Wine From Outer Space

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07 February 2009

We Will All Be Godless Commies Soon

At the Munich security conference this weekend, the Obama administration has signaled a seemingly marked break from America's recent foreign policy stance with regard to Russia: plans for the missile shield set for deployment in central Europe have been mothballed.

That sounds like good news, but not so fast. Cagey national security advisor General James Jones told the UK's Observer that the US would expand talks about the shield; meanwhile, plans for shield components in the Czech Republic and Poland are being shelved.

Vice president Biden, who delivered the speech in Munich, added his own diplomatic counter-feint by stating that the US "
will continue to develop missile defenses to counter a growing Iranian capability, provided the technology is proven and it is cost effective. We will do so in consultation with our NATO allies and with Russia."

This is not the divorce from the stupid missile shield idea I'd been hoping for. Ever since the Reagan administration's push for an SDI program, America has dreamed of killer satellites and smart missiles and pulse beam weapons and all manner of accurate, effective and reliable interceptors. The sage advice in this regard has always been to "work for peace but plan for the unforseen." The decades-long pursuit of missile defense systems, its supporters would have us believe, was not the keystone in a US plan and program of national defense, but rather just a safety net, "just in case."

As of 2006, annual Department of Defense spending for missile shield/defense programs and technology was about $10 billion. This does not sound like much, given the hundreds of billions the US has poured into prosecuting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But according to Philip Coyle, a senior adviser at the Center of Defense Information and director of operational test and evaluation for the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 1994-2001, "Missile defense is very expensive--in fact, it is the single most expensive program in the Department of Defense."

Costs aside, the missile defense program has been an increasingly sore point with some of America's current and one-time allies, particularly with Russia. It continues to promote the image of America as bully, strutting up and down the block and intimidating the other kids. There are those red-blooded patriots who say that such is our right--as self-declared masters of our earthly domain, it is only right that America put its unparalleled technology to work in defense of its citizens. After all, are we not free to defend ourselves? They would see a postponement of a missile defense program as tantamount to "siding with the enemy."

What those who like to employ such "divine right" arguments fail to recognize is that defense and prosperity can be achieved with more than one avenue. Diplomacy can go a long way in terms of setting tone and national posture, and this is likely why the Bush administration's push for missile shield systems in Poland (which are as many as 10 years from being built, by the way), drew such ire from Russian and frustrated grumbling from the EU. Fighting wars on two fronts, talking tough about Iran, impatiently waving our hand at Russia while selling missile shield systems to whomever is on "our side" is arrogant and provocative in the extreme. But America has been doing this sort of thing for so long, many of us who live here don't even recognize it as such.

A new approach with Russia is most welcome, as is the at least temporary delay with missile defense. Iran and North Korea are still very real, credible threats. Experts suggest that Iran could develop its first nuclear weapon in about a year's time. But if the US relies only on suborning and dissuading other nations from pursuing their own military technologies with threats of invasion or a massive upswing in our own military developments and deployment, then the very specters against which we would defend are brought more rapidly and forcefully toward a point of hostile confrontation.

I believe in securing our nation and developing our military and associated technologies in the interest of defending our homeland and our allies, but this is not sports. Training troops, manufacturing arms, gathering intelligence and researching new technologies are all part of national defense, but so is a robust program of statecraft and diplomacy. "The best defense is a good offense" may be fine on Sunday afternoons in front of the TV, but in the modern geopolitical arena it is foolhardy at best and self-defeating at worst.

Some final points for consideration:
  • Our national security advisor is named Jim Jones? I mean, come on...really?

  • What is with the guy's helmet in the image above? Does its weird, sloping shape somehow offer greater protection against multiple incoming missiles?

  • At his speech in Munich, Biden said "The Iranian people are a great people. The Persian civilization is a great civilization. But Iran has acted in ways that are not conducive to peace." This is true, but the very same thing could be said of the US, and is just as true. Given the new lows to which the Bush administration has brought this country in the last eight years, and given America's various pursuits of "national interest" since WWII, the US has some ground to gain before it can speak too loudly about peaceful actions with any credibility.


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