Published on Saturday, May 19, 2001 in The Earth Times
Bush: Trying to Defend What is Indefensible
by Tom Wicker
U.S. envoys abroad, dispatched to sell allies and adversaries on the
Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld plan for missile defense, are not having much luck.
There was no sale, for instance, in Beijing, where Assistant Secretary
of State James Kelly was told bluntly that if the United States goes
ahead with the plan “China will not sit idly by and watch its national
interests suffer harm.”
Kelly and other roving salesmen have sought to depict the proposed missile defense as aimed only at “rogue states” like North Korea and Iraq, and posing no threat to anyone else. But the Chinese, like other nations that have been sounded out, weren’t buying. They believe the plan would cause a serious imbalance of international power and could lead to a renewed arms race. A general fear shared by the Chinese is that, behind a missile defense, the U. S. would feel itself less vulnerable and become more truculent in its tactics toward other nations. In Beijing, moreover, there is a specific -- and plausible -- fear of an arms race in Asia as a consequence of the missile defense plan.
Suppose, for instance, the Chinese chose to augment their small nuclear missile force in response, as they have said they might. In that event, neighboring India -- a new member of the missile club -- might well feel a heightened threat from China and build up its own nuclear forces, or accept a “theater defense” from Washington, or both. In turn, not only could that cause India’s prime rival, Pakistan, to increase its nuclear arms, but also, in the lethal game of leap-frog that an arms race inevitably becomes, might push China into an even greater buildup.
“When you invent a new spear,” a spokesman observed after Chinese officials met with Kelly, “of course you will invent a new shield. When you invent a new shield, you will invent new types of spear. It always goes on like that.”
Indeed it does. That was exactly the rationale that long ago led the U.S. (under President Nixon, scarcely a security softy) and the former Soviet Union to enter into the anti-ballistic missile treaty now being cast aside by Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld, even though it was instrumental in keeping the peace for decades.
Owing to that treaty, both the U.S. and the Soviets agreed not to build a national missile defense; if either had done so, its deployment would have pushed the other to increase its offensive nuclear forces to overcome the defense. Nor could either shelter behind a defense while launching a first strike against the other. The Cold War reliance of Moscow and Washington, therefore, was on deterrence -- if you attack me, I’ll destroy you.
Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld has declared deterrence out of date -- without explaining why Iraq or North Korea would decide to risk nuclear destruction by launching a missile or two at the U.S. Besides, a missile defense even strictly targeted against rogue nations might only result in what the historian Paul Kennedy has called “a Maginot Line in the sky.” Such a defence could easily be circumvented by rogues and terrorists -- by, say, a nuclear bomb or a chemical warfare weapon smuggled into New York or Norfolk or San Francisco in a suitcase. Similarly, Hitler’s Wehrmacht simply blitzed around France’s vaunted Maginot fortifications in World War II. And a missile defense, beginning at maybe $60 billion with the sky the limit, would cost far more than those outmoded tunnels that did France so little good.
All such objections, of course, are aside from the possibility -- actually, the probability -- that a missile defense won’t work. It never has in tests, and never has been tried in combat. No one has yet been able to design the computer software required to detect a warhead, or warheads, in a cloud of cheaply built, easily deployed decoys, then to aim a missile or a ray at the warheads rather than the decoys, and destroy the warheads far enough up, or out, not to endanger the earth below.
Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld, however, is plainly determined to go ahead with the defense scheme. The Secretary of Defense has even said that such a defense need not actually be workable in order to intimidate some nation that might merely believe it would work. That sounds suspiciously like “deterrence,” which is supposed to be outdated, and raises the question why we need to add a possibly unworkable but certainly expensive missile defense to deter rogue nations, when we already have a missile offense massive enough to deter anybody.
If in the face of so much international opposition, Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld push ahead with missile defense anyway, they will be guilty of another unilateral affront to others -- such as rejecting the Kyoto protocol, breaking out of the ABM treaty, or spurning peace efforts in the Korean peninsula -- that contributed to the international resentments behind the expulsion of the U.S. from the U. N. Human Rights Commission.
It’s true that some nations with dismal human rights records voted to expel the U.S. So did several American allies. Such hypocrisy may be legitimate cause for anger in this country; still, the expulsion could not have happened had other nations more nearly admired U.S. international conduct, as well as overlooked stubborn American insistence (alone among major nations) on capital punishment.
In his presidential campaign, Bush criticized overbearing American attitudes toward other nations and promised a more “humble” approach. So far, however, the actions of Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld in international affairs have seldom been humble, and the missile defense plan looks like another American decision to be forced down international throats. That would subvert the nation’s ability to lead and probably be a deterrent to its return to the Human Rights Commission.
It also would raise the question whether Bush thinks that words speak louder than actions -- that no matter what Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld does, what Bush says and what he claims is “in my heart” should instead be believed by the world.
Copyright © 2001 The Earth Times