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White House pushes plan for weapons in space
Making the world more dangerous

May 25, 2001 | Page 5

DEFENSE SECRETARY Donald Rumsfeld is on a mission. He spent much of the last month speaking out about his plans to expand the U.S. government's ability to wage war in space.

Rumsfeld's bizarre talk about killer satellites, laser weapons and, of course, the Pentagon's national missile defense scheme known as "Star Wars" would be funny if it wasn't so terrrifying.

Rumsfeld and friends are ready to rip up decades-old arms control treaties and ignore the pleas of nearly every other country in the world in order to pursue their space weapons.

China and Russia rightly fear that the Bush gang's plan for a defense "shield" that would intercept and destroy incoming missiles would make it easier for the U.S. to carry out a nuclear first strike.

As ELIZABETH SCHULTE shows, far from making the world "safer," Bush and the warlords of Washington are making it more dangerous.

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GEORGE W. BUSH surrounded himself with Cold Warriors from Republican administrations gone by--like Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He's taking up their weapons, too.

Rumsfeld goes back to the Nixon administration, where he met Cheney. As defense secretary under Gerald Ford, Rumsfeld laid the groundwork for a slew of new weapons systems, including the B-1 bomber and the MX missile. "Rummy" and friends spent the last decade waiting to get back to the White House--so they could promote new weapons.

The missile defense system that George Bush and the ghouls who advise him are pushing isn't a new idea. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan promised that his Strategic Defense Initiative--which became known as "Star Wars"--would make ballistic missiles "impotent and obsolete."

It didn't work out. In 1989, when Bush Sr. took over, the new administration conceded that an umbrella defense system wouldn't work.

But it came up with something new--clusters of tiny interceptors equipped with miniature computers that would that would fly in low orbits around the Earth, waiting to detect missile attacks and then fend them off. The system was called Brilliant Pebbles, and then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney ate it up. But by 1992, General Accounting Office investigators were pouring cold water on Brilliant Pebbles, concluding that "tremendous technical challenges" lay ahead.

Despite the end of the Cold War with the ex-USSR, the Pentagon found plenty of defense projects to shovel money into. When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, he turned to shorter-range missile defense programs, designed to defend troops in the field or small targets abroad.

But in 1999, Clinton made a deal with Republicans to step up a national missile defense program--to protect the U.S. against attacks by "rogue nations." As his excuse, Clinton used a 1998 report from a commission headed by none other than Donald Rumsfeld, which insisted that Iraq, Iran and North Korea were in a position to deploy weapons that could strike the U.S. in the next five years.

No one really bought that conclusion. Even CIA Director George Tenet repudiated the commission's findings. Nonetheless, Rumsfeld's report was just the ticket to keep the missile defense industry in business.

This despite the fact that prototypes of a national missile defense system have never worked. Last year, interceptors failed to blow up their targets in two out of three flight tests--even though the tests were rigged to succeed.

But the Star Wars hype is certain to increase with Bush Jr. in office. "To say the least, the first 100 days have not augered well for arms control," wrote Spurgeon Keeny Jr. in Arms Control Today in May. "The promised light at the end of the tunnel is not a glimpse of a new post-Cold War, laissez-faire military paradise where the U.S. can do whatever it pleases, but rather an oncoming locomotive portending a disastrous collision with reality."

The White House's Star Wars madness is making the world an even more dangerous place.

"Unlike the Cold War, today's most urgent threat stems not from thousands of ballistic missiles in the Soviet hands, but from a small number of missiles in the hands of…states for whom terror and blackmail are a way of life," Bush claimed in a May 1 speech promoting national missile defense. "They hate our friends. They hate our values. They hate democracy and freedom…deterrence is no longer enough to maintain peace."

But compared to America's firepower, "rogue nations" like Iraq and North Korea are hardly the world's great dangers. The real danger is George Bush and his creepy defense crew's willingness to step up missile madness. We have to stop them.

"In the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan rode into Washington with guns blazing…the international peace movement helped roll back his nightmare of nuclear scenarios and push him toward a policy of arms reductions, not mutual destruction," author William Hartung pointed out recently in the Nation magazine. "It will take that same kind of energy and commitment to stave off Bush's born-again nuclearism."

The Pentagon's plan for "mini-nukes"

THE pentagon has a terrifying new addition to its wish list--the "mini-nuke." The planned device is a low-yield nuclear warhead with an earth-penetrating nose cone. It's supposed to burrow deep into the ground to hit underground targets, such as leadership bunkers and command centers.

Pentagon officials say that they want to develop the nuke to combat fears that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein might hide biological and chemical weapons arsenals in underground bunkers.

Yet scientists say that it's impossible for a weapon to penetrate deep enough to keep radioactive debris from contaminating the environment. "In order to be fully contained, nuclear explosions at the Nevada test site must be buried at a depth of 650 feet for a five-kiloton explosive," concludes a Federation of Atomic Scientists study. "This mission does not appear possible, without causing massive radioactive contamination."

Defense contractors cash in

THE PENTAGON wants another $8 billion on top of its $296 billion budget. And Rumsfeld says that the exact amount is still "open"--to determine what might be needed for missile defense.

No wonder defense contractors like Boeing and TRW are licking their chops. The defense industry is sure to see a tidy profit if Bush's plans go into effect.

And they've proved that they'll never let the facts stand in the way of money. Last year, a senior research scientist working for TRW filed a lawsuit, charging that she had been fired for refusing to falsify research findings.

Her job was to identify whether interceptors from the Star Wars system would be able tell the difference between missiles armed with nuclear warheads and decoys. Her answer: No way.

But that wasn't the answer the defense industry wanted. After all, there are billions of dollars at stake.

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