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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.)
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.
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.