidal move.
- Iran also has regional worries itself. It is also trying to move towards a more open, democratic society
(but not without its internal issues that accompany such change). It has also been very open to nuclear
weapons inspections. The U.N. body, the International Atomic Energy Agency7
(IAEA), responsible for inspecting nation's on their nuclear and other related policies, says that Iran is
fully compliant with the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Admittedly the weapons inspections is not
perfect, and while it is possible that Iran might be pursuing a nuclear policy, various U.S. agencies and
Russian technicians claim that they would have many severe problems. However, regional power concerns seem
to be pushing Iran towards nuclear options as a means to counter Israel's nuclear capabilities and Iraq's
previous attempts at regional hegemony.
The above quoted article has many more details.
Note that the Star Wars program is aimed to protect US soil, so if Iran or North Korea do become "threats" it would be in their region, not the continental US. Using Iran and North Korea as reasons therefore perhaps does not justify the development of this type of missile defense system.
And the likelihood of such a type of attack from another nation is almost suicidal, because the US military would retaliate in full force.
In addition, defenses against an improbable ballistic missile attack against the United States provide no protection against more likely forms of attack, including cruise missiles and terrorist action. (Side NoteSince originally writing this page in 2000, on September 11, 2001, we saw the ghastly act of terrorism in the U.S. that destroyed the World Trade Center Twin Towers and damaged part of the Pentagon. The "weapons" used were "planes-turned-missiles". Afghanistan then facing bombardment for harboring the suspected perpetrators. See this site's section on the war on terror10 for more information on that.)
Recently, the U.S. has engaged with European friendly nations to discuss expanding the defense shield over them as well. However, there are additional fears that this would pull those nations into further dependency with the U.S. and increase security concerns for them at the same time, leading to more unpopular military expenditure.
It will actually work
The technological task is complex, and many tests have not really worked. It is also pointed out by many that a missile defense system could easily be overwhelmed by a large number of missiles and decoys.
Also, what would be the effect of intercepting a nuclear weapon in space and destroying it there? Could there still be a fall out, which may cover an even wider area of the planet?
(Since originally writing the above, more tests have occured, some successful, some not, but also with increasing requirements, such as for protecting small regions, national regions and so on. See this interview14 from the Center for Defense Information (CDI) for more details.)
See also this CDI series of tables15 that look at the results of missile defence system tests, and the issues associated with them.
International relations will be unaffected
International relations will be sorely affected (and already are).
- The ABM treaty has been abrogated by the United States. At the beginning of May 2001, U.S. President, George Bush announced a indication of withdrawal of support17 for the ABM treaty, saying it was an outdated Cold War relic. In December 2001, the U.S. officially withdrew. With the "war on terror" there has been less outspoken criticism of this as there had been before. As the previous link reports, "Today's most urgent threat, according to Bush, is from a small number of missiles in the hands of what Washington calls "rogue states."" Although George Bush may not have been able to predict the tragedy of September 11, 2001, just a few months later, it does highlight that the threats are likely to not be conventional military threats, but terrorism, which requires a different approach. Furthermore, what message does this abrogation send to other nations who are pressured to sign on to international agreements?
- According to the "talking points18" documents obtained exclusively by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, U.S. negotiators have sought to allay Russian fears about a possible U.S. national missile defense (NMD) system by ruling out any future reductions in strategic nuclear warheads below the 1,500-2,000 level and encouraging Russia to maintain its nuclear forces on constant alert.
- If the US creates a defense system, some fear that this will allow them to pursue their own globalization/national interests even more aggressively.
- Some also fear that this would be a precursor to space-based military developments.
- Other nations will have heightened fears for their own security and hence consider arms procurement. Ironically, this could be the reason that the US could eventually feel threatened. The US move would not then be a reaction to arms proliferation, it would be a cause of it.
- India and Pakistan for example have confirmed their nuclear capabilities and India, together with China and Russia have expressed their concerns at US aggression, often violating international law. Deployment of a US national missile defence system therefore risks drawing South Asia into an arms race20.
- The UK's then Conservative opposition party leader, William Hague has announced at the beginning of 2001 that he would support21 the US scheme and has urged the UK government to do so as well. This has already caused concern within UK political circles and across Europe. If the Labour government were to be supportive of this, it would put UK at odds with the rest of Europe. Already discussions at the end of 2002 about the U.S. installing parts of missile defense systems in UK and other European countries is causing concern that these countries could also become targets of terrorist attacks.
Instead of reducing security concerns, it is heightened. There are other, more peaceful ways to promote better security and cooperation between nations, as the following hints:
Costs will be acceptable
The U.S. has already spent $122 billion on missile defense from 1957 to 1999. The US non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the cost of almost $60 billion for a limited national missile defense system25, which has not yet been shown to be effective.
A report by the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, and Economists Allied for Arms Reduction finds that the missile defense system could cost $800 billion to $1.2 trillion26. This includes the cost to develop, deploy, operate and maintain the multi-tiered missile defense system envisioned by the Bush administration. Operation and maintenance costs of the system have not typically featured in previous government estimates:
There are other priorities regarding national security for the US that would also help avoid geopolitical implications of pursuing such a system. Diplomatic negotiations and treaties in nuclear non-proliferation has already proven more successful than deterrence in reducing nuclear weapons, and so spending so much money for such a defense system doesn't seem to make sense.
So why is development continuing?
Maintain military and economic superiority
One reason why development is still continuing given that the conditions that could warrant such deployment do not hold, is the fact that achieving some sort of missile defense superiority would allow the US to "expand" their interests to other nations more confidently.
