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May 28, 2001
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How to brew up a new cold war: arm up some rivals and burn a treaty in exchange for setting up a global missle defense system. Can anyone find an upside to this story? Why could this be a good thing for the US and the rest of the world?
posted by mathowie (45 comments total)

 
The editors at Scientific American wrote a great editorial - Faith-Based Reasoning. It amounts to a worried head-scratching, as in "What the Hell are we (the U.S.) doing?"

This latest move seems like more pocket-lining and bravado. Contracts for aerospace and arms dealers, and a (theoretically) bigger stick for the U.S. to wave around. Georgie really is the best friend businessmen ever had. AS much as I try to ignore him into oblivvion, he still exists. Thank God for Jeffords and the loss of the GOP Senate majority.
posted by kokogiak at 12:17 AM on May 29, 2001


One word:

YIY!
posted by Azaroth at 12:57 AM on May 29, 2001


This is only good news for American defence contractors and their European subcontractors. The military research budgets are shrinking everywhere. No one has the extra money to develop anything new (except for India and Israel). Many governments are resorting to procuring existing military technologies instead of spending billions in developing the next pie in the sky. France has been "developing" Rafael jet fighter since mid 80s. It started around the same time as F-16/F/A-18 Hornet program. Rafael was supposed to be a one-frame adaptable role aircraft. The French airforce would have them, and so would the navy to fly them off of their aircraf carriers. It was state of the art then. The program is still going on mostly in "development." America during the same time researched and developed and brought to market the F-22 and now is on its way to bringing to market the Joint Strike Fighter. JSF is conceptually the same thing as Rafael, one-frame/adaptable role aircraft, but just 15 or so years advanced in avionics, stealth, propulsion and armament. If America does not feed arms to "possible enimies," these enimies won't have anything modern to fight with. It is very difficult to justify spending billions of dollars developing star wars to fight some guy with a stick.
posted by tamim at 1:07 AM on May 29, 2001


Now, the guys in Canada who want to prove US ignorance should forget about asking us who their prime minster is...this is ignorance.

We're going to live out the sequel to Doctor Strangelove, I can just feel it.
posted by Ezrael at 1:21 AM on May 29, 2001


Hmm.. let's see... An upside to this story? Hopefully this will mean four years from now less people will vote for conservatives.

War is good for business. It can fuel an economy. It can increase employment. Some believe it even improves a country's morale. However, it only improves morale if the reason behind the war is noble and valid. Lining rich people's pockets is neither noble nor valid, and history proves that no monetary value exists matching that of blood shed under a banner of freedom. Such a price has no measure, and I hope any soul who barters others lives for personal gain will truly get what's coming to them.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:53 AM on May 29, 2001


What was that phrase? "Hard-faced men who had done well out of the war."

Previous administrations have sold arms to Iran, Iraq, the Taliban and other fine regimes across the developing world; you'd think that this one would learn after 20 idiotic years of trying to impose a Pax Americana with the manna of armaments.
posted by holgate at 2:42 AM on May 29, 2001


Who is the US selling arms to? This article mentions buying gear from Russia, beefing up Russia's early detection systems, and reducing US nuclear stockpiles...
posted by techgnollogic at 3:27 AM on May 29, 2001


> Who is the US selling arms to?

• The US government is selling arms to the US people, as usual, now with propaganda about wily rogue states supposedly ready to blow up New York and Los Angeles with missiles. If you're an American, I hope you like the nifty new "missile shield" you're about to buy. You'll never know it doesn't work.

• The US government is buying arms from US arms dealers and soon, perhaps, according to this article, some foreign arms dealers. That is, the US government (under its current administration) wants to pump money (pork) into the weapons industries of the US and Europe (which of course includes Russia). The administration's hope is that this bribery will convince the necessary local politicians that treaties are made to be broken.

If the US would spend half of its massive weapons budget on befriending, stabilizing, and improving its enemies, the other half of that weapons budget might not be needed.
posted by pracowity at 5:10 AM on May 29, 2001


Who benefits?

