America needs courageous leaders, not missile defense

Posted: Thursday, April 09, 2009

Alaska's congressional delegation reacted to the North Korean missile launch with bipartisan fervor to protect our citizens. Rep. Don Young warned that Alaska "would be on the front lines should North Korea send anything our way." But is it fear of a North Korean attack or the loss of federal money that they're really worried about?

Just a few weeks ago, Senator Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent a warning shot across the fiscal brow of Fort Greely's missile defense acquisition future. Speaking at the seventh annual Missile Defense Conference, he implied that continued missile production for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system is unacceptable because, according to a recent Government Accounting Office report, "none of the six critical technologies are mature."

Levin has had Sens. Murkowski and Begich on the fiscal defensive regarding Fort Greely's GDM system. Budget cuts are coming, and from a national perspective, they appear well justified. Is the North Korea incident this past weekend an opportunity for them to cry wolf?

How is it possible that the sole survivor of the Cold War can be reduced to fear-driven policies that would accelerate building a missile defense system? During the four decade-long Cold war, America faced a vastly more powerful adversary. The USSR was armed with thousands of missiles and nuclear warheads capable of reaching the nation's heartland. The Soviets knew we lacked such defenses then. But they also never launched that dreaded first strike.

To believe that our nuclear arsenal is not a sufficient deterrent against North Korea is absolute nonsense. If they launched a missile against America, they can expect we'd respond with greater power and accuracy, and possibly with the reluctant approval of the rest of the world. They have more to fear.

It's entirely plausible that Kim Jong Il's regime believes they need a nuclear weapon to serve as a deterrent against the nation that declared them to be part of an axis of evil that included Iraq and Iran. They know America invaded Iraq without provocation. But as we try to imagine if their fear is real, shouldn't we also wonder what it's like to be a bitter enemy of the one nation that's crossed the threshold between testing and using a nuclear weapon?

The patriotic reading of our national history doesn't question President Harry Truman's decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He supposedly acted to save the lives of thousands of American soldiers preparing to land on the shores of Japan.

But clinging to this historical narrative places us on the moral high ground that mistakenly projects the devil's image of North Korea and Iran, just as it did with the Russians. We immediately conclude that if we could justify using nuclear weapons, our enemies are even less capable of exhibiting restraint and thus would be willing to initiate a nuclear exchange.

The Cold War was a nuclear arms race promoted by mutual fear and distrust. There was no effort at genuine diplomacy to either explain our fears or understand the Russian point of view. But were their fears more real not only because of their history of being invaded by westerners, but because we vaporized two Japanese cities?

These are valid questions worth exploring, but first we have to lose our blind allegiance to the moral superiority we are forever using to project inferiorities on other people. It's time to examine America's nuclear history with an open mind and seriously question the bellicose posturing of our nation's leaders. By refusing to acknowledge our role in creating a world threatened by nuclear disaster, we give other people cause to fear we'd be the ones to strike first.

If we sincerely want to end the threat of nuclear attack, we'll have to first end the proliferation of nuclear weapons around the globe. To get there we must display intelligent leadership and genuine goodwill by reducing and eventually eliminating our nuclear arsenal.

Two years ago, George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn issued a new call to create a world without nuclear weapons. We need our congressional delegation take this courageous stand instead of promoting fear.

• Richard Moniak lives in Juneau.



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