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Missile Defense – Few Dare Call It Corporate Welfare


Robert Naiman

The

Bush team arrives committed to the construction of what its proponents call

"national missile defense." Critics call it "Star Wars" -

the implementation of a system for shooting down incoming nuclear missiles.

The

name "Star Wars" reminds us of Ronald Reagan’s advocacy of this scheme

in the 1980′s – at that time, supposedly, to protect us from the Soviet Union.

The phrase subjects the notion to vague ridicule, suggesting that it is

fanciful.

If

there is a real fight ahead about whether to proceed with this system – which

there may not be, given that so many Democrats also support it – then we can

expect that the discussion will be dominated by the feasibility question – will

it work – and by concerns that these weapons will be "destabilizing"

and antagonize other countries. These questions have dominated the discussion so

far.

If

the past is any guide, these concerns will not be sufficient to derail the

"Star Wars" system. Few Americans are likely to get very exercised

about "international stability." Fewer still will care much what

people in other countries think. After all, we whooped the other countries’

butts in the Cold War, didn’t we? ‘Nuff said.

And

if the "Star Wars" system doesn’t work, who really cares? In the worst

case, many will reason, the government will have wasted a bunch of money, which

would otherwise have been wasted in some other way; and some people in high tech

industries who would have been laid off if the military budget were cut will get

to keep their jobs, and maybe there will be some high-tech spin offs in the

consumer market. Since our supposed commitment to "free trade"

restricts us from subsidizing U.S. industry too openly, we can just do it

through the military budget.

Perhaps

the only thing that might be able to stop the "Star Wars" system could

be a more visceral public awareness that pinstripes are rifling through the

public purse. Few things grate as being ripped off. And it’s one thing to have

your pocket picked by someone who’s down and out, and quite another to get

burgled by the richest corporations in the world – the military contractors

lobbying for "Star Wars" funding: Boeing, Raytheon, TRW, and Lockheed

Martin.

To

be politically meaningful, such an awareness must have a sense of lost

opportunity. Few will be outraged at this corporate theft if they cannot be

convinced that another outcome is possible – that something useful could have

been done with the money.

Recent

press accounts put the cost of the Clinton missile defense plan at somewhere

between $30 and $60 billion. Meanwhile, 25 million people in Africa with

HIV/AIDS face a revocable death sentence. With treatments now available in the

U.S., most could live. Otherwise, those millions of people – more than twice as

many as perished in the Holocaust – will almost surely die in the next few

years.

AIDS

activists estimate that for a little over $6 billion a year, life-saving

anti-AIDS drugs could be made available to those 25 million people in Africa, if

they were purchased at generic prices (without patent-driven super-profits for

pharmaceutical companies like Glaxo-Wellcome and Bristol Meyers Squibb.)

At

least $4 billion a year could likely be freed by abandoning plans for missile

defense. (Indeed, the United States currently spends about $ 4.5 billion a year

on "stockpile stewardship" for the more than 5,000 thermonuclear

weapons now deployed.) Another $2 billion could come from requiring the

International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and other international creditors

to stop collecting debt service from poor countries. Twenty-two countries

supposedly benefiting from IMF-World Bank "debt relief" are currently

spending more than $2 billion a year in external debt service, more than they

are spending on health care for their citizens.

Of

course, many regard the military budget as kind of an entitlement for the

military contractors, and will object to raiding for the mundane objective of

saving lives. But the Clinton Administration’s designation of AIDS as a

"threat to our national security" should provide cover for raiding the

Pentagon’s hoard. Spending the money on AIDS would do far more for U.S. prestige

than buying more toys for the military.

 

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