How about the CEOs of the defense contractors? You know, like the ones that got plum appointments in the Defense Department just recently.
The Landover Baptist web site had a real funny take on this. Sorry I don't have the URL but it is about accelerating the coming of the "end time."
posted by nofundy at 5:11 AM on May 29, 2001


Yep. It's easy to forget that arms contractors make up possibly the most globalised industry of all.
posted by holgate at 5:47 AM on May 29, 2001


Why is everyone whining about withdrawing from a treaty (as provided therein) that has already been violated by the other side?

And since when does everyone expect a very complicated system to work immediately? Every military or highly complicated system goes through a work-out phase where the component systems are designed and tested. Was Kennedy assailed for proposing a manned mission to the moon just because some people thought it couldn't be done?

And why does this increase the likelihood of a nuclear exchange? Would some country be more prone to attack a nation with an ABM shield than they are prone to attack it now? Of course not.

The argument that the system doesn't work is specious at best - no system ever works until you develop it. And any spending is open to attack as benefitting some special interest, be it industry or farmers or minorities.

I really don't understand why people are throwing such a fit over this. I assume they don't understand that the ABM treaty we signed with the Soviets has already been violated by them or that they simply object to military spending.
posted by CRS at 7:21 AM on May 29, 2001


Would some country be more prone to attack a nation with an ABM shield than they are prone to attack it now? Of course not.

Build a 20-foot wall around your house, and people start thinking you have something worth stealing.
posted by holgate at 8:27 AM on May 29, 2001


The argument that the system doesn't work is specious at best - no system ever works until you develop it.

This system won't work because it is inherently flawed. It is designed to only protect against one kind of nuclear attack -- by missile. It would do nothing to stop terrorists from smuggling in a bomb via plane or boat.

Any French people here want to tell CRS about the lessons their country learned from the Maginot Line?
posted by Dirjy at 8:31 AM on May 29, 2001


ABM treaty was between USSR and US, not Russia and US. Everyone knows that once USSR ceased to exist, all the treaties with the country were null and void. Any and all former treaties the US decides to abide by are simple bilateral agreements.

I'm not trying to justify the arms race by saying this, but there are whole cities build around major defense contractors and plenty of regions rely on these contractors for jobs. Just look at how much hell is raised when *any* defense contractor facility is being closed.

Lastly, I would rather have the peace of mind knowing that countries like Iraq or South Korea can't explode a few nukes where I live. Yeah, the system doesn't work now, but you can't expect such a complicated/advanced system to work if you don't adequately fund/research it. It's worth a try. I don't give a shit if that means that Russia is pissed. They are pissed at anything the US does. Nothing new there.
posted by Witold at 8:33 AM on May 29, 2001


Holgate: I fail to see how you can equate burglary and nuclear war. Besides, everyone already knows what we have.

Dirjy: Who said that we would only attempt to ward off attacks launched via ballistic missile and simply hope that no one ships over a pocket nuke? I'm sure we will continue to try to prevent that. Your argument is unpersuasive because it is the same as saying you should not lock your door because a thief may come in the window. (Ha - even worked Holgate's idea in there.)
posted by CRS at 8:59 AM on May 29, 2001


As pointed out above, the Soviet Union no longer exists. Our treaties with them are null and void, and the country of "Russia" will continue to become less and less relevant as time goes on.
More to the point; why not build this? It's not like this system can defend against a massive missle attack - it *is* designed for rogue states. Just because it can't defend against every attack doesn't mean it should not be built. The reasoning behind such a statement is nonsense - "Well, the deadbolt lock on my door won't prevent someone from coming in through the window, so I guess I won't install it." If there are other threat vectors you address those individually - you don't give up. Sheesh.
Finally, in case you've missed this part, ICBM's and nuclear warheads are 1950s technology. Do you honestly think we can prevent everyone from achieving this level of technical capability?
posted by hadashi at 9:01 AM on May 29, 2001


Would some country be more prone to attack a nation with an ABM shield than they are prone to attack it now? Of course not.

