News: June 7, 2000 – World Policy Institute – Research Project


June 7, 2000

Playing Politics with Missiles
By William D. Hartung and Michelle Ciarrocca

If you stopped worrying about the bomb when the Cold War ended, you were probably surprised to learn that two hot-button issues of the 1980s — nuclear arms control and missile defense — were high on the agenda for the Clinton/Putin summit that concluded earlier this week.

Clinton went to Moscow to persuade Putin to accept an amendment to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty that would permit deployment of a limited U.S. defensive shield. Putin made a counter-offer that would have involved U.S.-Russian cooperation: a theater missile defense system that could be fielded without amending the ABM Treaty. The two leaders basically agreed to disagree. And even before he reached Moscos, Clinton got an earful from German President Gerhard Schroder, who publicly criticized the American’s missile defense plan as a recipe for nuclear instability.

To add insult to injury, on Clinton’s last day in Mosocw, Putin caught a flight out of the country for Italy an hour before Clinton left Russia to present his own arms reduction/missile defense proposal to Pope John Paul II and European leaders. Whatever one thinks of the merits of the Clinton/Gore proposal, Putin’s Vatican visit demonstrates they’re definitely losing the public relations war at this point.

Clinton’s NMD plan has also generated stiff opposition on the home front. Shortly before the Clinton/Putin summit, in a transparent attempt to steal Clinton and Gore’s thunder, George W. Bush proposed a new, unilateralist nuclear doctrine that would demolish the foundations of international arms control in favor of an approach in which the United States would make unilateral cuts in the U.S. nuclear arsenal and aggressively pursue an elaborate, costly missile defense system comparable in scope to Reagan’s original Star Wars vision.

This strange bipartisan consensus in favor of deploying a missile defense system is a national security disaster in the making. Both Clinton’s limited NMD system and George W. Bush’s “Star Wars II” plan are unnecessary, unworkable, unaffordable and unwise.

An NMD system is unnecessary because even top U.S. intelligence analysts now admit that North Korea’s missile program has been on hold for nearly two years, and that Iran’s program has made no progress over that same time span (these two countries are the designated “rogue states” that the Pentagon’s NMD system is allegedly being rushed full speed ahead to deal with).

The system is also unworkable because $70 billion and 17 years after Reagan’s Star Wars speech, the Pentagon has yet to produce a single reliable device, leading to serious doubts about whether the system is even technically feasible. It’s unaffordable because the costs — which range from $60 billion for the Clinton/Gore plan to up to $240 billion for the more lavish Bush model — are far more than the country can afford, given other pressing national needs.

Most importantly, deploying an NMD system is unwise. As a top U.S. intelligence analyst put it in a recent interview, deploying a missile defense system is likely to provoke “an unsettling series of political and military ripple effects . . . that would include a sharp build-up of strategic and medium-range missiles by China, India and Pakistan and the further spread of military technology in the Middle East.” Deploying an NMD system will also derail President Putin’s proposal to lock in deep cuts in U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, thereby throwing away our best chance in a generation to reduce radically the global nuclear threat.

It it’s such a bad idea, why is official Washington rushing ahead with missile defenses? Because the Clinton administration and its conservative adversaries in Congress and the Bush campaign are playing politics with the missile defense issue.

The mad rush toward missile defense is being propelled by the three C’s of contemporary American politics: conservative ideology, Clintonian cowardice and corporate influence. The de facto nerve center of the missile defense lobby is Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy, a small but effective right-wing think tank whose board of advisors includes a virtual who’s who of missile defense boosters, including representatives of right-wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, missile defense contractors like Lockheed Martin, and pro-NMD members of Congress like Sen. Jon Kyl, R-AZ, and Rep. Curt Weldon, R-PA.

Gaffney’s center — which receives funding from far-right stalwarts like the Scaife, Coors and Krieble families and major missile defense contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing and TRW — is the main vehicle for conservative media outreach, legislative strategy and public advocacy on NMD.

Every major milestone in the NMD debate — from the inclusion of NMD in Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America to the creation of the Rumsfeld Commission, which put forth an extreme worst-case scenario with respect to the alleged North Korean missile threat — has been influenced by Gaffney or his network, including “faithful” supporters like Donald Rumsfeld himself, who is repeatedly singled out for praise in the center’s literature.

Once Gaffney and his cohorts unified the Republican Party around their missile defense dogma, Bill Clinton and Al Gore tried to co-op the issue by throwing money at NMD research and promising to seek deployment at a later date.

Unfortunately for Gore, that “later date” is right now. If Clinton doesn’t use the Moscow summit to detach himself from his self-imposed commitment to developing a dangerously destabilizing missile defense system, he will go down in history as the only U.S. president of the atomic age to fail to negotiate a single significant arms-control agreement.

If that happens, Bill Clinton will leave a legacy far different from what he intended, and he will saddle his successor with a world far more dangerous than it was when the Clinton/Gore administration took office.

**This article was adapted from the longer version that appears in the June 19, 2000 issue of the Nation (



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