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Misguided Missile Shield Corrected by President Obama

September 21, 2009

Monday’s are my “To See:  Looking Back Day”

To see the meaning of today’s events, we sometimes look back to yesterday’s events.

We at FCNL welcomed last week’s news that President Obama has decided to end the Bush administration’s project for a European based missile shield.  His announcement of this sensible decision brought two events of years ago to mind: a radio interview in Iowa on the morning of September 11, 2001 and a chat with President Clinton in the Rose Garden in October 1999.

A day or two after the 9-11 airplane attacks, Chuck Day of StarPac, an Iowa arms control and disarmament group, dropped me off at a Des Moines radio station for a drive time radio interview on one of those clear channel stations. The host told his audience that he had planned to skewer me for my stupid opposition to National Missile Defense (NMD), but then the terror attacks happened.  He said FCNL has been saying that National Missile Defense is a waste of billions, that the threat is not from a Cold War type missile war, and that the U.S. should instead focus on real threats and what to do about them.  These airplane terror attacks convinced him that FCNL was right to oppose NMD.

Of course, advocates of spending $9 billion or more a year to develop a “Star Wars” missile shield some decades from now found another enemy to justify their missile shield, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and they proposed putting the radars for that missile shield (which hasn’t passed a test and doesn’t work) in Eastern European countries, the backyard of Russia.  That provocative move helped to sour U.S.-Russia relations and demonized Iran.

I think Obama’s decision to end the missile shield project in Eastern Europe can lead to better relations with Russia and open the way to a successful negotiation for a new START treaty, maybe yet this year.  That treaty would really improve U.S. and global security.

I regret that President Obama has to protect himself from domestic political attacks by asserting that he will deploy other anti-missile systems closer to Iran, ones that do work now and at less cost.  Threatening Iran for threats they don’t pose is no way to open negotiations with them.  Also, Obama’s diplomacy path to Iran could be blocked, if Congress has its way by passing its misguided gasoline embargo on Iran.

That October 1999 chat with President Clinton came after a Rose Garden press conference of interfaith leaders who supported his call for the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).  I’d gotten a late night call from the White House asking me to bring the interfaith press conference planned for Capitol Hill to the president.  The president wanted to highlight the faithbased support for the treaty.  Clinton reflected on the last time the Senate had rejected ratification of such a treaty and what harm that would do now (1999).  Days later, Senator Jon Kyl (AZ) showed his legislative smarts by defeating ratification 48-51.  (Ratification requires 67 of the 100 Senate votes; we not even have a majority.)  Senator Kyl can take credit for leading a successful opposition to the CTBT.  In my opinion, he also has to take credit for contributing to the weakening of the international nonproliferation regime, to giving cover to other problem countries that wanted to test nuclear weapons, and, therefore, to helping create a national security deficit.  He’ll be back in 2010.

Jay Solomon, in his Wall Street Journal article, says that “The U.S. shift on missile defense is part of a broader White House strategy to signal its commitment to disarmament and moving toward eventually eliminating America’s nuclear-weapons stockpile.  The strategy includes developing and enforcing treaties aimed at banning atomic-weapons testing and the production of weapons-grade nuclear fuel.”

I think Solomon is right, and that means we need to have a better and more effective strategy for ratifying the CTBT this time.  We have to start now to succeed next year.

In his April Prague speech, President Obama called for nuclear disarmament and for Senate ratification of the CTBT as a step in the direction of that ultimate goal.  If the CTBT will be ratified next year – a May date is the Washington buzz now – then people across the U.S. at the community base will have to get informed and mobilize to demand Senate ratification.

If you think the health care debate has been hard, then “you haven’t seen nothin’ yet!”  Voters elected President Obama to get things like CTBT ratification done, and President Obama may want to get that done.  However, he will not get the CTBT ratified unless a strong popular movement demands that its Senators advocate and vote for the CTBT.

The CTBT is the next achievable step toward nuclear disarmament in our life time.  We had better organize now to take that step next year. –JV

One Comment
  1. September 22, 2009 9:28 pm

    You are a wonderful breath of fresh air, and inspire that most rare of virtues, HOPE! I am so glad to read this, as my Republican husband was scowling about the President’s “betrayal” and “quiet” withdrawal of this “vital” shield against Russia in Eastern Europe, for Poland and the Czech Republic.
    Thanks for a more sensible answer!!

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