Saturday, June 09, 2007

Dumb and Dumber: Bush and Harper on Missile Defence in Eastern Europe

(Waridaad)-Why has the Bush administration decided to provoke Russia by announcing that the United States will install a part of its anti-ballistic missile system in the Czech Republic and Poland?

One could imagine that such a strategically important move was the outgrowth of penetrating thinking in the White House and the Pentagon. But, it is no such thing. It’s just plain dumb.

First, some background on anti-ballistic missiles.

To many, the idea of an anti-ballistic missile system may sound benign. After all, it’s a defensive weapon, whose only capability is to intercept incoming missiles.

In reality, defensive weapons have offensive implications. The distinction between them is a phony one. That is because the deployment of a defensive weapon that negates a potential foe’s offensive weapons, upsets the military balance and can trigger an arms race. What the Bush administration has in mind with missile defence is precisely to change the military balance in its favour.The Bush administration believes that if the United States is successful in developing and deploying a system that can reliably shoot down approaching enemy missiles, it will protect the U.S. from attack. But it will do much more than that. A workable missile shield would liberate the United States to do what no power has been willing to do since the last days of the Second World War---use nuclear weapons as a viable policy in certain extreme circumstances.In March 2002, the details of a secret Pentagon report were revealed on the front page of the New York Times. In its Nuclear Posture Review, the Pentagon pointed to the need to produce new nuclear weapons with a lower yield than strategic nuclear weapons, weapons that would produce less radioactive fallout. The Review spelled out the possible use of nuclear weapons by the United States against non-nuclear powers, such as Iraq, Iran, Syria and Libya, all of them signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. What made this so shocking is that the Review countenanced an explicit violation of the treaty, which was signed by 182 countries, including Canada.In 1978, to give nations an incentive to sign the non-proliferation treaty, the United States, the Soviet Union and Britain formally pledged never to launch a nuclear attack on signatories to the treaty, except in a case where a non-nuclear state attacked a nuclear state in tandem with another nuclear state. Again in 1995, France and China joined these three states (with Russia in place of the Soviet Union) in reiterating this pledge. As former U.S. Defence Secretary Robert McNamara and Thomas Graham Jr. wrote in a newspaper column "the Pentagon plan undermines the credibility of that pledge, which underpins the Nonproliferation Treaty. To strike directly at this pledge of nonuse is to strike at the treaty itself." "If another country were planning to develop a new nuclear weapon," said the New York Times in an editorial "and contemplating preemptive strikes against a list of non-nuclear powers, Washington would rightly label that nation a dangerous rogue state."To develop new nuclear weapons that can be used with impunity behind the protection of the missile shield is the reason the Bush administration opposes the U.S. signing on to the nuclear test ban treaty. Make no mistake about it----the deployment of a missile defence system is being done largely for offensive, not defensive, reasons.

Flash forward to the U.S. plan to deploy anti-ballistic missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland. (Mind you these anti-missile missiles don't even work yet.)

Such a move can only be interpreted as an aggressive act against Russia. To set up weapon systems on Russia’s doorstep whose only conceivable use is to degrade the value of the Russian nuclear capability as against that of the U.S. is the kind of act that would prompt a rebuke from any Russian government. Now we have Putin saying he will deploy Russian missiles to target European cities. Technically, that doesn’t mean much since they can target European cities already, but the political signal to Europeans is not one they want from a nuclear power on whom they depend for so much of their oil and natural gas.

What makes this even weirder is that Bush claims these anti-missile missiles are meant to protect against Iranian and Korean nukes. That you would put a missile shield in eastern Europe to protect against Pyonyang’s nukes doesn’t even pass the laugh test. And to use Iran as your rationale is just as peculiar. Everyone agrees that Teheran is at least a few years away from having a nuclear bomb let alone one it can mount on a missile. To prevent Iran from proceding to develop nuclear weapons, the U.S. needs the cooperation and collaboration of Russia. An angry Kremlin is highly unlikely to put pressure on Iran to help the Bush administration out of a jam in the Middle East.

I can only conclude that having overstretched its interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan and perhaps on the verge of attacking Iran, the U.S. has decided to pick an entirely unnecessary fight with the Russians. How would Bush like it if some nuclear power set up a missile shield somewhere in Latin America, in Venezuela for instance?

And then there’s Stephen Harper.

This guy goes to Paris and makes a comment siding with Bush on the anti-missile deployment in the Czech Republic and Poland. I used to think Harper had brains. But here he’s playing “dumber” to Bush’s “dumb”. As the leader of a middle power, the prime minister of Canada is not required to support Washington on this kind of thing. What Harper did will not even be reported by the U.S. media. But it will make the Putin government mad at Canada. Surely, our role ought to be to encourage the nuclear powers to cool their behaviour and their rhetoric, not to further enflame the situation.

I guess Harper’s reflexive pro-Americanism kicks in before his cortex even gets hold of what’s at stake.

James Laxer

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