George Monbiot has a piece in the Guardian
this week ("The
US missile defense system is the magic pudding that will never run out")
explaining the financial motivations behind the US policy of promoting missile
defense systems. His observations are fine, so far as they go, although they
are limited by his own prejudices.
But enhancing strategic missile defense is more than just an endless barrel
of pork. It is also a profoundly destabilizing policy that is essentially strategically
aggressive. To understand how enhancing a "defense" capability can be an aggressive
strategy, it is necessary to comprehend the Cold War issue of mutually assured
destruction that most people under the age of 30 have probably had little cause
The hard reality of mutually assured destruction was probably the reason the
USSR and USA did not initiate a nuclear third world war that would have destroyed
the world. After a certain point, it became clear that both sides had such substantial
arsenals of nuclear weapons that both would certainly be destroyed utterly (probably
along with human civilization in toto) by any full exchange. What is
crucial here is that this was feared to be the case even if one side succeeded
in getting a jump on the other, and launched its missiles before the other side
was ready. In other words, each side was thought to have the capability to substantially
destroy the other, even with whatever was left to it after a successful nuclear
strike upon it by the other (this latter, reduced capability was termed "second
Immense thought was given to ways to maintain stability in this situation,
for obvious reasons – these were not neocon dilettantes, but men and women who
really believed their lives and those of their families depended upon devising
successful strategies to control the risk of nuclear destruction. Among the
outcomes was an agreement known as the ABM
Treaty, which was intended to tightly limit the development of missile defenses
in order to promote stability. This counterintuitive approach was based upon
two key publicly recognized insights, and one unmentioned reality.
First, missile defenses promote inflation of nuclear arsenals by causing the
enemy to increase the size and sophistication of its nuclear weapons in order
to overcome the defenses. One of the best ways to beat a missile defense system
is to flood it with targets and thereby swamp its targeting mechanisms. Apart
from the inherent undesirability of a nuclear arms race, such activity also
destabilizes attempts to counter nuclear proliferation. Some might be surprised
to learn (in the light of subsequent inaction on this count) that the key basis
for the global agreement constraining nuclear proliferation (NPT)
was a promise (dishonestly made and not surprisingly ignored subsequently) by
the nuclear weapons states to work towards reduction of their own nuclear arsenals.
Second, missile defenses make nuclear war more likely, not less. They do so
by undermining the iron reality of mutually assured destruction. Despite the
practical ineffectiveness of missile defense systems so far (as highlighted
by Monbiot in the above article), the existence of such systems gives politicians
and military leaders the possibility of thinking they might survive a nuclear
war. In particular, since missile defenses would be much more effective against
a reduced second strike than against the full first strike capability of a superpower,
the possession of a missile defense system encourages decision-makers to think
that they could "win" by launching a surprise first strike. Nobody who has observed
recent events or followed the paranoid and aggressive pronouncements of the
US regime and elite should be in any doubt that the US is more than capable
of launching such a first strike in the guise of "preemptive" defense.
The third, unmentioned reality that explains why mutually assured destruction
kept the peace throughout the latter years of the Cold War is the unprecedented
situation it created whereby the decision-makers on war and peace actually themselves,
personally (and their families), had to face the consequences of the wrong decision.
In this situation, suddenly the usual testosterone surges and jingoist urges
that in previous eras had sufficed to cause national leaders to sacrifice other
people in their millions doubtless seemed less overwhelming. Anything, therefore,
that undermines mutually assured destruction strikes at one of the core reasons
for the successful avoidance of global war.
All these realities remain as true as they ever were, but in the climate of
the post-Soviet period, the worst consequences of US abrogation
of the ABM treaty were not immediately felt. Russia was in no condition
to compete with the US, and indeed was probably quite ready to concede broad
US global leadership, if the US had chosen to treat Russia with respect in turn.
In these circumstances, a nuclear arms race was not forthcoming, and there was
no real threat of a war between the US and Russia. Although the Russians pointed
out the well known problems of missile defenses (see for instance Foreign
Affairs, September/October 2000: "The Missile-Defense Mistake: Undermining Strategic
Stability and the ABM Treaty" by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov),
their objections were brushed aside.
Things have now changed, however. The US proved unable to simply be the most
powerful state in the world without rubbing the rest of the world's collective
noses in the situation at every opportunity. A universalist ideology of globalist
democratization, combined with American exceptionalism and Israeli nationalist
domination of US politics, produced endless interference in other countries'
affairs and an open pursuit of "full
spectrum dominance." In the case of Russia, the US seemed to go out
of its way to humiliate and antagonize its former rival. On missile defense,
Kosovo, NATO expansion and the flouting of the UN Security Council over Iraq,
the Russians were insulted time and again, and US and allied military encroachment
on Russia became ever more menacing. ("Menacing" is, of course, a matter of
perspective. The fact that Americans and their apologists and allies don't see
that their own actions could be construed as such merely reflects their own
limited capacity to see from other perspectives).
With the Georgia fighting and the US response, we now see, for the first time
since Gorbachev, the real possibility of a direct strategic confrontation between
the US and Russia, over issues that are "red lines" for Russia. While the Georgia
issue will rumble on and provide pretexts for US and allied action against Russia,
it is over the Ukraine that a real dispute is likely to arise.
With this return to the Cold War situation of a direct confrontation between
two states with substantial nuclear arsenals, the old unassailable logic of
mutually assured destruction and missile defense reasserts itself. In this context,
the introduction of US missile defenses to Poland and possibly even Ukraine
can be seen for the foolishly provocative acts of aggression they really are.
As outlined above, these developments create the potential for a US first strike
that Russia simply cannot afford to ignore, in the hands of a state that has
launched wars of aggression in Yugoslavia and Iraq, threatens one against Iran,
has interfered in the politics of numerous countries through "color revolutions,"
and propagandizes against the Russian "threat." In order to deter a US preemptive
strike, Russia will feel the need to reinvigorate its military generally, but
in response to the installation of US missile defenses, technological enhancement
and numerical increases to Russia's nuclear weapons manifest will be vital.
Given the nature of the US regime (and of the hierarchies of both US political
parties of power), there is little prospect now of avoiding a drawn out (if
we are lucky!) confrontation. Anyone who wishes to understand the underlying
truths of the situation, though, must begin with a proper understanding of the
strategic missile defense issue, and not the
kind of superficial or even outright mendacious propaganda nonsense that passes
for "analysis" in our complicit media.
First hashed out on the Boondocks.org