By Davis, Charles
National Catholic Reporter , Vol. 37, No. 36
Ballistic Missile Defenses--United States
Russian Foreign Relations--United States
Iraqi Foreign Relations--United States
United States Foreign Relations--Russia
United States Foreign Relations--Iraq
Bush, George W.--Military policy
Rumsfeld, Donald--Military policy
United States--Military policy
For the past five decades, the United States has relied on a policy of nuclear deterrence as a way of averting nuclear war. U.S. and Soviet leaders knew that if either fired nuclear weapons at the other, mass mutual destruction would be the result.
It was a Faustian bargain, but it worked.
President George Bush and his secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, would now have us believe that the policy is outdated, arguing that it does not work to deter small "rogue" nations like Iraq. What we need now, Bush and Rumsfeld have consistently said, is a layered missile defense shield to protect the United States and its allies against the threat of rogue states.
The proposal is vague. It is based on weapons of unknown numbers and types, as well as unknown modes of deployment. Yet to get what he wants, Bush is willing to not only abandon deterrence -- a policy that, however controversial, has served both us and the Soviets well -- but also to unilaterally abrogate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
Further, the administration wants to back NATO expansion to include even states in the former USSR such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Over such expansion, Russia would have no veto.
Bush's plan is based on two false premises and threatens Russia's security to the point of creating world instability.
Let's look at those false premises.
1) Bush falsely asserts that deterrence is no assurance against missile attacks from small rogue nations like Iraq. Saddam Hussein, he argues, is too irrational to be deterred by the power of a U.S. arsenal.
Recent history, however, suggests the opposite
As evidence of Saddam's irrationality, Bush's supporters like to point out that Saddam has used chemical weapons against Iran and even against his own people and that, in an act of revenge when withdrawing from Kuwait in 1991, he created an ecological disaster by setting fire to hundreds of oil wells.
What Bush and his supporters fail to point out, though, is how deterrence has been effective even against Saddam. In the Gulf War and since, the Iraqi leader has avoided stepping over any line that was likely to tempt the United States to unleash its nuclear arsenal. Saddam probably heeded warnings by the first President George Bush that use of poison gas against U.S. troops in countries that bordered Iraq would mean the end of Iraq.
2) Our current President Bush also falsely asserts that Russia would not be threatened by the missile defense shield he proposes.
Unfortunately, people speaking for the administration consistently ignore what Russia cannot ignore: The defense shield Bush proposes could allow the United States to launch a first strike and then be prepared to intercept whatever missiles Russia had left to launch against us.
As a retired analyst of Soviet political and military affairs, I believe that Bush's plan leaves Russian leaders with legitimate security concerns.
From Moscow's viewpoint, Russia's conventional military forces are incapable of quelling the rebellion in Chechnya, much less of stopping a potential invasion from Western Europe. Their combat aircraft rarely fly; their ships rarely sail and their submarines can't leave port without the danger of blowing themselves up.
At the same time, the overwhelming superiority demonstrated by U.S. conventional forces in the last decade, combined with its robust nuclear forces, puts Russia's weakening nuclear deterrent at great risk even before the proposed missile shield is put in place. Looking toward the future, Moscow must be concerned about its security in case of a first strike by the United States. If the United States were to launch a first strike with land- and. sea-based ballistic missiles, backed up by air- and sea-based cruise missiles and stealth bombers, we could destroy a substantial portion of the Russian missiles capable of hitting the United States. …