In this fast-paced world, how does the hip, up-to-date person react to the possibility of nuclear mayhem?
If your answer is to try to avoid it, give your head a shake. You may have fallen into the trap of "Cold War thinking" an embarrassing state that suggests you're not up to speed on hot new thoughts about the upside of nuclear war.
Liberal MP David Pratt, chair of the Commons defense committee, brushed aside questions last week from CBC Radio host Mary Lou Finlay about concerns that the Bush administration's new missile defense program would undermine decades of nuclear disarmament and set off a new arms race. That's just "Cold War thinking," scoffed Pratt. "We have to adapt to the new strategic environment."
Expect to hear more of this sort of nuclear pep-talk as the debate heats up over whether Canada should join the U.S. program, which many argue could lead to weapons in space.
Until running into flak from the Liberal caucus last week, the Chrιtien government had appeared ready to sign us up for the program, perhaps under some delusion that Canadians were upset we'd been shut out of the inner club of invitees to Bush's Texas ranch. (Paul Martin had already promised to climb aboard the Star Wars spaceship, obviously angling for a corner room with a hot tub at the ranch.)
Of course, Pratt and other supporters like to portray the U.S. missile program as purely defensive. "(We're) not talking about retaliation we're talking about self-protection," Colin Kenny, chair of the Canadian Senate's national security committee, argued last week.
While the word "defense" is kept front and center, the missile program fits well into the Bush administration's plans for pre-emptive military strikes and its larger plan spelled out last September in its National Security Strategy for the United States of America to rule the world through sheer military might.
Ernie Regehr, director of Project Ploughshares, a Church-affiliated Canadian disarmament organization, explains that future U.S. plans to attack "rogue" states will require forward deployment of American forces. The missile defense system if it could ever be made to work would be part of a strategy to protect those forces from short- and medium-range ballistic missiles.
In other words, the missile defense scheme could help make it possible for Washington to aggressively strike, including with nuclear weapons, what it considers to be rogue states.
So, having sat out the more conventional war against Iraq, Canada would now be getting in on the ground floor of more ambitious U.S. plans to take out "rogue" states with nuclear power.
Washington prefers to characterize its plans as defensive, just as it characterized its war against Iraq as defensive (self-protection against weapons of mass destruction). In that sense, its plans to rule the world are also "defensive"; if only countries would stop resisting U.S. rule, there'd be no need to bomb them into submission.
The new missile program is part of a dream long nurtured in far-right Republican circles the dream of fighting and winning a nuclear war. But this has always been a tough sell with the public.
When today's war hawks were just getting their sea legs in the Reagan years, much effort was devoted to convincing the public that, once Americans got the hang of digging underground shelters, nuclear war would be while a little rough at least survivable.
"If there are enough shovels to go around, everybody's going to make it," was the upbeat way Thomas K. Jones, deputy undersecretary of defense in the Reagan administration, explained it to Los Angeles Times reporter Robert Scheer in 1981.
The dream of a winnable nuclear war never really disappeared. But in the last two decades, its advocates have been reluctant to talk much about it except within the cloisters of dozens of Washington think tanks where, like monasteries preserving culture in the Dark Ages, the dream was kept alive.
All that shyness changed with 9/11. Suddenly, it was all right to talk openly, not just about torturing terrorist suspects, but about waging nuclear war.
Oddly enough, though, many people around the world get their backs up when they hear this kind of talk coming from America.
So one can understand why those in Washington would love to give their missile program a friendly, peaceful look, and what better way to do so than by enlisting the support of countries with peaceful, law-abiding reputations.
Canada, for instance. Irritating little country all those peacekeeping missions, that land mine treaty, public health care ... yuck! but, what the hell, just perfect for something like this.
Linda McQuaig is a Toronto-based author and political commentator. Her column appears every Sunday.
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