Missiles R Us takes on the world
The US is going global with its 'son of star wars' programme
Thursday November 21, 2002
Obscured by the Iraq crisis, Bush administration plans to deploy a full
range of advanced defensive missile systems around the globe are rapidly
gathering pace. Speaking in London this week, John Bolton, George Bush's
point man on international security, said "son of star wars" programmes -
initially conceived as national missile defence (NMD) for the US mainland
alone - would go ahead "as soon as possible" to "protect the US, our
deployed forces, as well as friends and allies against the growing missile
Britain's likely involvement was highlighted yesterday by a visit to the
early-warning station at Fylingdales, North Yorkshire, by US general Ronald
Kadish, the man in charge of testing and development. The US has yet to
request British facilities. But last week the defence secretary, Geoff Hoon,
effectively said "yes" in advance.
After initial mishaps, prototype development is moving ahead. The US Missile
Defence Agency's latest "mid-course interceptor flight test" is due next
month, now entirely free of the constraints of the US-abrogated
anti-ballistic missile treaty. Today's Nato summit in Prague is expected to
order feasibility studies for "protecting alliance territory and population
centres against a full range of missile threats".
In short, having initially proposed a "home alone" anti-missile system, the
US is now trying, with apparent success, to sell the idea (and spread the
cost) of a wide variety of interlinked theatre and longer-range missile
defences for all. Washington's "Missiles R Us" pitch, enthusiastically
backed by its defence manufacturers, will include non-Nato states such as
Russia and Israel and maybe the likes of India and Taiwan, with all the
security implications that entails.
All the questions raised by the initial NMD proposal apply with greater
force now. It is still unclear whether strategic interceptor missiles will
work. Countries such as China, despite what Bolton says, will try to develop
new counter-weaponry. Missile defence is useless against the most prevalent
forms of terrorism. The cost to participating states such as Britain may run
into billions - but nobody yet has a clear idea what they may be signing up
Most important by far are questions about the potency of the threat the
systems are designed to obviate. The US has a list of "rogue" states it says
might attack. But US threat assessments are not universally shared. Iraq is
hardly in a position to attack anybody at present. Iran, which denies
developing nuclear weapons, is as frightened of the US as everybody else.
North Korea's recent nuclear mea culpa was more cry for help than battle
Bearing in mind stated US willingness to attack, or otherwise intimidate and
isolate, countries it links to terrorism and WMD activity, it is entirely
possible that the US will soon run out of "rogue states". Where will its
missiles point then? At Cuba perhaps? There's deja vu for you.
But there is a more fundamental objection to this unhealthy US missile
obsession. It undermines non-military initiatives to curb the overall
problem of WMD-terrorism threats. While Bolton says that the US will spend
up to $1bn this year on counter-proliferation, $7.4bn will go to missile
defence. And that is just the beginning.
Like Britain, the US backed last summer's G8 10-year "global partnership"
plan for cooperative threat reduction. But as Sam Nunn, the former US
senator and proliferation expert, points out, more urgent action is needed
to win the current "race between cooperation and catastrophe".
With senator Richard Lugar, Nunn launched a successful initiative 10 years
ago to fund and oversee safe disposal of Russia's redundant strategic
nuclear arsenal and prevent terrorists obtaining its weapons. He now
proposes that this approach be expanded to cover all WMD-related capability
and extended worldwide.
A global watchdog system should be created, Nunn says. He focuses
specifically on securing fissile material and tactical nuclear weapons, safe
disposal or storage of biological and chemical weapons materials, higher
international standards, increased funding and a robust global inspection
system under the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency. Every government,
Nunn urges, should appoint a "very senior official" responsible for these
top priority programmes to combat "catastrophic terrorism".
It is a bold, ambitious project. But as Nunn and Lugar say, it is
desperately needed and, with determination and goodwill, is entirely doable.
It is also an infinitely better use of money and resources than the reckless
proliferation of missile defences.
Hawking such systems around the planet may serve US geopolitical and
commercial interests but will not banish the 21st century's Brechtian
nightmare - the resistible, Arturo Ui-style rise of the spectre of mass