Right. Because it's much more limited than
Reagan's total panacea.
point out in that New York Review piece that before Sept. 11 missile defense was very
high, if not dominant, on the Bush agenda. So what has happened to missile
defense since Sept. 11? And does that affect the way it is sold or
immediately, it had no effect. The administration went right on and did what it
was planning to do. That is, get
out of the ABM Treaty and raise the missile defense budget. Now it's changed,
merely because it's fallen out of the news. So if you ask somebody about it in
the administration now, they tell you the same thing, but, frankly, it's not
that important to anybody anymore.
could be temporary. That is to
say, if this war will ever stop -- the war on terrorism, and perhaps the war on
Iraq -- then missile defenses may come right back up again. But, you know, the whole logic
which the Democrats began to use immediately after Sept. 11 was, "Look,
terrorists can do this enormous damage with box-cutters, and bringing nuclear
or biological weapons in if they want to, to this country. Why worry about
missile defenses?" And the answer was, from the administration,
"Well, we worry about every kind of threat. We have to defend against all
defense is dutifully included in the National Security Strategy document that
was recently released. It's still an awfully big, ambitious program. A lot of
money is going to it, and it has the potential, at least, to be a major issue internationally,
when and if it really does move forward as they want it to. So the question I
keep coming back to is, what is the real point of missile defense,
strategically, for the Bush administration, at this point? What would Paul
Wolfowitz or Dick Cheney tell you, in a candid moment, is the real strategic
rationale for missile defense right now? Why do they need it?
for example, there's the paper I mention in the New York Review piece -- a document from the National
Institute for Public Policy written by a Reagan-era strategic thinker. Now, if
you look at that paper, you see virtually everything that's in the Nuclear
Posture Review. And there are a
couple of paragraphs on missile defenses. Essentially, this paper discounts
missile defenses totally as a way to do anything, except for short-range
defenses. It's all looking down the road a bit, but within the relevant future,
it says that long-range missile defenses could be used to defend our missiles,
our ICBMs. Which is, of course, what these were designed to do originally in
the 1960s. So the answer is, for serious people, they have discounted it, at
least for the foreseeable future.
Way Out There in the Blue,
you say our foreign and defense policy is not about reality, but instead
"a matter of domestic politics, history, and mythology." When we're
talking about national missile defense today, how can something that doesn't
exist, and may never exist, really be part of an actual policy?
part of a political policy. That's all. And Reagan figured out how to use it --
and Reagan didn't have to look at the polls. But what the polls have shown is that the American public
has always believed, ever since 1947, that it's possible to create a shield
against long-range missiles, and nothing anybody can say will convince them
otherwise. It just seems counterintuitive that you can't do this. We can put a
man on the moon. Why can't we do this?
it's also tremendously wishful thinking.
Because it's not wonderful to think about nuclear annihilation, you
know? And therefore, since getting rid of nuclear weapons seems to be extremely
difficult, if not impossible, then defending against them must be the solution.
If you take a poll tomorrow, that's what you'd find.
mean, after all, we have something called the "Defense Department."
is missile defense relevant, politically or strategically?
was Reagan's political issue. It
then became a kind of ideological issue for the Republican Party. And so therefore it's something they
pursue even though the public has forgotten about it.
explain that for me. Why did it become an ideological issue for the Republicans?
How did that happen?
first of all, if the issue is raised, it always works. It works for the
Republicans, you know.
secondly, it is a metaphor for this country's ability to defend itself totally
from any harm. And to go it alone, really. Not to have to make agreements with other nuclear powers.
And also separation from the rest of the world, being special. That's another
part of it.
a long part of our history, we really didn't have to worry about foreign
invasion or attacks from abroad, because of the two oceans surrounding us. And
that's what is, in a way, special about the United States. It makes it different from any country
in Europe, for example, whose long history is that of invasion, conquest, and
disaster. You get to America, and you're safe.
then, of course, when that was no longer the case, when ICBMs were developed
during the Cold War, missile defense was a way to deny them their
existence. Or render them
"impotent and obsolete," in Reagan's phrase.
does that tie in with what you were saying about the ideology?
let's put it another way. A
certain strand of Republican foreign and military policy has been the same
since the mid-19th century. That
is the Midwestern strain of it. Republicans on the East Coast, like the
Democrats, looked toward Europe, and toward countries that were militarily,
culturally, economically, on a par, if not their superior. They were
hated Europe. They wanted to build a Navy to keep Europe off our shores. But they also wanted to build a Navy
because they were looking west to the Pacific to extend American power. It was the extension of Manifest
Destiny to the Pacific. Projection of power.
they were always partisans of the Navy as opposed to the Army. And, of course,
when airplanes came along, they became partisans of the Air Force as well.
