The Road Taken
MSNBC reports: Nato warms to plan for defence shield.
Plans for a Europe-wide missile defence system to protect the continent from possible threats from Iran and North Korea are winning backing from Nato headquarters, while Pyongyang's recent missile tests have reignited debate in the US about a missile defence system. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Nato secretary-general, wants member states to consider seriously a recently issued 10,000-page report that concluded that such a system would be feasible for Europe and added that the dangers posed by Pyongyang and Tehran were increasing. ...
Washington is in talks with some Nato member states, such as Poland, the Czech Republic and the UK, about help they can provide with the US's $10bn-a-year (£5.4bn) missile defence system. Several European governments hope they can get protection in return for agreeing to base anti-missile interceptors, vital for the working of the system, on their territories. But Nato officials believe that a Europe-wide system could complement the US's own military defence, and worry that the unity of the alliance could be fatally undermined if some but not all of the members were protected.
What did the intellectuals historically think of missile defense? Pulitzer-Prize winning author Frances Fitzergerald, author of Fire in the Lake, wrote a book in 2001 entitled Way Out There In the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars and the End of the Cold War. Amazon cites a Publisher's weekly summary which describes Fitzgerald's thesis that missile defense was all about Reagan selling a religious belief to the American public. Myth was all it was without a vestige of reality.
Anyone who thinks that Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" program is dead should read this shocking book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Fitzgerald (Fire in the Lake, etc.). The former president's "Star Wars" plan--for laser weapons and space-based missiles intended to make the U.S. invulnerable to nuclear attack--was pure science fiction, writes Fitzgerald, and she notes that no technological breakthrough has occurred that would make Clinton's modified SDI program remotely feasible. Yet the U.S. has spent $3 to $4 billion a year on "Star Wars" in almost every single year since Reagan left office (and, as Fitzgerald observes, there has been almost no public discussion on this issue for several years). Why? The answer, suggests Fitzgerald in this painstakingly detailed study, lies partly in the way "Star Wars" was sold to the American public. By her reckoning, Reagan adroitly filled the role of mythic American Everyman endowed with homespun virtues. Prodded by the Republican right, by military hardliners such as limited-nuclear-war advocate Edward Teller and by deputy national security adviser Robert McFarlane (who, ironically, intended SDI primarily as a bargaining chip with the Soviets), Reagan wholeheartedly embraced the Star Wars concept for ideological reasons; he persuaded the people of its necessity by tapping into America's "civil religion" rooted in 19th-century Protestant beliefs in American exceptionalism and a desire to make the U.S. an invulnerable sanctuary.
Amazon's review, on the same page says, describes Fitzgerald's skepticism that SDI would ever work.
She makes the familiar claim that Reagan's acting career had a profound effect on how he governed. Yet she takes it a step further by arguing that specific movies had a deep influence on his political decisions. "SDI was surely Reagan's greatest triumph as an actor-storyteller," she writes, and goes on to suggest that Reagan was favorably disposed to spending billions on ABM technology because, in the 1940 film Murder in the Air, he played a secret agent assigned to protect a new weapon "capable of paralyzing electrical currents and destroying all enemy planes in the air."
Although much of Way Out There in the Blue covers recent history, the controversial debate over missile defense continues today. An epilogue covers developments in the 1990s and mentions a pair of successful tests that occurred in 1999. Yet FitzGerald remains a skeptic, believing a workable ABM system is too complex, too expensive, and too easy to defeat. Conservatives will chafe at her condescending appraisal of Reagan; liberals will appreciate her aggressive attacks on a defense strategy they have never liked.
What did politicians think of missile defense? Howard Dean's stand on the subject was apparently this.
And the other is that the problem with the defense budget is not entirely its size, it's what it's spent on. We should be go back into the ABM Treaty. We ought to sign the land mines treaty. Instead of building the tactical battlefield nuclear weapons program, which is a weapons program that does nothing to fight against terrorism, we need to invest in special ops and human intelligence. Instead of investing in Star Wars, which has failed the majority of its tests, that we ought to be doing different kinds of things with that money, such as paying soldiers and making sure there are adequate schools on our military bases. Source: NPR, "Justice Talking" Dean-Nader Debate Jul 9, 2004
I support missile defense efforts that make us more secure; I oppose deployment of any system not yet proven to work. Source: Dean writing in Washington Post Dec 21, 2003
A Dean administration would be guided by the notion that Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) and related programs [Russia and other former Soviet states] with are a more urgent priority than National Missile Defense and would transfer $1 billion per year from the over $8 billion ballistic missile defense budget to CTR and related programs. As President, Howard Dean will increase our intelligence, police and military special forces capabilities abroad to thwart and disrupt terrorist operations. Source: Campaign website, DeanForAmerica.com Jul 2, 2003
Now none of this is to say that missile defense will work effectively. Or that it was the most cost effective approach to defense ever. Nor are these observations intended to argue that Frances Fitzgerald or Howard Dean are bad people. But it may underline what Slate once quoted Donald Rumsfeld as saying:
As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.
And that's the problem with the future. It contains elements we genuinely can't predict because they haven't happened yet. Ronald Reagan conceived of SDI in an era when the Soviet Union loomed large in his mind. Was he right for the wrong reason? And were his critics wrong for the right reason? At any rate it looks like Ronald Reagan may turn out to be right for whatever reason. And that may be good enough.