As of the day this column was written, America was still the land of the free and home of the brave. When you think about it, this is really pretty impressive. Throughout our history we have been under constant attack from those bent on destroying our American way of life. In our country’s earliest days our enemies were witches, Indians and their mutual ally, the devil. Then came a barrage of foreign immigrants, followed by Spanish imperialism, lady voters, marijuana and finally communism.
As someone who is descended from immigrants, smokes pot periodically and enjoys wearing panties into the voting booth, I find it hard to see how people really got worked up about many of these “threats.” But the fear of communism still makes a certain amount of sense. After all, the communists had something all these other enemies were lacking — a nuclear arsenal capable of destroying the world.
This was the threat we were facing when our country’s finest minds first came up with the idea of a comprehensive, strategic, anti-missile defense shield, and at the time it sort of made sense. Never mind we had already signed the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty, which would specifically ban such a shield. Never mind we ourselves had a nuclear arsenal capable of destroying the world twice over. (To put it another way, we could have destroyed Russia two or three times over and still had enough missiles to destroy Uganda 347 times.) At the time there were big, scary, evil countries who hated us and had a whole bunch of missiles aimed at us. It was natural, if not entirely logical, to want to protect ourselves.
Now the big scary nations who used to hate us are substantially less big, less scary and no longer hate us. We give them foreign aid, we give them most favored nation status, and come Christmas, we usually give them something a bit nicer than those tacky yellow ties we used to send in the 1970s. In this more friendly international climate, we can go about our days without worrying that Russia or China will suddenly decide to destroy us, and they, presumably, can do the same.
But for the past 50 years, our foreign diplomacy has been built on fear, not trust, and President George W. Bush, apparently following in the intellectual footsteps of Ronald Reagan, seems unwilling to give this approach up. By developing a Missile Defense System, in the face of explicit and reasonable protest from both China and Russia, Bush is actively destroying the goodwill that has developed since the end of the Cold War.
Instead of working with the other nuclear powers for peace, we are essentially triggering another arms race, forcing other nations to build up their arsenals and creating a situation where the occasional blip on the radar is more likely to be interpreted as a enemy missile rather than, say, a particularly obese man strapped on top of a harmless weather balloon.
Some argue the real threat these days comes not from an accidental exchange with a traditional enemy, but with a new breed of nuclear empowered “rogue states.” If we were to design our Missile Defense Shield around the threat of “rogue” nations, we would be spending billions of dollars on the assumption countries clever enough to unlock the secret of the atom would be dumb enough to send their bombs at us via missiles, perhaps unaware of what exactly was meant by the phrase “missile defense shield.”
We would be relying on the fact these countries are so foreign and godless they had never seen a single James Bond film, and as a result would be unable to think of any clever scheme for sneaking an atomic bomb into downtown Manhattan. Granted these would have to be some pretty stupid rogue states, but then again, so were the ones building the shield.
Nick Danforth is a freshman in Pierson College.