What's the 21st-century equivalent of building up the Navy in the 19th century?
What's so interesting is that Gen. Daniel O. Graham, who was one of the first
promoters of large-scale missile defenses -- he was one of the people who, like Edward Teller,
was trying to get the president to adopt missile defenses before 1983. When he
wrote his paper on this subject in 1981, in Strategic Review, he went on at length about Alfred
Thayer Mahan [who founded the United States Naval War College in 1873], and how
space was going to be like the conquest of the seas for the British. The U.S.
had dominated the sea and the air, now it would dominate space.
it was essentially an imperial metaphor. But it's not just a metaphor. He went on at length about this, how it
was the actual strategy. And he
was really talking about space weapons.
He did not see it in a Reagan-specific light.
not just defenses, but offensive weapons?
is an issue today, of course. How do you see that?
odd to talk about all this, because none of it exists -- and won't for a very,
very long time. But part of this drive to get rid of the ABM Treaty was about
putting missile defenses at sea and in space. That's really what they wanted.
They didn't want any amendation to the treaty that would permit ground-based
still looking towards space. And all I can see is that this is a huge metaphor.
This is an aspiration which comes from way back in American history, from at
least the 19th century.
if missile defense points to space, and it is this great metaphor, and
historically it has lent itself to a rhetoric that was used very effectively
for domestic politics, why doesn't the Bush administration seem to be talking
about space? Why don't they talk about it more?
Gingrich talked about it. And I
think, you know, at the moment we're worried rather more solidly on the ground.
enough. And before Sept. 11, of course, Rumsfeld had talked about it, and it
did generate a little controversy.
he didn't just talk about it, he headed a commission on the issues of space,
and came out directly for space weaponry to defend our satellites. That was the
idea. He didn't specify what he meant by thatan, what kind of technologies he's talking about. Perhaps there's a classified section in
which he does, I don't know. But
the unclassified version was talking about the possibility someday of a "space
Pearl Harbor," when some enemy would attack our satellites.
the weaponization of space have the same kind of emotional, psychological
appeal to the American public as something like Star Wars did?
I don't think it would, because it would seem offensive. You can threaten everybody, every hour
of the day, from space -- that's pretty provocative. So Americans like the idea of a defensive shield. That's
what they like. And understandably.
So if they sell it as a defensive thing, it has that old potential. There's something Reaganesque about that.
right. Again, Reagan's rhetoric was all about peace. And also about, in this case, you know, American
altruism. And that works very
well. And, by the way, that was
another element of Bush's approach in August of 2000, that we were going to
help other nations develop this missile defense.
of that sounds wonderful. Developed countries, and indeed everybody -- because
our satellites are used by everybody -- will depend on space for communications
and so forth in such a way that, if these satellites were attacked, it would
mean a disaster. Pretty soon, we're not going to know how to operate without
seems like the political debate over missile defense is settled, that basically
Bush and the Republicans won.
the politics is about how much money to spend, and whether and when to deploy.
Now, we would be spending money on missile defense research even without
Reagan. In fact, when Reagan made
his speech, we were spending about a billion dollars a year on various
technologies that might be of use in that area.
really, what Reagan and his successors added to this was a whole lot more money
annually, plus this rhetoric about deploying something quickly that would
defend us, either from all nuclear weapons or from simply one or two ICBMs from
it's the deployment issue that's the real key here. And I think a lot of the
passion about that, for the Bush administration, was simply the passion to
break the ABM Treaty. And now that's done. So the Bush administration had
decided to lock the whole thing in by making some kind of deployment by
2004. And I think they will do it.
That is to say, they are now digging holes near Fairbanks, at Fort Greely,
Alaska, to put the launchers in for missile defenses. And if the ABM Treaty was still around, that would have
broken it definitively and forever. But I think this was the purpose of it
initially. They want to say they've deployed something, because again, this
is a part of the whole ideology.
it is that they want to deploy, it'll be something. The fact that it doesn't work is irrelevant.