Build a 20-foot wall around your house, and people start thinking you have something worth stealing.


Right. That's why those houses with walls around them are constantly being robbed, unlike all those undefended inner city apartments. Smart.
posted by ljromanoff at 9:02 AM on May 29, 2001


"Well, the deadbolt lock on my door won't prevent someone from coming in through the window, so I guess I won't install it."

Well, if I was in a neighborhood where door-breakins were fairly rare and the deadbolt lock was going to cost me some ridiculously massive portion of my income, I think the money would certainly be better spent elsewhere.
posted by youhas at 10:29 AM on May 29, 2001


I believe there are substantial technical, monetary, and diplomatic reasons that make NMD a very stupid idea to pursue. Nonetheless, I cannot find any compelling argument to rebut the claim that the ABM treaty died with the Soviet Union, although it was my intent to counter this statement when I started looking around.

The closest I came is a side protocol to this effect signed by Albright and Primakov in 1997; but to my knowledge this wasn't ratified by the US Senate, meaning that the ABM treaty has not been legally multilateralized, as the CFE, INF, and START treaties have been. Of course, if someone could point me to the news item showing me where the Senate has ratified said protocol I would be in error, but until then I don't believe I am.

If I am right, why isn't this angle being pursued by any news organizations?
posted by norm at 10:37 AM on May 29, 2001


More to the point; why not build this?

Because it costs one hell of a lot of money. Does anyone honestly think this thing is ever going to stop a single nuclear attack? Even if you ignore the hundreds of underfunded government agencies that could do a lot more good with that money, if the point is to protect Americans from nuclear attack, it could be much more effectively spent on simply keeping us out of war in the first place.

To stretch the burglar analogy, the US is a house with leaky faucets, a termite-infested roof, a car in the garage that barely runs, hungry children yelling in the kitchen, and a big, complicated, expensive home theater. Around this home we are about to build a wall - twenty feet tall, made of diamond-tipped titanium spikes, spaced three feet apart - on the off chance that Andre the Giant feels like breaking in someday.

Makes a lot of sense to me.

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:49 AM on May 29, 2001


This is a fun metaphor. What if you lived in a neighborhood where you sold all of your neighbors enough firepower to flatten your house several times over, and the only reason it hadn't happened was because you had just as many weapons pointed at everyone else? Would you spend all of your money developing methods of rendering your own weapons obsolete, without developing more effective weapons first? It seems to me that maybe if we feel like we don't really need to threaten our enemies with nuclear weapons anymore, we must have something better to threaten them with.
posted by donkeymon at 11:04 AM on May 29, 2001


"Every military or highly complicated system goes through a work-out phase where the component systems are designed and tested."

And then they proceed to fail in the field. Look at the recent fiasco in Iraq where all but two of the JSOW missiles that were launched failed to hit their targets. Those missiles have been in design and test for 10 years.

How do you fully field test an ABM defense? You can't. You can only test against the factors and scenarios that you can imagine. The other factors that you haven't imagined will make the system fail.

The JSOW failure I mentioned came about even though every component subsystem performed as it was supposed to. An unforeseen combination of subsystem quirks caused the missiles to respond eponymously and miss. Do you want to bet your life and the life of everyone you care about on the efficacy of a design that represents the lowest bid for the project?
posted by joaquim at 12:03 PM on May 29, 2001


It’s not that the elaborate fiction of missile defense is under-funded, it’s that the contractor lied about it’s validity. The contractor simply removed pieces of data from the test findings.

