The Ballistic Missile Defence Issue: SfP and NOOS

Background

Science for Peace members are certainly aware of the re-emergence of Reagan’s “Star-Wars” plans (Strategic Defense Initiative, SDI), and that this figures as a central policy initiative of the present U.S. Administration, under the name National Missile Defense (NMD). It is immediately obvious that if this development takes place, it poses a truly enormous threat to global survival, even in the short term, and means a complete reversal of the progress we had expected toward the abolition of the nuclear threat:

(i) It means the immediate abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic-Missile Treaty (ABM, between the USSR and the US, 1972), which explicitly prohibits nationwide missile defence. This ensures that these nations cannot with impunity launch a nuclear first strike, and thus provides the screen behind which the deterrent nuclear forces could safely be reduced simultaneously, and eventually eliminated – our prime hope. The strategic response to its abrogation is instead certain to be the increase and upgrading of the nuclear arsenals; indeed both Russia and China have announced that response. (Russia had begun dismantling, in conformity with the START II treaty; on the day of Bush’s inauguration Putin actually ordered this halted.) Thus the nuclear threat is now increasing once more (and perhaps especially the danger of accidental disaster in view of the sorry state of Russia’s military infrastructure) .

(ii) In turn this implies that the nuclear powers will continue to dishonour their solemn commitments under the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT, 1970, renewed 1995)Not only does this mean the renewal of the great-power nuclear race: the fear and resentment in other nations almost guarantees further horizontal proliferation of nuclear arms, bringing a frightening increase in the likelihood of destabilisation with horrifying consequences.

Meanwhile, it is impossible to make any sense of the public explanation offered by the U.S. Administration, even within a narrow defence purview:

a) The supposed threat from “rogue states” and “axes of evil” appears fanciful, whatever you may think of the policies of the fingered states. Not only are these states far from possessing either the missile or nuclear technology to offer such a threat, but they are of course perfectly aware of the likely consequence of any serious attack on the U.S. homeland: “deterrence” is still relevant.

b) NMD is directed solely against intercontinental ballistic missiles. But even supposing an insane death-wish governed a “rogue” state, there are much simpler, cheaper and more reliable methods of attack (as we saw last September). Thus, missiles are certainly not the delivery vehicle of choice for biological or chemical weapons, and a nuclear weapon could more easily be sent by rocket from offshore, concealed in a cargo container, carried in a small plane, etc. —- which NMD would do nothing to prevent.

c) The clincher seems to be that missile defence is in any case technically impossible, since the tracking methods can easily be thwarted by relatively simple means, e.g. cooling “shrouds”, “chaff” of fine wires, decoys, etc. This has been examined in detail by the Union of Concerned Scientists (see www.ucsusa.org/arms/CM_toc.html),

and there is no indication that the U.S. planners can see any way around these limitations. Indeed, they seem inherent to the possible tracking methods (basically radar and infrared detection).

In view of the fearsome dangers implied, and of the remarkable ineffectiveness NMD would provide as defence, there is a mystery worth attention: what can be driving the U.S. Administration’s push for missile defence?

Of course, there are always U.S. military-industrial motives: Lockheed and Raytheon and General Electric will be propped up once more, continuing a mad military version of Keynesianism. But in view of the hazards and the absurdity, this explanation is probably not sufficient this time. What’s up?

It turns out that the question has been answered in print, by the Pentagon itself, and that the answer is more horrifying than anything we’ve said above. The prime document is a mission statement for the U.S. Space Command, entitled “Vision 2020” (which sets a time scale for our concerns), and was published in 1997 (currently to be found at www.peterson.af.mil/usspacecom/private/about_space.htm, although it is occasionally relocated; a copy may be found at www.noos.ca).

It is very important actually to look at this document, which states bluntly that NMD is the essential first step in its planned mission. That plan sees outer space under the unilateral control of the U.S., filled with weapons able to maintain this control and also able to attack the earth below. These weapons would undoubtedly require nuclear power generators in space, which would be nuclear time-bombs. But certainly the most distressing aspect is the clear intention to impose U.S. hegemony throughout the globe, in real time: the imposition of worldwide imperialism, in short, enforceable instantly and with complete flexibility of the level of force to be employed. This is a vision completely inconsistent with our concepts of freedom and human dignity. Yet it seems to be official policy; indeed, Vision for 2020 has been followed up with more substantial documents fleshing out the plans in detail — see “Long Range Plan”, at the same web-site.

The stakes are enormous. Where does Canada stand? Unfortunately, our Government has failed to denounce these plans, has in fact been unwilling to commit itself in any definitive way about the NMD proposal. Meanwhile, there is considerable evidence that research is being carried out in Canada which is directed principally to technical features of the NMD proposal, not only in commercial settings but also in labs of the Department of National Defence!

Science for Peace Response

Science for Peace organised a public teach-in on NMD, which was held in Metro Hall in Toronto in the Fall of 2000. Among several excellent presentations, the chief speaker was Professor Karl Grossman from New York. His talk, and subsequent discussions with him, really opened our eyes to how serious was the issue raised by “Vision for 2020” and the U.S. intentions it reveals, and coloured our subsequent concern.

One expression of this was in an op-ed article in the Globe (Jan. 15, 2001), by John Valleau as a member of SfP, to which there was wide response. The article encouraged readers to visit the “Vision for 2020” website, and many did; it was perhaps coincidence that the Pentagon shut down the website a few days later, and subsequently moved the documents to a different site. At any rate, the DND (who had for some weeks been silent on an SfP request for a meeting with the Minister) contacted us to arrange that a delegation go to Ottawa. This delegation (Helmut Burkhardt, Phyllis Creighton, Paul Hamel, Carolyn Langdon, John Valleau) met the Minister on January 31 and explained our concerns; we felt that we received no substantial response from Mr. Eggleton.

With a view to widening the campaign, SfP held a round-table discussion of the NMD. As a result, a cooperative committee on the subject was set up, including representatives from Physicians for Global Survival, the Voice of Women, Homes Not Bombs, Mobilisation for Global Justice and others, and styling itself “Network of Opposition to Starwars” (or NOOS). A website, www.noos.ca , was created by Paul Hamel, containing information on NMD and U.S. intentions, and intended to provide shared resource material for campaigning. The principal activity that followed was a succession of appearances to speak on the subject. John Valleau has spoken at seven public events in Toronto, Hamilton, and Peterborough, several of them in company with Matthew Behrens of Homes Not Bombs, and two with Michelle Robidoux of International Socialists as well. The events of September 11 and their aftermath have meant a regrettable lapse in our work on the missile defence issue; it is time now to return to alerting our fellow-citizens. Meanwhile, the situation has worsened. Bush and Rumsfeld have claimed the attack on New York as justifying the NMD plans —- an opposite conclusion to that we drew from the terrorist attack. Furthermore, Bush took advantage of the situation to announce, almost unnoticed on December 13, the U.S. intention of withdrawing from its ABM undertakings. John Valleau will speak about NMD to the Toronto-Eglinton Rotary Club later this month, and Homes Not Bombs is currently arranging a public meeting in Guelph. Meanwhile, the NOOS committee has renewed its meetings, and work is going forward on a “lecture kit” including outlines and slides, etc., with a view to making it easy for several people to take part in a public education campaign reaching out to church or school or union groups. Barbara Birkett (of PGS) has been especially active in promoting this, and we are now also collaborating with the International Institute of Concern for Public Health (IICPH, founded by Rosalie Bertell) who were independently working on a similar project.

We encourage your participation, too. Come to a NOOS committee meeting: to find out when and where, phone 416-535-6605. We can use your help!

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