Historically, powerful nations have had to find ways to maintain and enhance their military capabilities to back up their trade and economic objectives. Without this, they would not be able to promote their interests. While the rest of the world, compared to the US is relatively weak, militarily, various nations have shown that it is possible to achieve prosperity and economic development. If this were to continue, then the US's influence around the world could lessen and this would affect their economic superiority and way of life. As a result, being able to develop a missile defense system would allow them to expand further if needed and maintain superiority, knowing that they would have an upper hand (assuming that missile defence would actually work).
Military intervention has been used by the United States, and other imperial powers throughout history to ensure that economics, resources, trade etc remain in their favor.
For more about the relationship between trade, militarization and poverty etc, visit the following sections from this web site:
Another reason is the corporate interests. Four of the largest military contractors have a stake in this: Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon and TRW. They are all involved in creating some part of the missile defence system. It would be in their interest to continue this, as they would profit from the public funding.
As real risks of war diminish, arms corporations face less profits. Promoting such needs whereby they profit leads to a form of corporate welfare, and is also irresponsible due to the serious impacts of pursuing such policies. For more about this perspective, visit this web site's section on the arms trade31.
Hence, development continues
On September 1, 2000 President Clinton announced a deferral32 of the start of the construction due to technical problems. However, it by no means signified that development would be over.
In fact, as US President, George W. Bush, came into power, he indicated clearly that he is to continue the missile defence initiative as part of an overall adapting military strategy34.
U.S. Withdraws from the ABM Treaty, December 2001
On November 29, 2001, the United Nations General Assembley adopted a resolution (albeit non-binding) calling on Moscow and Washington to preserve and strengthen the ABM treaty. The resolution passed with 84 voted, 5 against (including the U.S.) and 62 absentions. (See the U.N. document at this link35.) While non-binding, it reflects a majority of international support for the ABM treaty.
However, just a couple of weeks later, towards the middle of December 2001, the U.S. officially abandoned the treaty, (and the treaty gives six months to take effect from withdrawal). There have been mixed reactions36 and some Western European leaders have also agreed that the ABM treaty was out-dated. However, with the new war on terrorism and Bush's threatening maxim of "you are either with us or against us" this apparent luke warm support from former critical countries is not too surprising.
As the previous link also highlights, around that time, while Putin may have in some respects been somewhat more receptive to the withdrawal because of the common fight against terrorism, Putin is very much at odds with many in the Russian elite. It is also feared to give China another excuse to pursue an arms build up that it wanted to pursue.
When combined with other actions37 of the Bush Administration, other countries and people find room for many criticisms.
Another concern about the withdrawal has been the unilateral39 decision to withdraw, by George Bush invoking the Powers of Executive Privilege. As the previous link points out, as well as Democrats and others concerned about this, so too have been some Republicans.
The Federation of American Scientists (founded by scientists who built the first atomic bomb in 1945) has been very vocal40 in its response to Bush's withdrawal, claiming that the "ABM Treaty withdrawal [is] an attack on American security".
For more information, you could start at the following:
- Center for Defense Information (CDI) resources:
- From Council for a Livable World:
- "Pushing the Limits: The Decision on National Missile Defense44" by Stephen Young, from the Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers has in-depth information and critique about the current missile defense system proposals.
- The Briefing Book on Ballistic Missile Defense45 from the council's Education Fund has extensive information.
- The "Countermeaures46" report from the Union of Concerned Scientists is a "technical evaluation of the operational effectiveness of the planned US National Missile Defense System." (The full report that the previous link points to is in PDF format. You can also read the executive summary here47.)
- Federation of American Scientists48 has a lot of information on military related issues. (The Federation was founded by scientists who built the first atomic bomb in 1945.)
- "Star Wars II; Here We Go Again49" by William Hartung and Michelle Ciarrocca, (The Nation Magazine, June 19, 2000), provides a detailed look at the issues, including corporate and political issues that are resulting in a conflict of interest in the pursuit of a national missile defense program. It also has a good set of links to further information towards the end, worth checking out as well.
- Foreign Policy in Focus has a section of Military in Focus50,
with numerous articles, some of which are related to the national missile defence program, including:
- Star Wars Revisited51, Volume 6, Number 25, June 2001, by Michelle Ciarrocca and William Hartung
- Star Wars Revisited: Still Dangerous, Costly, and Unworkable52 Volume 4, Number 24 September 1999 (revised April 2000), by Michelle Ciarrocca and William Hartung
- U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy at the End of the Century: Lost Opportunities and New Dangers53 Volume 4, Number 25 September 1999, by Daryl G. Kimball
- Norbert's Bookmarks web site has a lot of link to sources on National Missile Defence and Star Wars54
- International Perspectives on Ballistic Missile Defense55 from WagingPeace.org and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation provides a collection of articles on the subject.
- The Secret History of The ABM Treaty, 1969-197256, from the National Security Archive, Briefing Book No. 60, Edited by William Burr, November 8, 2001. This has declassified U.S. documents showing how the U.S. and USSR reached agreement on the ABM Treaty.
- Shield of Dreams57, Discover.com, Vol. 22 No. 11 (November 2001) has a look at the science and technology required to build an antiballistic system that would make the United States invulnerable to a missile attack.
- In Dark Times: First Strike "Missile Defenses" and The Rumsfeld Military Doctrine for the Asia-Pacific58, by Dr. Joseph Gerson, Korean Reconciliation and Reunification for Global Peace: The People's Agenda conference, Yonsei University, Seoul, South Korea, April 13-14. This discussion puts missile defence in the wider context of power and regional hegemonic goals of the United States.
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