Empire editorial: Missile defense needs to be addressed on national, not local, level

Posted: Thursday, October 11, 2007

Who could have thought that tiny "isolated" Juneau would ever be caught up in the web of missile defense?

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Most Juneau residents probably relegated missile defense, or "Star Wars," to the Cold War relic heap along with the concepts of deterrents, containment and mutually assured destruction. But the issue of building a missile defense shield has resurfaced in this age of "Rogue States" and the "War on Terror."

This summer, Juneau found itself involved when the U.S. Missile Defense Agency decided to temporarily locate a powerful radar array at the Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute at Lena Point, about 17 miles north of downtown.

Although the array will only be used to track missiles during an upcoming series of tests over the Pacific Ocean, the agency's decision quickly became a lightning rod for those opposed to missile defense in any form.

One critic even suggested that the radar array might be part of a directed-energy weapons program and claimed the Missile Defense Agency was deliberately keeping Juneau residents in the dark about its operations.

But according to an agency official, the radar has no weapons capability. The agency also conducted a couple of informational meetings in August and September to address concerns from residents in the Lena Point area, as well as the public at large.

At last month's meeting, at least one concerned citizen denounced the radar as useless and called an agency official a "spokesman for the military-industrial complex."

There also was grumbling that perhaps the city should hold a hearing on the radar array.

Getting the Juneau Assembly involved in what is a national defense policy issue would be a wasted effort for everyone involved. The array will be housed on federal land, and any resolution denouncing the radar or missile defense system would be only empty rhetoric.

If activists want to effect real change on this issue, they need to either change the minds of Alaska's delegation to Congress, which solidly backs missile defense, or the activists should vote them out. Another option is to elect a president who doesn't support missile defense.

It's legitimate to question the need for a missile shield, and the American people should know if their money is being spent wisely.

Another activist at September's meeting questioned the government's claims of success. That too is a legitimate question, but it's not an argument against this radar array, which will be used to test the agency's anti-missile missile.

We should have a debate on missile defense during this upcoming national election cycle, but let's not get the Juneau Assembly involved.

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