Korea Times 2000/06/05(Mon)

Hearts and Minds - The NMD's Geopolitical Ripples

By Rhee Tong-chin, Ph.D.

The ``launch on warning'' was once a very scary strategy during the height of the Cold War that ipso facto threatened the very survival of the world and human civilization. Once thought to have been consigned to a dusty corner of an history museum somewhere, along with the demise of the Cold War, it now seems that the strategy might have crept back into circulation unnoticed.

The scenario of a ``launch on warning'' could go something like this. One side has done a lot to improve its defense capabilities to a point where it feels invulnerable to attack. Once that stage of confidence is reached, it feels that it can get away from a ``decapitating'' strike against the enemy without receiving any punishing counter-blows. In that situation, the side which feels that it might be seriously inferior, then would be compelled to gamble everything in ``shooting off'' everything it has before the enemy's defenses are perfectly set up. In other words, one side's assumed lead in defensive capabilities could in fact unleash trouble rather than deter it from ever happening. The result then is that the original defensive confidence is actually highly destabilizing and harmful to its own security. The security enhancing measures will ironically invite disaster because the inferior side would always go for a preemptive first strike because it feels it is insecure. The ``launch on warning'' is precisely that. If it suspects or detects even through technical error, for instance, that the other side (seemingly superior with defensive confidence) is contemplating or has actually launched an attack, then the threatened side launches everything even before confirming the attack to be REAL.

The Republican-pushed American strategic shield, the so-called National Missile Defense System (the continuation of Reagan's Star Wars fantasy), is exactly what is considered to be responsible for the scary revival of the old Cold War strategy _ thought to have been laid to rest long ago.

John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) argued that the Russian and Chinese objection to the American deployment of the National Missile Defense System (in actual violation of the existing ABM Treaty) concerns not merely the potential strategic impact of the American NMD on their own strategic ``deterrent power,'' but more fundamentally with the more vigorous and aggressive ``projection of American diplomacy backed up by force.'' The general consensus in the U.S., Russia, and China about the significance of the deployment of the missile defense system is that it could vastly ``consolidate'' the U.S. global role as the ``sole remaining superpower'' _ thus providing the U.S. the power to dictate its will on all vital global issues, potentially and actually at the expense of other countries' vital national interests. In other words, the NMD deployment is seen by the U.S. adversaries as well as European allies as a deliberate American attempt to ensure and prolong its monopolistic hegemony in the world indefinitely _ and thus serve and promote exclusive American interest.

If this is how Russia and China understand the meaning of the U.S. decision, regardless of the legitimate concerns of other powers, then the medium and long-term consequence of that decision/action would be the determined counter-moves by the coalesced states to cancel, neutralize, and eventually defeat the American scheme to create a world of multi-power centers so as to diffuse any single power's ability to arbitrarily decide all issues. Such a juxtaposition of the strategic lineup will only mean maximal trouble for the future stability of the world and hence its peace.

Given these implications, the American rationale that its anti-missile system is; first a very limited system aimed only at the minimal threats from minor powers like North Korea; and second, therefore, the limited defensive capability will not fundamentally affect the major strategic powers such as Russia and even China. For China and Russia, however, this sounds too clever, highly disingenuous and sinister. Not trusting the real purpose of the American system, Beijing and Moscow feel that North Korea is merely a transparent, flimsy excuse by the United States, which actually aims the system to paralyze and emasculate the legitimate deterrence capabilities of the two countries. Russia is particularly concerned that Washington is sneakily creating an ``infrastructure that will allow it to threaten and undermine Moscow's nuclear deterrent in the future.''

With an inventory of only a couple dozen ICBMs, China has serious fears that even a ``limited'' American NMD could in fact ``significantly reduce or negate China's minimal nuclear deterrent.'' Beijing's worst case scenario is that the U.S. could launch a preemptive first strike destroying most of China's slow-to-arm liquid-fuelled ICBMs on the ground, and the newly deployed NMD could wipe out China's second-strike missile force.