“...when the BMDO review of the telemetry data from the IFT-1A flight test resulted in the defense system always wrongly identifying a partially inflated balloon as the mock warhead. The team performing the post-flight analysis dealt with this failure by simply removing the balloon from the data, as if it were never there.”
THE STAR WARS CONSPIRACY

I don’t mind scientists researching possibilities as long as they operate in reality. Bullets shooting bullets out of the sky is not a reality we are currently living in, nor is it available to us in the near future.
posted by capt.crackpipe at 12:08 PM on May 29, 2001


It seems contradictory to call for cuts in government spending to coincide with the tax cut which recently passed the Senate and therefore cutting or limiting funding to programs that do work, and than increase funding for a missile defense shield that has been proven ineffective in test after test and is currently unnecessary.

The funny thing though is the very attempts to push creation of the shield could create warlike situations that would increase the need for a missile defense shield.
posted by drezdn at 12:56 PM on May 29, 2001


The funny thing though is the very attempts to push creation of the shield could create warlike situations that would increase the need for a missile defense shield.

Only if one views defending oneself as an invitation for attack, which is a very strange posture. I doubt very much that America's enemies are going to be MORE likely to attack us if we are better defended. That is contrary to logic.
posted by ljromanoff at 1:48 PM on May 29, 2001


isn't it more like a bullet trying to shoot buckshot out of the sky, multiple warheads and all?
posted by kliuless at 2:07 PM on May 29, 2001


Lance, how would you respond to the claim that any land-based ABM system isn't going to work as well as a ship-based one? The chief objection to ship-based ABM systems seems to be the fact that it would send China into a frothing fit. Everything I've read makes the current land-based system sound like it's going to be a boondoggle; beefing up the Aegis (or whatever) into a sea-based system is an option that's being pushed by the Heritage Foundation, among others.

I don't think a missile defense system is technologically feasible, nor do I think it'll do any good (as many others have noted, sailing a tramp steamer into Seattle or New York with a nuke in its hold seems a more likely way for a "rogue nation" to hit the U.S.), but if billions of dollars of tax money are going to be poured into this thing, I'd at least like to know that all the options have been examined.
posted by snarkout at 2:24 PM on May 29, 2001


Have we been having a problem with nuclear missiles hitting our country lately? Guess I haven't been reading the paper too carefully.
posted by Doug at 3:25 PM on May 29, 2001


Why is it the same people who complain about high income taxes and the money extorted by labor unions have no problem when it's used on big 'ole bombs?
posted by owillis at 3:59 PM on May 29, 2001


Lance, how would you respond to the claim that any land-based ABM system isn't going to work as well as a ship-based one? The chief objection to ship-based ABM systems seems to be the fact that it would send China into a frothing fit. Everything I've read makes the current land-based system sound like it's going to be a boondoggle; beefing up the Aegis (or whatever) into a sea-based system is an option that's being pushed by the Heritage Foundation, among others.

I'm not an evangelist for this or any other anti-ballistic missile system. If you tell me that a ship based system would be more effective generally, or even more effective on a per dollar basis, then I'm for that. And frankly, if this is an entirely unworkable system, then I don't think we should do it.

As for China, I frankly could care less how they react. China is one of the primary sponsors of worldwide terrorism and one of the most dangerous states on Earth. I'm not particularly interested in bending over backwards for them whenever they rattle their sabres.

As for whether or not the system is technologically feasible, I don't know - and I don't think anyone posting to MeFi is in any position to intelligently know, either.
posted by ljromanoff at 5:32 PM on May 29, 2001


Why is it the same people who complain about high income taxes and the money extorted by labor unions have no problem when it's used on big 'ole bombs?

Providing for the national defense is in the Constitution, so no I'm not opposed to it. Do we need high taxes to pay for it? Nope. If the federal government limited itself to its consitutionally mandated functions, we would only need a tiny amount of the current tax revenues.
posted by ljromanoff at 5:34 PM on May 29, 2001


I'd be loathe to base my judgments entirely on what the people at the Heritage Foundation are saying, as they've clearly got a pro-missile-defense ax to grind, but here's a link to one of their papers about sea-based missile defense. (Although there's something seriously askew about writing that "[n]umerous editorials in such respected dailies as the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Detroit News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and Washington Times supported the sea-based options"; given the time and resources, I'm sure I could cherry-pick a few editorials in support of any policy decision short of full-on lunacy.)

