The Bush Administration has always been infatuated with Star Wars, and now it wants to enlarge the missile defense program by using it in Europe. The May 22 New York Times reports that the United States is considering putting antimissile interceptors in Europe within the next five years to protect against any possible attack from Iran, with Poland and the Czech Republic prime contenders for the honor. The Bush Administration has already set up interceptors in Alaska and California to guard against North Korea after withdrawing from the ABM Treaty.
Never mind that right from the start, the project has never worked.
Frances Fitzgerald’s “Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars and the End of the Cold War” is a definitive account of the scheme and its origins in the fog of President Reagan’s brain. (His movies had something to do with it, as did a utopian notion of a world made safe from nuclear missile attacks.) Her summary of the first sixteen years of the program is revealing.
“Between 1983 and the fall of 1999 the U.S. had spent sixty billion dollars on anti-missile research, and though technical progress had been made in a number of areas, there was still no capable interceptor on the horizon,” she writes. “Common sense would, of course, suggest that if the national interceptor system could not reliably and consistently hit incoming warheads, it would not be deployed. Yet, as history has shown, big military programs are rarely canceled once Congress and the contractors are on board.”
In other words, a failed program has been kept alive due to its own bizarre momentum and due to the campaign contributions of military contractors.
The recent history of the project has been no more fruitful.
“Spending on missile defense projects has doubled during the Bush presidency, from $4.2 billion in 2000 to $8.8 billion now, with precious little to show for it,” William Hartung of the World Policy Institute stated in February. “The last three tests of the ground-based element of the system have failed miserably. In two tests the interceptor missile couldn't even get out of its silo.”
Besides, as Hartung points out, the system does nothing to protect the United States from the far more likely scenario of a terrorist organization or a nation attempting to smuggle in a weapon of mass destruction into the country by land or by sea.
In an analysis last year, Hartung exposed the network of lobbyists and think tanks—financed by the deep pockets of arms manufacturers—that helped keep Star Wars alive in the Clinton era, when the program seemed destined to be drastically scaled back. At that stage, Republican members of Congress set up a commission headed by none other than Donald Rumsfeld. The commission’s report hyped the danger from countries such as Iran and North Korea, forcing the Clinton Administration to expand the program. With George W. Bush’s election, the defense contractors got what they were looking for.
“As might be expected from the sharp increase in spending on the program during the Bush administration, total prime contract awards for missile defense work have increased sharply as well,” writes Hartung. “Contracts have more than doubled from $2.7 billion in fiscal year 2000, the last year of the Clinton administration, to over $6 billion in fiscal year 2004. The top four contractors—Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman—were the biggest beneficiaries of the increase in missile defense contract awards.”
But this doesn’t mean that the project has become more workable. The Center for Defense Information reveals that since the start of the year no less than seven government reports have faulted the program.
“The interceptor’s design requirements were unclear and sometimes incomplete, design changes were poorly controlled, and the interceptor’s design resulted in uncertain reliability and service life,” said one report. “The Missile Defense Agency had not completed a systems engineering plan or planned fully for system sustainment. Therefore, the Missile Defense Agency is at risk of not successfully developing an integrated ballistic missile defense system,” said another.
Not content to just deploy such an unworkable system within U.S. borders, however, the Bush Administration wants to bestow its largesse on the Poles, too. The one problem is that this gift may actually increase Poland’s insecurity. Russia is not amused, since it sees the move as a ploy to enlarge the U.S. military presence in the area.
“The development of an antimissile site in Poland would have a ‘negative impact on the whole Euro-Atlantic security system,’ Sergei Ivanov, the Russian defense minister, told a Belarus newspaper,” says the New York Times. “ ‘The choice of location for the deployment of those systems is dubious, to put it mildly.’ ”
Russia’s displeasure has led it to make some crude threats.
“Go ahead and build that shield,” said Gen. Yuri N. Baluyevsky, the chief of the Russian military's general staff. “You have to think, though, what will fall on your heads afterward. I do not foresee a nuclear conflict between Russia and the West. We do not have such plans. However, it is understandable that countries that are part of such a shield increase their risk.”
So not only is Poland getting a present that is of no use, but one that also stirs up tensions in the region. As for the Czech Republic, its officials don’t even want to publicly talk about the scheme and its possible deployment in their country.
In a surprisingly welcome move, the House Armed Services Committee recently curtailed some funding for missile defense, although the Senate failed to follow suit. It is high time for the entire program to be terminated—at home and abroad. After $92 billion in spending, the only concrete result of this harebrained scheme has been to further enrich the coffers of arms contractors.