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The thief and the emperor
Missile Defense Shield and other imperial misnomers  


June 7, 2007

American President George W. Bush used his platform at the G8 summit to continue spreading the paranoia of fearing states like Iran and North Korea as they are bent on bringing death and destruction to the world and pose a grave threat to international security. In speech after speech countering Russian objections to the so-called American 'Missile Defense Shield' in Europe, Mr. Bush claimed that the two remaining members of the "axis of evil" must be confronted by the 'international community' before it is too late and that in order to defend Europe against these "rogue states", America must be allowed to forge ahead with implementing its Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system there.

For those not familiar with the BMD, it is supposed to intercept Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM's) in mid-flight using Ground Based Interceptor (GBI) missiles that track incoming armaments and disable them while still in flight. There is one major problem -- no such interceptor program currently under development has ever been tested successfully [1] despite years of research forcing the U.S. military to conduct "scripted" tests using "surrogate" interceptors [2] against artificially slow moving targets with pre-known flight paths in order to give the false impression that the program actually works. A real missile traveling at much higher speed and not broadcasting its coordinates can probably evade it altogether. But aside from technical challenges that may be good enough reason to stay out of such American plans, the political repercussions far outweigh any benefits.

A far more compelling argument almost never mentioned by anyone in the media is that cooperating in implementing such a system, functional or not, would be against international law because missile defense programs are prohibited under the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) signed between the United States and Russia in 1972. The treaty prohibits either side from constructing such a system for the simple reason that they are perceived and indeed are offensive rather than defensive in nature especially when deployed outside one's territory half way across the world.

A properly deployed and working missile shield allows one country to launch a nuclear first strike against another, while protecting itself from any retaliatory counter strike which is why international reaction to such a system has been almost uniformly negative. Russian President Vladimir Putin is on the record [3] stating that "if the US proceeds to void the ABM treaty, [Russia] will withdraw from the whole system of treaty relations having to do with the limitation and control of nuclear arms".  Thus Mr. Bush's assurances ring hollow with Putin as well as the rest of the global community wary of the new American grand strategy aiming at dismantling international laws and non-proliferation efforts such as ABM and Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) in order to secure its own hegemony.

Articles I and II of the NPT prohibits the non-nuclear states from attempting to acquire nuclear weapons or aid other nations in acquiring such technology. In return, the five nuclear armed states namely U.S., Britain, France, Russia, and China agreed under article VI to deemphasize nuclear weapons in their security doctrines and enter into negotiations in good faith with each other to significantly reduce and eventually eliminate their nuclear arsenals. It was also understood that non-nuclear states would always have the option to withdraw from the treaty and acquire nuclear weapons if they felt threatened by the more powerful, nuclear armed states.

But the current administration in Washington has ushered in a whole new chapter in American foreign policy threatening every international security agreement reached in the last four decades. In 2001, the Pentagon produced a new policy document called the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) [4], stating openly for the first time that America would not only not reduce and eliminate but rather continue to rely heavily on nuclear weapons for its security and would actually modernize its existing arsenal. It recommended a radical shift from past policies of "nuclear deterrence", under which nuclear weapons were to be used only for retaliation against a nuclear attack, to one of preemptive nuclear first strike. North Korea and Iran were specifically mentioned as nations that could be attacked with nuclear weapons. This policy effectively abolished prior security agreements by reserving the right to drop nuclear bombs on North Korea and Iran regardless of whether or not they possessed nuclear weapons.

The NPR also promoted the development of new "mini-nukes" and "bunker-busters" weapons to be used in these "counter-proliferation" strikes. It urged Congress to lift the ban on nuclear testing so that these new weapons could be developed and old ones could be upgraded and modernized in order to project U.S. nuclear superiority far into the future. It also emphasized that U.S. should work at developing a missile defense system to counter any "rogue states". The new policy openly violated every single relevant component of the Non-Proliferation Treaty as well as disregarding the terms of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

The effects of this new policy have been catastrophic. The open rejection of disarmament has provided incentive for other nuclear powered nations, especially Russia and China, to continue modernizing their own arsenals while shunning any disarmament efforts. Denouncing American rejection of its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, they have hinted that if the U.S. does not discard the doctrine of preemptive nuclear first strike and missile defense system, they would be left with no choice but to engage in a new nuclear arms race. At the same time, non-nuclear nations, especially those levied with unjust sanctions and threats of nuclear annihilation, feel they can no longer rely on NPT or United Nations to guarantee their security.

This arrogantly dangerous and hypocritical policy of 'do as I say and not as I do' is clearly what has become the hallmark of the new world Empire. In his book 'Pirates and Emperors' [5], Noam Chomsky tells a story of a captured pirate who was brought before Alexander the Great. "How dare you molest the sea?" asked Alexander. "How dare you molest the whole world?" the pirate replied: "Because I do it with a little ship only, I am called a thief; you, doing it with a great navy, are called an emperor."

Daniel M Pourkesali is a member of the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran.


[1] Washington Post: U.S. Missile Defense

[2] Washington Post: Interceptor System Set, But Doubts Remain

[3] Washington Post: National missile 'defense' - The ultimate bait-and-switch

[4] Federation of American Scientists: NUCLEAR POSTURE REVIEW

[5] Noam Chomsky: Pirates and Emperors, Old and New: International Terrorism in the Real World


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Daniel M Pourkesali

Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran (CASMII)



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