As Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the grievously mis-named Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, puts it, “Even neo-isolationists love missile defense precisely because they see it as the antithesis of a foreign policy. Once we put up the shield, they figure, Americans can mind their own business and the rest of the world can go to hell.” If only it were so. But Kagan is sophisticated enough to realize that precisely the opposite is the case. In a piece in the Washington Post [May 21, 2000], Kagan made a case for missile defense aimed at liberal interventionists, arguing that as long as America has to live in fear of retaliation for its global meddling, policy elites will think twice before intervening: but Star Wars technology will unleash them. In a world without NMD, he writes,
“The United States could find itself less and less willing to undertake the risks that come with global leadership. Adversaries would be emboldened by American timidity, and friends would begin to look elsewhere for their security. The ties that bind America to its allies would loosen. In time, the fabric of the international order, now dependent on American military power and on American will to use it, would unravel altogether. In other words, the neo-isolationists have it exactly backwards. Nothing is more likely to push the United States toward an isolationist foreign policy than our increasing vulnerability to missile attack.”
WHAT MATTERS MOST
This is a rather disingenuous way to say it it is our aggressive foreign policy that is the root of our vulnerability but Kagan is right about the peculiar confusion represented by conservative Republican support for NMD. In his piece, Kagan seems to scoff at the idea that there is anyone crazy enough to launch a ballistic missile at the US, and, anyway, “what matters most is deterrence. Not our ability to deter others, but their ability to deter us. For the past decade, American strategy has rested on our ability to project overwhelming conventional force into vital regions around the world” and, in Kagan’s view, nothing must deter us from intervening anywhere and everywhere. Star Wars will make that possible. For if some “weaker power” got tired of being pushed around say, Iraq and “had an arsenal of missiles capable of striking Europe and the United States,” then
“Would an American president be as quick as George Bush was in 1991 to order an offensive to force him out? Would Congress vote to approve an invasion, knowing the price might be an American or European city? Would the Europeans join forces with us if Paris and Munich were vulnerable?”
BOONDOGGLE AND PANACEA
Far from being strictly defensive, then, NMD is being sold as an offensive weapon, the necessary shield that accompanies the sword. As such, Kagan seems to realize that the NMD’s real constituency is not the Right, but the Left, for here is a project that combines aspects of a government boondoggle and a utopian panacea. In making a direct appeal to Clintonian interventionists of the “humanitarian” variety, Kagan implores “liberal internationalists” to “do some hard thinking.” Having opposed NMD in the past because it would undermine arms control efforts, he argues that they must now rethink their position in light of their recent born-again conversion to the joys of militarism. “The day is fast approaching,” Kagan writes, “when they will have to choose between their faith in arms control treaties and their belief in America’s role as the world’s ‘indispensable nation.'” This is how the NMD lobby sold Clinton and the Democrats on adopting a modified version of their program, and now the Bushies are pulling out all the stops in a race to put NMD in place and unleash the full military potential of Star Wars.
GETTING OUT OF THE RAIN
In selling the idea to the Europeans, particularly the British, the strategy of the Bush administration is to hold out the promise of extending NMD to other countries. I was astonished to read the headline in the International Herald Tribune the other day: “US Intends to Put Anti-Missile Shield Around the World“! This stunning news was announced by newly-installed secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld: speaking at the Conference on Security Policy, an annual pow-wow of defense ministers, policy wonks, and military specialists, Rumsfeld no doubt caused a stir when he declared that “The United States intends to develop and deploy a missile defense designed to defend our people and our forces against a limited missile attack and is prepared to assist friends and allies threatened by missile attack to deploy such defenses.” In making their appeal to the Europeans, Team Bush is applying the same strategy Kagan used on domestic liberals. As the International Herald Tribune piece put it: “By expanding the system’s coverage in this way, the administration of President George W. Bush clearly hopes to curb complaints from allies that missile defense is an umbrella for the United States that would be liable to make Americans seek security in isolationism.” Don’t get rid of the umbrella, Rumsfeld is saying to the Europeans, join us and get out of the rain. But what, exactly, will they be joining?
