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More NMD threat than opponents acknowledge

15 January 2001

The final frontier - There's more than meets the eye to the controversial U.S. scheme, says scientist John Valleau. Much, much more.

By John Valleau

The Globe and Mail

Incoming U.S. president George W. Bush and his nominee as secretary of state, Colin Powell, are strong supporters of the National Missile Defence project -- basically a scaled-down version of the "Star Wars" scheme that was proposed, and discredited, in the Reagan years. The purpose of the project is claimed to be the ability to intercept, in space, a small number of missiles launched against the United States. But the controversial plan may be more sinister than we could imagine, and Canada must make every effort to stop it.

The missile defence proposal poses a giant conundrum, because the costs, financial and strategic, appear much greater than any benefits to the United States.

If, as its proponents say, the system would be capable only of intercepting a few attacking missiles, the scheme offers no defence from an assault by any serious antagonist. The costs, on the other hand, are massive, not only in consuming billions of dollars by itself, but in fuelling a new arms race. Russia and China both interpret the U.S. plan as part of the development of a nuclear "first-strike" capability. They, therefore, make it clear that, if it goes ahead, they will feel obliged to modernize their arsenals. This would mean an end to nuclear disarmament. So why would the United States contemplate accepting these risks for such meagre and dubious benefits? What can be driving the the missile defence project?

The answer may lie in a little-known plan for the United State to dominate and colonize outer space. This sounds absurd and paranoid, but it is all laid out in the mission statements of the United States Space Command. The basic document, Vision for 2020, is already five years old. (This, and the later Long Range Plan fleshing out the "vision," are publicly available on the Web, at Copies can be found also on the Project Ploughshares Web site. The Space Command describes its role as "dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect U.S. interests and investment [and] integrating Space Forces into war-fighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict."

This is a clear plan to militarize space with U.S. weapons, and to seek the ability to "deny others the use of space." The report is adorned with pictures of targets on Earth being zapped by such weapons. All this, while the United States is a signatory of the Outer Space Treaty, which aims at preventing the weaponization of outer space.

The connection to colonialism is also pretty explicit: "As sea commerce advanced in the 18th and 19th centuries, nations built navies to project power and protect and enhance their commercial interests. Similarly, during the westward expansion of the continental United States, military outposts and the cavalry emerged to protect our wagon trains, settlements and railroads. . . . The emergence of space power follows . . . these models."

It is, at first, hard to believe that this horrifying plan is really U.S. policy, but there has been no repudiation of the published intentions by the U.S. administration, and the Space Command continues to be handsomely financed.

How does this explain the missile defence proposal? First of all, the Space Command is the responsible agency directing the defence project, and the "vision" makes it clear that it foresees that "NMD will evolve into a mix of ground and space sensors and weapons." So the limited missile defence that has been discussed publicly is not at all what is actually in mind.

Then, to put the Space Command plans in place, the United States will have to abrogate, or ignore, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and probably the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as well, while violating at least the spirit of the Outer Space Treaty and the Environmental Modification Techniques protocol.

The nations of the world would never accept the colonial status implied by this U.S. plan, but -- and this is where the missile defence scheme comes in -- they might be persuaded to accept the dismemberment of these treaties, if they only see the missile defences as a relatively benign, small-scale defence system, as it is portrayed.

What is Canada's responsibility in the face of this? The United States has not yet made a firm decision to proceed with deployment of its missile defences. Statements by Mr. Bush imply his approval, but there remains some considerable internal resistance, and the United States remains somewhat sensitive to the international reactions.

Russia and China have given sharp warning of their response to any deployed missile defences -- rearmament. The nations of Europe have also expressed their opposition in forthright terms. But Canada has yet to speak. Lloyd Axworthy, when minister of Foreign Affairs, did make a statement giving strong reasons for opposing it, and Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, in his recent joint statement with Russian President Vladimir Putin, appears to concur that the U.S.-Russian Anti-Ballistic-Missile treaty must be paramount.

But Canada must speak out clearly. The United States is desperately seeking to legitimize the scheme by gaining its acceptance by a respected nation, and is hoping we might play that role. Furthermore, Canada cannot remain neutral, because, if it is silent, it risks being involved, willy-nilly, through its membership in NORAD.

So it is urgent that the Canadian government speak out now, opposing the missile defence project. We have nothing to gain from the plan and a lot to lose: the hope of abolishing nuclear weapons, the hope of an outer space without weapons, the respect of the international community.

Our rejection would give strong support to missile defence critics in the U.S., and it could well help to turn the tide.

John Valleau is a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, in the chemical-physics theory group of the Chemistry Department. He is also a member of the board and of the executive of Science for Peace.

*** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Feel free to distribute widely but PLEASE acknowledge the source. ***

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