Missile Defense for an Empire

October 20, 2002 • Commentary
This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register on October 20, 2002.

The new “National Security Strategy of the United States of America” released by the Bush administration last month talks about the need “to stop rogue states and their terrorist clients before they are able to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and our allies and friends.” One of the responses to this threat is the “development of an effective missile defense system.”

But given that the new strategy also asserts that deterrence may not work against rogue states and terrorists and, therefore, that the United States will act preemptively — if necessary — “against such emerging threats before they are fully formed,” a logical question arises: Why does the United States need a missile defense against rogue states?

By definition, rogue states do not currently possess long‐​range missiles — that could be armed with weapons of mass destruction — capable of reaching the United States. If the new U.S. strategy is simply to eliminate the threat before it is fully formed, then rogue states would never acquire the capability to attack the United States, nor would they be able to pass such capability on to terrorists. If that were the case, then the need for a missile defense that could cost hundreds of billions of dollars would seemingly be obviated. Such potential savings are especially important given that the Pentagon has spent more than $100 billion since President Reagan challenged the technical community to render nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete in 1983, but an operationally effective missile defense is still to be proven.

Of course, the real reason the administration wants to pursue missile defense is not so much to protect America per se (although that is largely how advocates couch their argument and rationale), but to protect U.S. forces so they can engage in military intervention around the world. Such thinking is not set forth in the new national security strategy. But it is explicit in the blueprint for the new strategy: “Rebuilding America’s Defenses,” a report by The Project of the New American Century published in September 2000 and whose many contributors include people in key policy positions in the Bush administration, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. It calls for the development and deployment of global missile defenses “to provide a secure basis for U.S. power projection around the world.”

So it’s not really the intercontinental ballistic missiles that rogue states currently don’t have and aren’t likely to develop and deploy for perhaps a decade or more that have the administration worried. It’s the short‐​range missiles (like Scuds) that rogue states already have. Why? Because if equipped with nuclear, biological, or chemical warheads, such missiles could be a credible deterrent to U.S. military intervention with conventional forces. And although dressed up with the rationale of extending liberty, democracy and freedom around the globe (except, of course, in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan), the new national security strategy is really about a Pax Americana enforced by military power and an ever‐​expanding security perimeter with U.S. forces deployed around the globe.

It never seems to occur to those bent on pursuing such a strategy that the result will be increased resentment and animosity towards what is perceived by the rest of the world as an imperialist America. Indeed, a recent poll shows that Arabs generally like American freedoms, values and culture. But they dislike the United States based on its foreign policies. This sentiment is echoed in other polls in countries around the world. But the conclusion is lost on American policymakers: The United States needs to stop meddling in the internal affairs of regions and countries around the world, especially when it does not threaten U.S. national security interests, i.e., when the territorial integrity, national sovereignty or liberty of the United States is at risk, or it becomes necessary to prevent the emergence of an expansionist hegemonic power.

Ultimately, the global missile defense sought by the administration is a shield for a quixotic crusade using military force to build a better and safer world based on American values and interests. But this strategy will have the perverse effect of making the United States less secure by sowing the seeds of hate and vehement anti‐​American sentiment that could erupt in more terrorist violence. And a missile defense, no matter how effective, will not protect Americans from terrorists using easier and cheaper means to inflict mass casualties — witness 9/11.

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