The Guardian May 30, 2001


The Son of Star Wars Australia beware!

by M Mifsud

The United States wants to build a "Star Wars" type of nuclear defence 
system, now dubbed the "Son of Star Wars" because of it being a descendent 
of the discredited concept from the Reagan years. "Son of Star Wars", 
officially known as National Missile Defence (NMD for short), was revived 
during the Clinton administration and is now being pushed hard by the Bush 
administration, despite protests from nearly all US allies. The exceptions 
to these are a small island state in the Pacific Ocean and  you guessed 
it  Australia!

The US's yen for an NMD system threatens a number of treaties which are 
crucial in the nuclear arms control and reduction process. Threatened are 
the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty 
(NPT), Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), No Nuclear Weapons in Space 
Treaty and most importantly the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties.

The most crucial of these are the Strategic Arms Reduction series of 
Treaties, otherwise referred to as START 1, START 2 and START 3. This 
series of Treaties represents the very instruments of reduction of the 
nuclear arsenals of the two major nuclear powers  Russia and the US.

START 1 was completed in 1999/2000 bringing about the dismantling of many 
nuclear weapons of the two powers. START 2 and START 3 are HOPEFULLY  yet 
to come, with the aim of reducing to as close to Zero as possible the 
number of weapons possessed by Russia and the US.

At the conclusion of START 1 sometime in 1999/2000, Russia and the US began 
negotiations for START 2. These were in progress when alarming rumours of 
the US's intentions regarding NMD began to filter onto the world scene. 
Together with the Republican controlled US Senate's refusal to endorse the 
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), this spelled disaster for nuclear 
arms reduction.

After some hesitation due to the NMD rumours, Russia ratified START 2, and 
called upon the US also to ratify it  and this is where this initiative 
now appears to rest in Limbo.

Russia has now stated that if the US proceeds with NMD, it would withdraw 
from START 2 and START 3, restarting production of nuclear weapons as did 
China with India and Pakistan hedging their bets  thus igniting a new and 
wider nuclear arms race.

Another prominent affect of NMD relates to the concepts of (Mutually 
Assured Destruction" and "First Strike Capability".

The much vaunted (Mutually Assured Destruction" strategy  or MAD for 
short  is the acronym for a bilateral strategy which revolved around the 
theory that the two main nuclear powers were armed in such a fashion as to 
ensure mutual destruction of both powers (unfortunately taking the rest of 
humanity with them) the instant that one or the other of the powers 
unleashed the first nuclear attack.

For many years whilst referring to the MAD theory, the US particularly and 
the USSR probably, tried hard to achieve by various means what is referred 
to as "First Strike Capability". (The former Soviet Union repeatedly 
declared that it would never be the first to use nuclear weapons  Ed.)

This strategy seeks to subvert the intentions of the MAD concept  in 
short the intention was to be capable of the FIRST and ONLY nuclear strike 
upon the enemy with no, or at least little, opportunity for a return strike 
by the "enemy". Thus "the enemy" would be wiped out leaving the power 
achieving the "First Strike" in a winner takes all situation.

The NMD, as now proposed by the US, seeks to achieve virtually a "First 
Strike" situation by at least the two following scenarios:

* Any intended strike  ostensibly by "renegade" states would be 
intercepted and destroyed by NMD, thus leaving the US free to wipe out said 
"renegade" state by a return strike

* the US thus achieving First and Only strike. The US is able to launch a 
nuclear strike relying on its NMD to wipe out any return strike launched in 
defence. In this way the US would once again achieve "First Strike".

Any state achieving "First Strike " would be in an absolutely unassailable 
position to the extent that it would be able to extort and blackmail other 
national interests with impunity. This is one of the main concerns that 
Russia and China and others are expressing. Despite the many billions of 
dollars already expended and the many billions more intended to be expended 
 there is no guarantee that NMD would work. The history of the original 
"Star Wars" of the Reagan years was fraught with a number of major and a 
myriad of smaller technical problems.

Attempts to build the system were so costly that after the expenditure of 
many billions together with the many technical problems , "Star Wars" was 
abandoned. However the industry lobby was not so easily put off and after 
the expenditure of billions of dollars greasing the palms of Congress the 
"Son of Star Wars" was spawned during the Clinton administration.

So how has this new "Son of Star Wars" fared in its more modern setting and 
how does this help determine whether the system will work?

Well, several of its major tests have already failed, the most recognisable 
one occurring during the end of the Clinton era when this administration 
was compelled to call it off and pass it on to the Bush administration 
which, as we know has embraced NMD with full-blooded fervour.

To the NMD's long history of technical failure and unimaginable financial 
requirements must be added the final indignity! Even if they can get NMD up 
and running, it is widely known that the entire kit and caboodle can be 
frustrated simply and VERY cheaply by the launching of decoy missiles which 
would confuse NMD technology into destroying the empty decoys, thus being 
depleted for the real attack which would follow.

This is attested to by many failures during the Iraqi War of the PATRIOT 
system  NMD being partly based upon this system. Australia's intended 
role in the US's sordid NMD plan is not a passive one as the US needs the 
facilities at Pine Gap in Central Australia to operate NMD. These 
facilities are required to contact and remotely operate NMD equipment 
orbiting in space.

However, the story does not end there, since the current facilities at Pine 
Gap are outdated and must be upgraded by installing Space Based Infra Red 
Systems (SIBS). Here the question arises  apart from the indignity of 
being forced into a lap dog situation once again will Australia also be 
forced to bear a financial cost in the upgrading?

In the event the NMD goes ahead, any intending assailant of the US would 
probably first proceed to destroy NMD capabilities. Given Australia's 
active NMD role through the use of Pine Gap facilities, this most probably 
would mean the targeting of Pine Gap.

Australia would be made a target for nuclear weapons after the relief and 
great hope we felt when nuclear disarmament had become a distinct 
possibility.

Our hopes may well evaporate if Australia goes along like a lamb with NMD, 
not only will it be complicit in a new nuclear arms race but it will be a 
target for a nuclear first strike.

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