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No to ‘Star Wars’; yes to investing in humans

The last thing the United States needs to spend money on is an antiballistic missile system, the so-called nuclear “shield” that is supposed to protect the country from incoming missiles.

In the abstract, it can sound perfectly reasonable, but in reality it is an insane project that now sits on the desk of a seemingly undecided U.S. president. While the questions now being raised are of a technological nature (the experts haven’t been able to get the system to work), it is the deeper questions that should be at the forefront of any consideration of this weapons adventure.

The questions must be answered: Will humanity self-destruct or will we learn to live as one human family? Will we divide to conquer? Or will we recognize that we carry the enemy within? Will we spend more money on missiles or will we attack the real 21st-century issues -- acts of inhumanity, brutal poverty and structural injustice?

The ABM system is not what it purports to be -- a defensive shield. It is a provocative upping of the nuclear ante, a taunt to which the only answer can be a new level of armaments designed to thwart it. Indications are that our foes would have some time to develop such countermeasures. Though the test was rigged for success, (knowing the moment and place of launch) the Pentagon earlier this month was unable to strike a single missile in the sky. The technology for hitting a bullet with a bullet remains a stretch. What happens, then, when 20 bullets are fired and each spins out a dozen decoys? And why would a foe fire that bullet in the first place, leaving an indelible marker for targeting and eventual retaliation?

The stealth suitcase is an infinitely more plausible threat.

The ABM system, conservatively estimated at $60 billion (for the first phase), would be a colossal misuse of resources. Far greater threats are lurking, rooted in disease, ignorance and poverty. It is time to be stampeding the offices of our elected representatives, demanding an end to this missile madness. The billions already being spent on the “Star Wars” misconception should wake us, once and for all, to the enormous lobbying powers of a concentrated, self-generating defense industry as well as the threat it poses to democratic governance.

Hundreds of scientists, scholars and defense experts have already spoken out against what they see as a preposterous and dangerous alleged defense initiative, one that would alienate our closest allies and break from the foundational 1972 U.S.-Soviet ABM treaty. (Remember when it was the Soviet Union that could not be trusted to uphold a treaty agreement?)

It is time for the nation’s moral leaders to raise their voices. It is time to say no to national military arrogance. It is time to say no to actions that would further separate the human family. It is time to say yes to a new vision for the future, one in which we vest national resources in addressing the root causes of human division.

Thirty-six Catholic bishops put it powerfully in a recent statement, “Bread not Stones: A National Catholic Campaign to Redirect Military Spending.” In part, they argue:

In a time of unprecedented economic prosperity and budget surpluses, our political leaders cannot find the resources to provide a good education and reliable health care for tens of millions of our nation’s children, and we are told that we cannot afford targeted tax relief for millions of struggling families. In our country alone, 35 million people live in poverty, and 31 million people report not having enough to eat, including 12 million children.
Despite these frightening statistics and the lack of a rival superpower, the United States spends nearly 17 times as much on defense as the combined total spent by six countries most often identified by the Pentagon as our potential adversaries. We seem intent on waging an arms race against ourselves -- spending more than 50 percent of our federal discretionary budget on the military and tens of billions of dollars on nuclear and conventional weapons systems that have no plausible military purpose.

What kind of people are we to become?

No small part of the answer will be determined by President Clinton -- or the president that follows him -- as he decides between an outdated nationalism or a global response that tells the world the United States is capable of a new model of leadership in the 21st century.

National Catholic Reporter, July 28, 2000