Missile shield would put U.S. back in Cold War
June 26, 2001
George W. Bush was stunned last month when his staff informed him at a briefing that the United States possessed a large nuclear arsenal. "I had no idea we had so many weapons," he was quoted as saying in Newsweek. "What do we need them for?"
Many skeptics have been asking that same question since the Cold War. Some still recall the promise of a peace dividend that the American public should have received when the Soviet Union and its bloc imploded. Instead, military spending proceeded apace.
Even without a supposed super enemy, our arsenal includes some 20,000 nuclear weapons -- warheads on intercontinental ballistic missiles on land, sea, air and undersea. We have tactical and strategic nuclear weapons, plus an awesome stockpile of so-called conventional weapons that could decimate several nations in a short time.
Despite Bush's shocking realization that we don't need this massive overkill, don't expect a peace dividend. Instead of returning to the American public the hundreds of billions of dollars that were wasted on unneeded weaponry, the Bush defense team plans to spend it on newfangled nonsense. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the Bush administration's goal is to streamline and downsize the American arsenal while simultaneously building a missile shield -- an idea that our allies and leading scientists find dubious, at best.
To persuade the American public of his willingness to downsize, Rumsfeld brought out of the mothballs two of the very people who had touted the multi-trillion-dollar weapons buildup of the 1980s: retired Gen. George (Lee) Butler and former Reagan administration national-security maven Richard Perle.
Through much of the 1980s, Perle argued passionately for ever more nuclear and conventional weapons to meet the challenge of the Evil Empire, even as the Soviet machinery began to implode.
Perle, whose thirst for more nuclear weapons equaled or exceeded the most fanatic of cold warriors, now says that he sees "no reason why we can't go well below 1,000" warheads. "I want the lowest number possible, under the tightest control possible," he told Newsweek. "The truth is we are never going to use them. The Russians aren't going to use theirs either."
Butler is on record as calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
Rumsfeld should be careful. Bush may wonder why he needs these weapons at all.
The fanciful notion that nuclear weapons could provide a secure defense produced jobs for aspiring intellectuals, incalculable profits for defense corporations and prestige for the military.
In his book, "The Causes of World War III," (Greenwood Publishing, 1976) the late sociologist C. Wright Mills called intellectuals who build logical structures based on ludicrous assumptions, like planning for nuclear war to keep us safe, "crackpot realists."
Crackpot realists continue to hold sway. They now insist that we defend ourselves by building a missile shield that hasn't worked for more than a decade of trials and errors and is likely to spur Russia and China to increase their nuclear arsenals.
If Bush finally gets the folly of national missile defense, he might well remain stunned for a while.
In the meantime, don't count your peace dividends.
Saul Landau is the Director of Digital Media and International Outreach Programs for the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He can be reached at email@example.com.