e-mail us


U.S. still itches for nukes


When President Reagan announced “Star Wars” in 1983, most arms control observers predicted that it would quickly collapse from its inherent weakness. The idea that the United States could construct a device that would shoot down incoming nuclear missiles was deemed to be preposterous.

Many thought the Strategic Defense Initiative would disappear when Clinton’s first Secretary of Defense, former Congressman Les Aspin, declared it dead.

But the idea is still around. It is advocated by the Defense Department and seemingly has the approval of President Clinton. The arms control world and the entire European Community, including Russia, are opposed.

The major argument against Reagan’s proposal of a shield against incoming missiles was that it violated the 1972 anti-ballistic missile - ABM - treaty, in which both the United States and the Soviet Union agreed not to build a comprehensive defense against the other’s long-range nuclear arsenal. The agreement was based on the assumption that neither superpower would use its nuclear weapons since this would trigger mutually assured destruction.

The theory worked and probably helped to bring about the demise of the Soviet Union. That welcome event prompted the defenders of nuclear weapons to invent the threat of “rogue” nations like Libya, North Korea and Iran that could create nuclear weapons that would threaten the United States.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, which has opposed “Star Wars” since its inception, argues that if any “rogue” nation is scientifically developed enough to launch a nuclear missile, it would also be sophisticated enough to make decoys capable of fooling the interceptors that are designed to shoot down the missile. The demonization of the “rogue” nations has received remarkably little attention or analysis by the press or the public.

It is unclear whether the missile shield will be an issue in the presidential campaign. Texas Gov. George W. Bush has said that as president he would deploy anti-missile defenses as soon as possible.

If the national missile defense had not been proposed in the last years of the Soviet Union it would be inconceivable that it would be proposed today. But 40 years of opposing the “evil empire” is too much a part of the psyche of the hawks in Congress and at the Pentagon for them to think that nuclear weapons could be obsolete and unnecessary.

Hence the itch - indeed the addiction - for the use of weapons of mass destruction goes on. The addiction is so strong that its adherents will not even agree to the banning of all tests as proposed in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

The United States seems to have a reckless streak in its claim that its military power should operate outside the constraints of international security. Some U.S.-elected officials want the United States to be a “lone ranger” unencumbered by normal and accepted methods of international diplomacy.

There are other issues in the international order where the United States refuses to carry out its duties. The United States has 260,000 military personnel stationed worldwide but it has only 34 persons assigned to the 29,286 U.N. peacekeepers in the field - the highest number since 1995.

The United States continues to evade its duties to the potential victims of the 80 million land mines hidden in 65 nations. President Clinton continues to delay signing the International Treaty on Landmines, now subscribed to by 138 countries. Every 22 minutes there is a new victim of these indiscriminate weapons.

The United States refused to join the International Criminal Court, which is on its way to being ratified by a majority of nations. The United States is openly seeking to weaken the court by claiming that it would not offer adequate protection to U.S. troops around the world. However, the court explicitly provides that no national of any country will be tried by the court if the country of origin will try him or her for the alleged international crimes.

Resistance to some international norms has always been present in some areas of the U.S. electorate. The United States’ present embrace of “Star Wars” constitutes a classic case of that neglect and defiance of world law.

Jesuit Fr. Robert Drinan is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center. His e-mail address is DEROSA@wpgate.law3.georgetown.edu

National Catholic Reporter, July 28, 2000