AN IRON CURTAIN
In his speech, Rumsfeld pointedly neglected to use the word “national” to describe the missile defense plan envisioned by the Bush administration, and the implications of this omission are enormous. For what he is offering them is a global missile defense system that would give new meaning to the word “protectorate”: from South Korea to the Gulf states, covering the Balkans and certainly Israel, an international missile defense (IMD) system would give our various regional satraps the benefit of living behind an iron curtain, so to speak, against which the missiles of “rogue” nations would bounce off: one that afforded them same dubious benefits as the last one, eternal “protection” but at what price?
Ah, say the Bushies, but we’ll make it worth your while. For if the US, unafraid of ballistic missile “blowback,” is going to be unleashed, then the same privilege will be extended to its friends and allies. That, at least, is the implicit promise and very real danger of IMD. Consider the recent election of Ariel Sharon as prime minister of Israel in the context of the Bushian international missile defense concept: would not the same logic of deterrence outlined above by Kagan apply to Israel? While Sharon might be otherwise restrained from launching an all-out war and achieving his dream of a Greater Israel, the missile shield erected by the US would hardly act as a restraint. The potential costs of war for Israel would be so greatly reduced that it is hard to see how Sharon could resist embarking on a course of conquest: huddled under the IMD umbrella, Israeli forces could perhaps fulfill the old Zionist dream of extending Israel’s borders from the Nile to the Euphrates.
MISSILE DEFENSE NOW, UNION LATER
Britain, too, would be unleashed, and the Tories are practically swooning at the thought of it: dreams of a restored Empire, more adventures in Africa, and maybe even an Anglo-American confederation, dance in their heads. The old idea of an Anglo-American union is being raised, tentatively and even shyly, so as not to offend the nationalist sensibilities of American conservatives, who, after all, cheered Mel Gibson in The Patriot and booed his British tormentors. While Labor naturally seeks integration into the European socialist superstate, Hague and his front-bencher Tories, faced with the choice of rule from Brussels, or from Washington, D.C., have thrown their lot in with the latter. National independence, apparently, is not even an option.
This is what the extension of the IMD over half the globe would mean, symbolically at first, but soon enough in actuality: the de facto merger of the territories protected by the IMD system. A few years ago, the neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, invoking Francis Fukuyama‘s famous “End of History” thesis, proclaimed that at this “unipolar moment” we need to forget about the outmoded concept of national sovereignty and replace it with “a new universalism.” In Krauthammer’s view, the “wish and work” of America should be to integrate with Europe and Japan inside a “super-sovereign” entity that is “economically, culturally, and politically hegemonic” in the world. “This new universalism,” he writes, “would require the conscious depreciation not only of American sovereignty, but of the notion of sovereignty in general.” The idea of merging the US into a trans-national union “is not,” he opined, “as outrageous as it sounds.”
FRAMEWORK OF EMPIRE
It still sounds outrageous, even with the Bush-Rumsfeld IMD plan in place but rather less impossible. While the missile defense tests carried out so far have been nothing short of disastrous, there is no doubt that, given the lavish resources being poured into this boondoggle, a system like IMD could be developed in time. This would provide the military framework for a more extensive and gradual integration. In effect, constructing an international missile defense means building an overseas empire, its frontiers defined by the outer limits of the IMD umbrella.
TECHNOLOGY AND IDEOLOGY
But couldn’t missile defense technology still be used to defend the legitimate interests of the US, i.e. the safety of its citizens right here at home? No technology has a moral or political content, but is merely an instrument in the hands that wield it. How technology is used reflects the moral and ideological outlook of its creators, and in IMD we are seeing the true face of Team Bush reflected in the mirror of power. Whether a different administration, one that upheld the foreign policy principles of the Founders and saw itself as the guardian of American sovereignty, would employ a missile defense is another question for another column, but as far as this new crowd in Washington is concerned we are dealing with an altogether different case. Rumsfeld’s conception of a global missile defense is the technological embodiment of Krauthammer’s “new universalism,” the empty phrase that is the “patriotism” of the new millennium. If “the ties that bind will loosen” in a world without international missile defense, as Kagan puts it, then in the world Team Bush is building for us the ties that bind will tighten until the concept of American separateness is, at best, superfluous, at worst abolished by the new global hegemons.