The ultimate outcome of this to-and-fro on the issue of the missiles and anti-missiles will only worsen the political position of the U.S. with the rest of the world _ not only with Beijing and Moscow, but also with all the European allies because of the revived specter of the ``launch on warning'' strategy. Reckless American policies, unreasonably geared for short-sighted selfish interest and benefits, will increase global resistance. In fact, Tyler Marshall of the Los Angeles Times, wrote that ``[a] growing number of [American national security] specialists'' are worried that the unilateral deployment of the NMD ``would carry political and security costs so great that it would leave the [U.S.] more vulnerable to external attack.'' In fact, the general fear voiced by the experts is that even with the successful revision of the 1972 ABM Treaty with highly reluctant Moscow, American security ``could be sharply diminished.''

The Europeans are fuming that the deployment of the NMD by the U.S. will``shatter'' all arms control agreements thus far and rekindle a vicious new round of the arms race. The Canadians and Europeans are upset that the American decision which could threaten all their cities by cornering the Russians was taken without a word of consultation with them. Indeed, Putin in London strongly charged that the U.S. move was a serious violation of the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty, and threatened to pull out from the newly ratified START II and ``junk'' all other bilateral arms reduction agreements if the U.S. really proceeded with the NMD.The Chinese, too, warned that they will have to spend a lot more money on improving and increasing the number of their long-range strategic missiles and nuclear weapons.

All arms races are fanned by corrosive suspicion about the ultimate intentions of adversaries. This time is no different and the corrosive suspicion is that the small and limited system that the U.S. claims it is building will in fact be a camouflaged ``precursor'' of a gigantic system for the ``militarization'' of space itself. The global fear is that with George W. Bush's election as president come November, the U.S. will go for a ``full-scale'' system with``space and sea launched'' weapons as well. So how could anybody reasonably hope to calm and comfort Russia and China?

The most incredible part in all this is that while the threatened deployment creates so much trouble all around, the fact seems to be that the anti-missile defense is generally condemned by American scientists themselves as``technologically unworkable.'' In fact, Professor Theodore A. Postol, a highly respected expert from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, accused the Pentagon of covering up serious defects of the system.

The driving force behind the fiasco is the U.S. Republicans who have insisted on the deployment ``to counter China's ballistic missile force.'' However, the real motive behind this incredibly reckless act seems to be to undercut the Clinton Administration no matter what the ultimate cost might be to the U.S. national interest just to win back the White House in the upcoming presidential race. The irresponsible Republican campaign to ``dismantle'' all the arms control achievements by all the past presidents _ including their own Republicans _ seems truly unbelievable; and that just such a wrecking job is being led by myopic hardliners such as Senator Jesse Helms, makes one to wonder what they really are and that such characters have been sent back to U.S. Congress repeatedly demonstrates the dangerous limitations of American democracy.

Hackneyed though it may be, history shows that the final destination of any``imperial'' power, too reckless and greedy for its own long-term good, has always been the reduction of its own chances for longevity.

Not even the most clever and dedicated enemies of the United States could have devised more diabolic policies that would hurt the vital U.S. national interests for a long time to come: 1) the extension of the NATO alliance into the historic Russian sphere; 2) antagonizing China by the unwise meddling over Taiwan, and now unambiguously designating China as the primary enemy of the U.S. in the new century; and 3) putting all its eggs in the potentially self-defeating basket [Japan _ with Mori's trial balloon-like remarks of``divine imperial'' tradition]. Nothing would be more direct and effective in restricting and limiting America's future options than these misguided policies. Wonder who's thinking all these up in Washington? David Halberstam's aphorism might be right again on this case _ the so-called Best and the Brightest digging the imperial grave with the worst historical judgment and busiest beavers' diligence.

* The views expressed are the author's own and do not represent those of any organizations to which he may belong.