BETWEEN THE LINES: U.S. May Re-Ignite Nuclear Arms Race

In July 1999 President Clinton signed the National Missile Defense Act -- allocating billions of dollars for the development of a limited anti-missile defense system. Backers of the plan, which may eventually cost more than $128 billion, say it will protect America from missile attacks launched by rogue states such as North Korea and Iran. However, the Pentagon's Jan. 18 test of an anti-missile prototype failed. This followed an admission that the only other full test of the system in October 1999 was a "lucky hit." Despite this record of failure the President is scheduled to decide whether to deploy such a system by June 2000, after one additional flight test.Critics assert that deployment of a new version of Ronald Reagan's Star Wars program will not only endanger the 1972 U.S.-Russian Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty -- but could also ignite a new nuclear arms race on earth and in space.Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, who assails the Pentagon's Ballistic Missile Defense program and the U.S. long-range plan to militarize and dominate space.Bruce Gagnon: This coming June, President Clinton is to make the decision on whether or not to allow early deployment of a ballistic missile defense system, a system that they say protect us from attacks by rogue states, such as North Korea, China, Iran and Iraq. The idea is that we would launch a "bullet to hit a bullet" to protect us from incoming missiles.The U.S. Space Command, which is a part of the air force, has been given the operational mission to take military control of space, and they are headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo. They wear a patch on their uniform called "Master of Space" and they are now moving to develop weapons in space to take -- as they say -- control of space and deny other countries access to space. This will violate the United Nations Outer Space Treaty of 1967, and it would also violate the anti-ballistic missile treaty that we had with Russia since 1972 signed by then President Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev that prevents either side from developing these kind of capabilities because it would create instability.So now, [they're] pressing ahead, because [they] want to put weapons in space. And so military leaders in the U.S. Space Command know they can't come to the American people and say, "Look, we want hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars from you so that we can arm the heavens, create a new arms race in space, create new global instability."So they have to come up with an idea to sell it to us. These guys are real good salesmen, they've been doing it for years. They want to sell us this notion that they're going to protect us against these little pipsqueak (nations) out there like North Korea that have a couple of nuclear missiles.But you know, if the North Koreans ever launched nuclear missiles, why we could not only destroy them a million times over with our nuclear arsenal, but we could destroy them with our conventional arsenal as well as we've shown in Iraq and Kosovo recently.So I don't think it's really about that. It's really this idea of moving the arms race into space. The Space Command is saying that in the future, because of corporate globalization, there's going to be a widening gap between the haves and the have nots and they want to be able create the military capability to intervene anywhere in the world at any time using space technology and space weaponry to control the earth and the heavens above.Between The Lines: In terms of the Russian and Chinese likely reaction here, what are some of your worst fears about where the deployment of such an anti-ballistic missile defense system will lead us and the world?Bruce Gagnon: Well, we already know for a fact that Russia and China both are asking the United States today to join them in a global ban on weapons in space. Fortunately today there are no weapons in space. So it's the perfect time, before we get off into this new arms race, to stop it. It's the one time in history that we actually have the chance to stop an arms race before it happens. What a wonderful gift that is to us, but it's going to take political and citizen action.So the Russians and Chinese are saying, join us in a ban. Last November, the United Nations General Assembly voted on a resolution calling for this global ban on weapons in space. The vote was 138-0-2. Nobody voted against it. The United States and Israel abstained. The U.S. position is, "There's no problem. We don't have to negotiate."And so, Russia and China have said, "If you go forward with this deployment, we will build more missiles because we will not let you take this military advantage over us. We're willing to stay on a rough equivalence level with you, but we will not allow you to take military advantage. We will not let you be master of space. And so if you try, we will build more, and so you will create a new arms race."We face the question now, will we let Clinton go ahead with this deployment of ballistic missile defense, which we know will lead to a new arms race? Can we afford it financially? The answer is no. Number two, can we afford it militarily? Can we afford to create this new global instability, where more and more sides are getting nuclear weapons. If we really want to be safe from nuclear war, the best thing to do is negotiate, sign international treaties and honor them. And that's not what we're doing now.Between The Lines: Judging from rhetoric in the campaign for the presidency thus far, it doesn't look like this issue is going to emerge as a topic of national debate. How is your organization working to insert this proposed militarization of space as an issue to be debated in the campaign and beyond?Bruce Gagnon: Well, that's exactly right. If we leave it to the politicians, it's not going to be a big debate, other than they're saying the rogues are coming and we've got to put the weapons in space. So it is left to the people. We're the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space and we're made up of 100 affiliates across the planet. And so what we're doing is trying to create an international debate. We don't think that the American people can by ourselves stop this idea of putting weapons in space. We think it's in the interest of the people of the world to speak out against this. So we are organizing an international movement, an international campaign to block this. In April, we're planning on four days of protest in Washington, D.C. -- including a conference, and a lobby day to call on Congress to keep space for peace. So we believe the public must begin intense pressure on the politicians and on Bill Clinton to slow this train down before we create a new arms race.Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space can be contacted by calling their Florida office at (352) 337-9274 or visit their website at http://www.globenet.free-online.co.uk.Scott Harris is WPKN Radio's public affairs director and executive producer of Between The Lines.

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