January 22, 2001
Missile Defence: Good Politics,
CHARGE OF THE SMUG BRIGADE
a self satisfied cabinet
minister attacks the leader of the opposition for blundering
into affairs that are simply not his business, then one tends to
sympathise with the leader of the opposition, after all the whole
gamut of government is his business – by definition. When
the execrable Liberal Democrats accuse him of being "irresponsible"
you know that this is not through any capability for independent
thought but through the slavish use of the New Labour phrasebook.
But although these particular criticisms are motivated more by a
desire to stifle democratic debate, their conclusions are, accidentally,
correct – British participation in the "Son of Star Wars"
program is far more risk than reward and patently not in the British
leader of the opposition, William Hague's, speech
is his usual competent and well measured fare but it somehow jars.
The central point of the speech is that Britain should embrace the
son of star wars program and avail its bases to be used for these
purposes. Now there are many bad arguments that can be made against
this stance. The first is that we don’t know exactly what the Americans
are going to propose and exactly what they are going to ask of us.
This is a stupid complaint, as the speech is quite clearly a statement
of principle and not a detailed program of implementation and the
plea for delay (made by the defence secretary Geoff Hoon) is purely
to cover the divisions within the government.
other argument, that it will upset the balance of nuclear power,
is also wrong, if subtly so. Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)
was never a particularly attractive doctrine. Basically the idea
is that it is more moral to stop a nuclear attack through the threat
of decimating a few hundred million of the enemy’s citizens in a
nuclear holocaust than by some space launched intelligent rocks.
While from a moral viewpoint this is the wrong reaction it is also
wrong for practical reasons. Is it possible to suppress military
technology? The simple fact is that no matter what solemn treaties
are signed, or what the moral implications of the weaponry – if
it offers an advantage military technology will be used by
a party desperate enough for this advantage. Technological self-restraint
will not really work in the cutthroat world of international relations.
the couple of paragraphs above show, I have no real problem with
the United States pursuing the Star Wars research. It may be
impossible to stop a missile – but the history of invention
shows that there are few things that are dreamt up in the minds
of human beings that cannot be destroyed by other fertile minds.
Are there any examples of uncrackable codes, unbreakable safes,
unpickable locks or unforgettable notes? Moreover, are those examples
there because they are truly unbreakable or because they are relatively
new? Anyway if the science is essentially bad then it will fail
anyway, if it works then someone else will make use of it. Either
way stopping scientific research and application is not really something
that can be done even if we wanted to.
OPPOSE STAR WARS?
why oppose it? Well its not really opposing it, just saying that
it should be kept firmly over the pond. An intercepting nuclear
capacity will simply make us into a prime nuclear target without
the corresponding protection. The missile defence project is initially
meant to defend one country, America, it is by necessity going to
be a small scale set up at first only able to hold down the
odd few missiles from a "rogue state." Why do we, including
the leader of the opposition, imagine that it will cover more than
the United States for a long time? The nuclear umbrella, out of
necessity, is going to have remarkably little coverage outside 48
American States. This is not a statement of political isolationism
or distaste for the project, just one of technical limitations.
This is the real world, not Science Fiction. It is just not enough
for any scientifically advanced project to flick a switch and a
warm glow embraces the earth - blocking those nasty missiles from
blowing up the world.
DO YOU STAND, TONY?
Hague is an underrated politician, lets face it the man is no oil
painting and he has made some pretty silly gaffs, and this underestimation
tends to translate into surprising effectiveness at surprising times.
This speech may prove itself politically effective. Firstly, there
is the much-vaunted "special relationship" between Britain
and America. Under President Clinton Tony Blair could flaunt this,
and under non-President Gore he could equally be assured of special
access. President Bush may be different, as Hague bought Bush stocks
early, visiting him during Bush’s first term as Governor of Texas
(even if the Governor did forget Mr. Hague’s name, bless him). Now
Mr. Blair has to compete with a domestic rival for the smiles of
this President, knowing that he has lost the inner affection already.
Its not that Tony has many other places to turn for world adoration,
he is not popular in Europe even if Europe was popular in the country,
and most other countries regard him as an out of favour American
pet. With the election coming up and the all-important turn of world
statesman to perform, Mr. Blair may be limited to Sierra Leone and
the KLA (the governing party in Kosovo wants little to do with him).
Now Mr. Hague has
ratcheted up the pressure and said that he wants Britain to
help in this missile defence lark, Mr. Blair now has the American
spotlight turned on him.
left to his own devices Mr. Blair would have known exactly what
to do. He would have gone to President Bush and agreed to whatever
he said before it was even spoken. Now, unfortunately, it is different.
In the cabinet, Mr.
Blair is opposed by his heavy drinking foreign secretary Robin
Cook who has both the burden of his left wing past and his pro-European
present. His left wing past tells him that being involved with anything
so closely involved with America (especially with Republicans) is
going to be trouble in any future leadership contest. His pro-European
present says that this cooperation will drive a coach and four horses
through any European Defence Initiative. So there will be a battle
royale between Robin Cook and Tony Blair if Britain says yes to
Son of Star Wars, which may explain the prickliness of the government
when Hague mooted the plan.
makes good politics does not make good strategic sense. The common
theme of the participationists is that in the 1980s, Britain hosted
the cruise missiles; but this is not the same. The American "Missile
Shield" covered us from day one; the Cruise Missiles were near
enough a proven technology; and we had an enemy in the Soviet Union.
None of these three conditions applies today, but most especially
the third. We are heightening risks without the Cold-War rewards
that the stationing of Cruise brought. Mr. Hague, this is a step
FINAL NOTE: AIRSTRIP II
have started a web
log to supplement the Airstrip One column. It will act as a
combination of a letters page, a corrections column, a place for
short articles, diary, a book column, and anything else that pops
up. To be honest I don’t know what its going to be but I felt the
need to write in a way that is more in tune with the Internet, something
a weekly column does not do. For the time being, it is situated
(it will be moving to antiwar.com soon). Please pop by and
tell me what you think.
contribution of $50 or more will get you a copy of Ronald Radosh's
out-of-print classic study of the Old Right conservatives, Prophets
on the Right: Profiles of Conservative Critics of American Globalism.
Send contributions to
520 S. Murphy Avenue, #202
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
Contribute Via our Secure Server
Credit Card Donation Form
Have an e-gold account?
Contribute to Antiwar.com via e-gold.
Our account number is 130325
Contributions are now Tax-Deductible