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Missiles R Us takes on the world

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  • Adam Whaley
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,844188,00.html Missiles R Us takes on the world The US is going global with its son of star wars programme
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 21, 2002
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      http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,844188,00.html

      Missiles R Us takes on the world

      The US is going global with its 'son of star wars' programme

      Simon Tisdall
      Thursday November 21, 2002
      The Guardian

      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
      threat".

      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
      for.

      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
      cry.

      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
      annihilation.

      s.tisdall@...
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