The Guardian Misses the Point on National Missile Defence

"The whole aim of practical politics," H.L. Mencken once wrote, "is to keep the populace alarmed by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

The contemporary hobgoblins of choice, of course, are "rogue states", and more particularly their ballistic missiles which, we are told, may or may not one day be built and launched against the United States in an historic act of national suicide.

And yet as recently as 1996 the Sunday Times reported that the Pentagon was to spend $500m developing a new defence system against, not ballistic, but +cruise+ missiles. The decision was taken, we were told, "to counter warnings that... high-tech cruise missiles costing as little as £500,000 will soon become a threat to western nations."

Terry Taylor, assistant director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies based in London, was on hand to thicken the plot:

"In Iraq they fitted out a pilotless plane and were planning to putrbiological weapons and a spray tank on it. Fortunately they didn't get it working. That is the low end of the scale and some people would not call that a cruise missile, but I would."

When nobody laughed, political and military planners, and their colleagues in high-tech big business, grew bolder. Cool intelligences observed the world and saw that infinitely bigger and more lucrative hobgoblins could be invented to empty taxpayers' wallets - National Missile Defence (NMD) was born!

The ultimate origins of NMD lie in the experience of Cold War propagandists, who made a fortune from concocting the "Communist menace". With invaluable assistance from the corporate mass media, the "red scare" was brought to a hysterical pitch, with talk of "bomber gaps" and "missile gaps" offering fatal "windows of opportunity" to Soviet conspirators supposedly plotting tirelessly to launch a surprise attack.

As historians such as Mark Curtis have shown (see "The Ambiguities of Power", Zed Books, 1995), secret planning documents from the Cold War era "areoften explicit about the absence of any real threat from the Soviet Union".The "threat" was fraudulent: for public consumption - and private profit -only. As early as 1947, George Kennan, head of US State Department planning,left us in no doubt when he declared, "It is not Russian military powerwhich is threatening us, it is Russian political power." In 1950, referring to the supposed threat of "international communism", Former Under-Secretary of State, Robert Lovett, pointed out, "If we can sell every useless article known to man in large quantities, we should be able to sell our very fine story in larger quantities."

Cold War analyst John Lewis Gaddis had this to say:

"To a remarkable degree, containment [of the Soviet 'threat'] has been the product, not so much of what the Russians have done, or of what has happened elsewhere in the world, but of internal forces operating within the United States... What is surprising is the primacy that has been accorded economic considerations in shaping strategies of containment, to the exclusion of other considerations."

Mark Curtis explains the mystery:

"Crucially, the immediate beneficiaries of the [Cold War] rearmament programme were to be the large corporations within the military-defence sector of the economy. With guaranteed industrial production and a guaranteed market (the Department of Defence) they were able to achieve high levels of output and reap large profits."

Despite the wealth of evidence (of which the above is only a sample), media commentators remain woefully unsceptical in reporting the true purpose of high-tech "responses" to declared "threats". In June this year, the Times wrote of how, "By the year 2030 nuclear blackmail by rogue states" might or might not be a major global worry; "experts can be cited... with very different prognoses". President Bush, we were told, "represents those who are confident that the technical difficulties associated with NMD can be overcome". In May 2000, the Independent's Rupert Cornwell wrote:

"The sword begat the shield, which begat the arrow, which begat the rifle, which begat the trench. Now we have the most terminally lethal weapons in history, and America, convinced of the omnipotence of technology, comes up with what it thinks will be a shield to fend off, if not all, at least some of them."

Richard Norton-Taylor similarly misses the point in his recent Guardian analysis, "The US search for absolute security is a threat to us all" (The Guardian, August 9, 2001). NMD is not, as Norton-Taylor writes, an impractical "quest for the chimera of absolute security" and it does not represent "an epochal shift in relations" with the rest of the world. Rather it is very much business as usual in a world of "practical politics" requiring an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

NMD, unworkable and pointless, is an excellent way of diverting $100 billion of taxpayers' money into the pockets of high-tech big business. This was the case with the original "Star Wars" concept, with the many NASA "space race" projects and, as we have discussed, with the many Cold War "defence" projects that emerged from the Pentagon system. Security is not, and never has been, the issue. Bush and his business associates are, after all, utterly fearless in the face of the very real threat posed by climate change. The common denominator between opposition to the Kyoto Climate Protocol and promotion of NMD is that in both cases genuine security is being recklessly subordinated to profits.

Writing in Newsday in July 2000, US journalist Robert Jensen pointed out:

"The real targets of the NMD system are not the illusory incoming missiles, but the main missile contractors who will profit - Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon and TRW."

According to the World Policy Institute's William Hartung, these companies "are looking to missile defence to revive them from mismanagement and technical problems that have slashed their stock prices and reduced their profit margins". Hartung reports that the same corporations gave $2 million to the 25 "hard-core" NMD promoters in the Senate, spending $34 million on lobbying during 1997-98.

NMD is symptomatic of a world in which "politics is the shadow cast on society by big business". The media should be exposing the role played by corporations in promoting non-existent "threats", and lucrative "responses" to them. Instead of taking political statements at face value, journalists should be looking to expose the corporate power behind the foreign policy makers' throne.

The problem, of course, is that the media are very much part of the corporate system. It is vital that citizens begin to challenge the corporate media's claims to honesty and neutrality. What influence do wealthy entrepreneurial owners, parent companies, advertisers, big business pressure groups, business-friendly governments and the profit motive have on corporate media performance? In a world dominated by big business it is time that the big business media became accountable.

SUGGESTED ACTION

Please ask The Guardian to investigate and report the role played by big business in promoting National Missile Defence and in hyping the threat of "rogue states". Ask The Guardian to highlight the huge public subsidies that are spent on developing weapons systems in western countries, and the price paid in genuine security for the poor and vulnerable, and for existing and future victims of environmental collapse.
CONTACT: The Guardian

email: richard.norton-taylor@guardian.co.uk

email: alan.rusbridger@guardian.co.uk

email: letters@guardian.co.uk