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Star Wars Project II

Have Money, Will Deploy
By Louis Lingg

26 May 2000
I was at a dinner party once, when I met a physicist who had spent a decade working for Star Wars, the mad Reaganite project which shaped a generation of American scientists (and Soviet spies).

"How was it?" I asked the nerdy-looking, middle-aged professor. "Great", he replied. "I did lots of unclassified research for classified purposes, and the money was ludicrous". "Of course it didn't work, did it?" I grinned sarcastically. "Oh no", he replied without even blinking, "goodness no, it never could have. After all, that was not the point. The point was to get the Soviets to increase their military budget, and thus cause their economy to collapse under the strain. In that sense, the project worked very well indeed!".

In other words, Star Wars may not have worked in technical terms, but it certainly worked in financial terms and, ultimately, in terms of national security. It turned out my dinner party acquaintance believed himself to be a cold warrior, an unseen hero who fought along the muddy trenches of campus university physics research, ultimately fatally stabbing the great Russian bear right in the back. So I left him sipping his champagne and discreetly slipped away in search of less bigoted company.

There was one thing he was right about, though: there is, indeed, no way that Star Wars I, II, III, or XXIII for that matter, could ever work in practice. In fact, this issue is hardly controversial amongst American physicists, ballistic and nuclear experts. One of them is Theodore Postol, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and former scientific adviser to the Pentagon's chief of naval operations under Reagan, from 1982 to 1984. According to his tests, Star Wars anti-missile interceptors "will be defeated by the simplest of balloon decoys" (1). David Right, his colleague at MIT, and a researcher at the Union of Concerned Scientists, characteristically says that "[t]he key problem is that the defence has to work against an enemy who is trying to foil the system. What's worse, the attacker can do so with technology much simpler than the technology needed for the defence system. This inherent asymmetry means the attacker has the advantage despite the technological edge the United States has over a potential attacker such as North Korea" (2).

And there are others who have voiced their strong concerns about the feasibility of the project, this time from the defence community: a few days ago, three eminent Pentagon officials, Harold Brown (Jimmy Carter's defence secretary), John Deutch and John White (both former deputy defence secretaries under Clinton) urged the government to abandon the Star Wars II project, as it will prove to be expensive and unworkable (3). Other analysts have described the project as "running at least a decade behind emerging strategic and battlefield realities" (4).

Gradually, it has been emerging that the project is not only unfeasible, but also dangerous. According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, elements of the United States intelligence community are compiling a classified report —at least it was classified until it leaked out to the press. In it they warn the White House that the creation of Star Wars II could potentially cause a destabilisation wave around the globe and fatally harm US relations with key European allied nations (5).

This "destabilisation wave" has mainly to do with how the Russians, Chinese and other nuclear powers view a possible implementation of Star Wars II. It is true that, in a manner stemming from the darkest days of the Cold War, the latter are not always clear as to their reactions to such developments. Yet, in this case, both the Russians and the Chinese have left little room for doubt. On May 16th, Russian Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev remarked without hesitation, during a meeting in Moscow, that "the decision the U.S. President plans to make this summer, on starting ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] deployment, could prove to be a turning point in the development of the military strategic situation in the Asian Pacific and the whole world" (6).

Equally clear was Yevgeny V. Afanasiev, Russia's Ambassador to South Korea —possibly the next nation to break into the echelons of nuclear missile powers: "if the United States makes the decision on the deployment of the national anti-missile system, it will largely affect stability all over the world and in Northeast Asia in particular. It will all end up in a new spiral of the arms race" (7).

Along the same lines followed the Chinese reaction —isn't it nice that Star Wars II further strengthens the forming Sino-Russian pact?— from the lips of Sha Zukang, the country's most senior arms negotiator. He warned that, following the implementation of Star Wars II, China would be forced to deploy more warheads, in an effort to de-neutralise its nuclear arsenal and overcome the American missile shield (8).

