Missile defense poses questions beyond Lena Point

'Are we making the world a safer place if other nations can't trust that we won't use it?'

Posted: Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Juneau's government-based economy has never been dependent on national defense spending. The plans for Lena Point to be a site for a radar array that will aid in the testing of the Pentagon's anti-missile defense system may not change that. But it should deliver each of us a personal seating in the theater of national defense policy and worldwide weapons proliferation.

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The origins of missile defense systems go back to the middle years of the Cold War. A significant philosophical basis of these systems was to limit overall damage from a nuclear exchange. The underlying fear during the missile defense race between the United States and the Soviet Union was that the nation with the more credibly deployed system might be more inclined to initiate a first strike.

As missile defense advancement occurred, development of weapons to overcome them led to the multiple warhead missile capability, almost guaranteeing mutual destruction in the event of any nuclear attack. Both countries then recognized the need to limit both offensive and defensive nuclear weapon systems. The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty became one of the landmarks of nuclear arms limitations.

Two points here are essential in understanding our government's current actions. First, throughout history, the development of defensive military technology always has spurred innovation in offensive weaponry to overcome the enemy's defenses. But equally important is the historical posture of both countries that any nuclear exchange at all might be beneficial so long as damage at home could be minimized.

Since the ABM Treaty was signed, new research of anti-missile defense systems has always been offset by a strong national desire to commit to overall arms control. Then in May 2001, President George W. Bush called for the resizing of America's nuclear arsenal and moving away from the ABM Treaty. He claimed America's most urgent threats are "from a small number of missiles in the hands of states for whom terror and blackmail are a way of life."

The events on Sept. 11, 2001, cemented the new course. Even though missile defense wouldn't have stopped those attacks, arms control advocates set aside their opposition, and soon after Bush notified Russia of our intention to withdraw from the ABM Treaty.

The idea that we need a missile defense system to protect us against substantially weaker states ignores the historical counter response of weapons proliferation. At the same time, we are denying that America has been a major source of this problem.

Presently, the White House is proposing to sell India civilian nuclear technology even though it has refused to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Bush is proposing to sell $20 billion of advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia, including satellite-guided bombs. And at home he has initiated the Reliable Replacement Warhead Program that has reversed the decades-long ideology of nuclear weapons reduction. The hypocrisy is staggering.

Those who wish to believe that America has and will always hold the high moral ground only need to recall Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the only time in history nuclear weapons were ever unleashed on a civilian population. What made those horrendous attacks a strategically viable option wasn't just having the capability, but possessing it alone. President Harry Truman knew there could be no nuclear retaliation.

Albert Einstein is well remembered for his contributions to ushering us into the nuclear age. But we've failed to heed the genius that resided in his heart. "It is impossible to achieve peace as long as every single action is taken with a possible future conflict in view. ... The first problem is to do away with mutual fear and distrust."

American militarism today, and our weapon superiority, is aimed at evoking fear across the planet. But are we making the world a safer place if other nations can't trust that we won't use it?

What does this have to do with the Lena Point radar site? If objections are to be raised to this military use of our community, we need to look beyond the "not in our backyard" philosophy. As Americans we have a broader obligation, and it begins with the future world our children will inherit. Will it be a world driven by fear of future conflicts, or a new one where mutual trust rises out of an honest desire for world peace?

• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident.

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