And for what it's worth, Lance, the Rumsfeld Commission concluded that biological and chemical weapons were likely to be delivered by multiple-payload "bomblets" that no system currently being developed could deal with. If, say, Iraq wanted to do some devestating damage to the U.S., wouldn't they take this vulnerability into account?
posted by snarkout at 6:19 PM on May 29, 2001


ljromanoff:If the federal government limited itself to its consitutionally mandated functions, we would only need a tiny amount of the current tax revenues.

Ah, yes - leave it to the corporations, because the "competition" will drive down the costs of goods and services, right? Never mind that they collude and manipulate markets, ignore safety standards, and generally screw over the consumer when left to their own....
posted by owillis at 6:23 PM on May 29, 2001


Crud, I linked the wrong editorial. I meant to link this one: "If any nation can create a missile defense, we can. American technology has split atoms. It has launched men into space and put them on the moon. It has created supercomputers that are smaller than a wristwatch, and it can probe the reaches of outer space."

...which is the setup for a Jerry Seinfeld routine, not the basis for foreign policy.
posted by snarkout at 6:26 PM on May 29, 2001


Why is it the same people who complain about high income taxes and the money extorted by labor unions have no problem when it's used on big 'ole bombs?

I complain about taxes and bombs all the time. Haven't you seen me around these parts before?
posted by thirteen at 6:34 PM on May 29, 2001


And for what it's worth, Lance, the Rumsfeld Commission concluded that biological and chemical weapons were likely to be delivered by multiple-payload "bomblets" that no system currently being developed could deal with. If, say, Iraq wanted to do some devestating damage to the U.S., wouldn't they take this vulnerability into account?

Since we're presumably discussing an anti-nuclear missile system, are chemical weapons not a different issue entirely? I would assume, or at least hope, that should chemical/biological weapons ever be a real threat to this country, then some defensive measure would be taken against them as well.

My understanding is that chemical & biological weapons are rarely used due to the fact that they are simply not very effective weapons compared to conventional explosives.
posted by ljromanoff at 7:41 PM on May 29, 2001


ljromanoff:If the federal government limited itself to its consitutionally mandated functions, we would only need a tiny amount of the current tax revenues.

Ah, yes - leave it to the corporations, because the "competition" will drive down the costs of goods and services, right? Never mind that they collude and manipulate markets, ignore safety standards, and generally screw over the consumer when left to their own....


Right - and the sainted government never does any of these things? Let us compare nations with limited government and free markets to those with strict limitations on corporations and strong governments, shall we:

I get the USA, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and West Germany. You get the USSR, China, North Korea, and East Germany.

Hope you enjoy your poverty and totalitarianism.
posted by ljromanoff at 7:44 PM on May 29, 2001


I get the USA, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and West Germany. You get the USSR, China, North Korea, and East Germany.

Hope you enjoy your poverty and totalitarianism.


ljromanoff, what about countries which heavily tax corporations and have strong governments such as France, and reunified Germany. Neither could be considered totalitarian.

Personally, I would be fine with cutting more government programs if they'd be willing to cut the level of CIA and NSA funding, organizations which get budgets but don't have to show any results to the work they do.
posted by drezdn at 8:08 PM on May 29, 2001


To return to NMD proper, and the subject of the original post in particular, it seems to me there are three major issues/problems with NMD:

1. The Objective. The current NMD proposal is predicated on the idea that we need to protect ourselves from "rogue states" who might elect to fling nukes at us. Disregarding the fact that no one with the resources to do so ever has or ever will be stupid enough to do this (though rogue states may be ideologically whack and unpredictable, their leaders definitely understand and are interested in self-preservation), this objective does not even fall in line with what the Pentagon identifies as our biggest national security threat, which is not nuclear missles but nuclear terrorism, i.e. the "one guy on a boat with a small nuke in a large suitcase" scenario.

