Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Weapon that Doesn’t Work for a Threat that Doesn’t Exist

Complex 2030: The Costs and Consequences of the Plan to Build a New Generation of Nuclear Weapons, a World Policy Special Report by William D. Hartung and Frida Berrigan, April 2007 (PDF)
April 25, 2007

Anti-Missile Missiles in Europe

By William D. Hartung

As Sen. Jess Trussme (a mythical political leader played by our good friend Ira Shorr) is wont to say, the beauty of missile defense is that it is “a weapon that doesn’t work for a threat that doesn’t exist.” This is doubly true for the Bush administration’s plan to put missile interceptors in Poland and anti-missile radars in the Czech Republic.By optimistic projections, the system would cost $3.5 billion and would be ready to go by 2013. U.S. officials involved with the project argue that this is early enough to deal with the highly touted Iranian threat, since they believe that Tehran will not be able to develop a nuclear weapon and mount it on a ballistic missile until at least 2015. If this is so, there is much more time available to negotiate a cap on Iran’s nuclear program than Bush administration officials have officially acknowledged. Negotiations would not only be more effective, but they wouldn’t waste billions of dollars that could be used for far better purposes.

And what kind of system would exist by 2013, if - in a first for the missile defense program - it was actually developed on schedule? Most likely one that is no more effective than current missile interceptors, which have given no evidence that they can stop an incoming warhead under realistic conditions.

If the proposed system only wasted money, that would be outrageous enough. But it is also provoking a three-way political crisis among Europe, Russia, and the United States. One common objection has been raised by Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn of Luxembourg: “We don’t want to be a political football between Russia and the United States. We want the United States, Russia, and Europe to play together in a common defence project.” (Kristin Roberts, “Russian Official Dismisses U.S. Shield Cooperation,” Reuters, April 24, 2007).

While the Czech and Polish governments seem to be prepared to go along with the U.S. plans, nobody has asked the Czech and Polish people. A full 57% of Czechs oppose having U.S. anti-missile radars on their soil, versus 25% in favor. In Poland, the numbers are 68% against U.S. missile interceptors, versus 26% in favor.

As for the Russians, they are having none of US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ arguments that they can “share” the project with Washington. From Moscow’s perspective, a system of ten missiles now could be expanded in the future in an effort to blunt their nuclear deterrent vis-à-vis the United States.

Given the obscene nuclear overkill possessed by both countries, the threat of US missile defenses may not be all it is cracked up to be.
But Russian leaders see it in the context of other provocative moves by the United States, from expanding NATO right up to their borders, to building military relationships with former Soviet Republics (and bordering states) from the Ukraine to Georgia to Kazakhstan, to seeking military bases in Rumania and Bulgaria. As the Washington Post put it, “it’s hard to think of a better way to revive the Cold War” than getting the U.S. and Russia into a tangle over the administration’s proposed missile deployments in Europe (”Missile Fantasies,” Washington Post, February 25, 2007).

The real danger of the whole missile defense effort is that it serves as a rationale for maintaining large, ongoing nuclear arsenals. As long as the illusion of a “technical fix” to the nuclear threat is kept alive, the urgency for reducing nuclear stockpiles is diminished.

Combined with the Bush administration’s “Complex 2030″ plan, which calls for building a new generation of nuclear weapons, missile defense represents a threat to peace, and ultimately a threat to all human life. The truth is that the only way to be truly safe from nuclear weapons is to get rid of them - all of them. This is no easy task, but if the U.S. government expended a small portion of the energy it is throwing into its misguided missile defense program into promoting nuclear disarmament, substantial progress could be made in relatively short order.

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