When "The Force" Turns Out to Be a Farce

Barely noticed amid concerns over the Balkan war and hype for the movie -- "Star Wars -- the Phantom Menace" -- politicians and the Pentagon have teamed up for their own Star Wars sequel. Here's a lucrative deal for Boeing and Lockheed that will make Lucasfilm's box office bonanza look like chump change.This Star Wars is a lavish sci-fi extravaganza known as "national missile defense." President Clinton and Congress have quietly committed the U.S. to what Ronald Reagan was once ridiculed for advocating -- a plan to build a space-based ballistic missile shield.Our leaders have done this despite the fact that the Cold War is long over, and that none of our "potential enemies" possess either the technology or the death wish required to lob nuclear missiles at the U.S. The phantom menace this will defend us from is no more real than Darth Maul.Taxpayers have already shelled out nearly $60 billion for this platinum-plated boondoggle -- with absolutely nothing to show for it. Clinton now plans to spend another $10 billion over the next five years, and Congress would like to double that. When it comes to selling fantasy for big bucks, George Lucas has nothing on the weapons industry.The phantom menace is not the only theme shared by Star Wars the film and Star Wars the flimflam. For example, the movie tells of young Anakin Skywalker, who abandons a career as a noble Jedi knight when he crosses over to the Dark Side of The Force. Clinton and many Democrats in Congress acted similarly last March, when they suddenly caved in to the weapons lobby and green-lighted what Republican hawks have long sought. There were many noble reasons to oppose the national missile defense system. One was to protect the taxpayers from being further defrauded by a program branded by former Air Force Chief of Staff Larry Welch "a rush to failure."Another was to uphold our end of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which contains an agreement not to build such a system. Now, we are apparently intent on either forcing Russia to accept this abrogation or simply pulling out altogether. This, in turn, crushes any hope that Russia will approve the START II Treaty, which would cut both sides' nuclear arsenals in half. Coming soon: Cold War II - the Sequel.And who are our targets? Seven Rogue States -- Iraq, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Sudan, and Cuba -- that comprise the phantom menace from which the Star Wars system will protect us. More like seven dwarves -- their combined defense budgets are less than 1/20th that of the United States. They do not come equipped with ICBMs. They may come with suitcase nukes, against which Star Wars is unfortunately useless.As for tie-in merchandise, here are just a few of the high-tech toys everyone in America is now buying, like it or not:* The "Rad, Bad" THAAD Antimissile Missile, made by Lockheed Martin, designed to intercept mid-range missiles -- if only it worked. THAAD has now failed to hit a single incoming missile in six consecutive tests, but its $67 billion price tag is sure to bring much joy to the Lockheed stockholders on your gift list.* The "Millennium" Milstar Satellite: another Lockheed product, this $20 billion program was originally conceived as a way of preserving military communications during an all-out nuclear war. The Air Force doesn't even want it anymore, but Congress won't kill it. This gem was launched into a flawed, useless orbit last month by a defective Titan 4B rocket, also made by Lockheed.* The "Spendthrift" Space-Based Laser: about as close to the Death Star as modern technology can get. It will cost about $100 billion to develop and another $3 billion for each launch, and will zap any incoming missile right out of the sky. Want science fiction? You got it. Bruce J. Allen is a San Francisco writer affiliated with Peace Action, the nation's largest grassroots peace and justice lobby.

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