2. The (cost) Effectiveness. Even when one looks past the nature of the objectives, it seems unclear what kind of investment will be necessary to meet those objectives. While the missile defense plan Clinton talked about carried an estimated price tag of about $60 billion, experts seem to think Bush's more robust version will run somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 billion. Of course, they're not sure really how much it will cost, nor how much it will work.

Those on MeFi who have pointed out that projects of this scope never produce tangible results early on in the process are correct, and their argument which consists essentially of "it may or may not work, but the only way to find out is to go ahead with it, and the more money we throw at it, the more likely it is that it will work" is straightforward and basically correct. The problem I have with this argument is that this stance is diametrically opposed to the view conservatives (by and large the NMD supporters) typically take regarding all sorts of social programs, where their logic tends to fall more along the lines of "unless you can prove this program is going to produce results at the outset we're just wasting taxpayers' money." This double standard suggests that, fundamentally, conservatives are not as interested in prudent use of taxpayer funds are they are in maintaining the status quo by sustaining such institutions as the military-industrial complex.

3. The Diplomacy. This is the issue Bush's latest headline-generating (and MeFi conversation-starting) move addressed. Even if the system had meaningful objectives and were guaranteed to be cost-effective, pretty much every other nation in the world is opposed to our developing this system: long-time bedfellows, recent allies, recent enemies, sworn evils. Make no mistake, this hurdle is a major one, whether or not we think we can ignore whatever China thinks. Fundamentally Bush is hoping to bribe those who've had a lukewarm reaction to the idea thus far with the promise of supporting their military-industrial complexes. Will it work? Who knows?

But if we go ahead and develop NMD against the wishes of the rest of the world, WE become the "rogue state."
posted by drywall at 9:05 PM on May 29, 2001


ljromanoff: I'm all for the system we've got here in America (with some added accountability on all sides) but you seemed to be advocating a "rose colored" libertarian view where the gov't leaves business to their own designs. It's a nice theory, but in reality it doesn't work (much like socialism).
posted by owillis at 10:29 PM on May 29, 2001


drywall is right on with his #2 above: the double standard so-called conservatives have about cost-effectiveness. "We have to drastically cut government spending . . . except for all this money we're wasting on the bloated military budget."

Bush is particularly galling in this regard, because he keeps saying the only thing that matters with education is that the students pass standardized tests. (Which is a dumb way to make somebody learn.) If they fail tests, their school won't get any money.

On the other hand, when missile defense tests fail over and over again (and they will continue to do, since NMD too is a dumb idea), he says "Well, that test was a disappointment. I guess we need to give them more money."
posted by LeLiLo at 10:32 PM on May 29, 2001


That link of mine was also a gigantic disappointment. Sorry.
posted by LeLiLo at 10:38 PM on May 29, 2001


What struck me about this particular news item (I read about it in the Herald-Tribune) was how the United States continues to bend the requirements (or consolation prizes now) for a NMD to placate world opinion.

The desire for a NMD is becoming an obsession.
posted by Dick Paris at 12:28 AM on May 30, 2001


ljromanoff: I'm all for the system we've got here in America (with some added accountability on all sides) but you seemed to be advocating a "rose colored" libertarian view where the gov't leaves business to their own designs. It's a nice theory, but in reality it doesn't work (much like socialism).

No, not really. I think the govt. should leave everyone alone, corporations included, until said individual or group commits a violation of someone else's rights (which would include using violent force or committing fraud.) I don't believe in preemptive controls on behavior by the government as an effective method of insuring fair behavior - whether it be in the case of an individual or a corporation.
posted by ljromanoff at 5:55 AM on May 30, 2001


ljromanoff, what about countries which heavily tax corporations and have strong governments such as France, and reunified Germany. Neither could be considered totalitarian.

While you're right that neither can be considered totalitarian, they are certainly halfway down that path. I like both countries, but I wouldn't want to live in either one of them.
posted by ljromanoff at 5:58 AM on May 30, 2001


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