But perhaps the most critical comments have come from Pakistan, a nation that has been the stage of desperate attempts by the US-assisted military to restrain Muslim fundamentalists from staging a coup, and thus gaining access to the nation's nuclear arsenal. On 22 May, the Pakistani newspaper The Dawn, published an editorial, which claimed that "the latest anti-missile shield which is being tested [in the US] could, if deployed, have a spread effect on China, India and Pakistan", as the latter tried "new techniques to restore the strategic nuclear stability" (9). Sure enough, a day later, Reuters reported that senior US intelligence officials disclosed "on conditions of anonymity" that Pakistan appears to be making preparations for further nuclear tests (10).

Now, let's come back to the US. According to Gordon Clark, executive director of Peace Action, "considering the U.S. has spent $122 billion over the past 30 years on Star Wars programs with zero results, new money thrown at this proven boondoggle defies all common sense" (11). Indeed, none of this makes sense. The outcome of a possible implementation of Star Wars II is all too predictable. It's going to cost hundreds of billions of dollars in the long run, it won't work and it will spark new rounds of nuclear proliferation of unimaginable proportions across the planet. Yet, it should be kept in mind that most of military projects make no sense whatsoever. In the words of the L.A. Times' columnist Robert Sheer, if our standard was "only to fund weapons systems that can fulfill a useful purpose, then we would eliminate 90% of the military procurement industry" (of course, the logical outcome of this syllogism is eliminating 100% of the industry, but don't expect that much from the L.A. Times…).

There is little use in trying to talk sense to Pentagon officials who literally live on nuclear fuel. After all, these are the people who recently published a report claiming that a reduction in the nation's nuclear arsenal to "just" (!) 2,000 warheads would have a severe impact on national security (12). As we all know, of course, this number of warheads would only allow us to destroy the solar system 65 times, instead of the 187 times that our present nuclear arsenal of approximately 6,000 warheads allows us to do. Incidentally, that's 6,000 nuclear warheads ready to be deployed, at a time when the only somewhat threatening communist country, China, boasts a immense nuclear arsenal of, er, 20 liquid-fired missiles.

Rather predictably, the future is bleak. If Star Wars II is not to be implemented, that will be not due to popular or diplomatic pressure, but due to monetary constraints. And we all know how likely this is to happen. The American economy has never been stronger and the nation has never been richer in its history. All Star Wars II needs is money, lots of money, and deranged megalomaniacs that wish to leave their mark on history, in one way or another. And, unfortunately, the United States has both.

© The News Insider 2000

Louis Lingg is a News Insider analyst.

(1) The Guardian (2000) Former Pentagon Official Says 'Son of Star Wars' Won't Work, London, 19 May.

(2) D. Wright & T. Postol (2000) Missile Defence System Won't Work, The Boston Globe, 11 May.

(3) R. Suro (2000) Ex-Pentagon Officials Blast Clinton's 'Star Wars' Program, The Washington Post, 17 May.

(4) (2000) National Missile Defences: Fighting the Last War, 24 January.

(5) L.A. Times (2000) US Missile Defence Plan 'Poses Global Threat', 19 May 2000.

(6) 7AM News Freewire (2000) Russia Warns Against Asian Pacific Anti-Missile Defence System, 16 May.

(7) L. Soo-Jeong (2000) US Anti-Missile Program to Threaten Security in N.E. Asia: Russian Ambassador, The Korea Times, 24 May.

(8) J. Leicester (2000) US Missile Shield May Force China to Deploy More Warheads, Official Says, Associated Press, 11 May.

(9) Editorial (2000) Another Arms Race In the Offing?, The Dawn, 22 May.

(10) T. Zakaria (2000) US Sees Signs Pakistan Preparing Nuke Test, Reuters, Washington, 23 May.

(11) Common Dreams Newswire (2000) Paid Media Campaign Against Star Wars Begins, 19 May.

(12) 7AM News Freewire (2000) Pentagon Assessing Cut in Nuclear Arsenal, 11 May.

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