Hegemony or Survival Part One



the end of June,, the UN Conference on Disarmament concludes the second of its

year 2001 sessions. Prospects for any constructive outcome of disarmament

efforts are slim. Discussions have been blocked by US insistence on pursuing

ballistic missile defense (BMD) programs, against near-unanimous opposition.


the purpose of BMD, there is a fair measure of agreement across a broad

spectrum. Potential adversaries regard it as an offensive weapon. Reagan’s SDI

("Star wars") was understood in the same light. China’s top arms control

official simply reflected common understanding when he observed that "Once the

United States believes it has both a strong spear and a strong shield, it could

lead them to conclude that nobody can harm the United States and they can harm

anyone they like anywhere in the world. There could be many more bombings like

what happened in Kosovo" — the reaction of most of the world to what was

perceived as a reversion to the "gunboat wars" of a century ago, with the

"colonial powers of the West, with overwhelming technological advantages,

subduing natives and helpless countries that had no ability to defend

themselves," doing as they choose while "cloaked in moralistic righteousness"

(Israeli military analyst Amos Gilboa). The reaction to the US-UK Gulf War was

much the same among the traditional "natives and helpless countries."

Fortunately for its self-image, Western ideology is well-insulated from such

departures from right thinking.


is also well aware that it is not immune. It knows that the US and NATO maintain

the right of first use of nuclear weapons, and knows as well as US military

analysts that "Flights by U.S. EP-3 planes near China…are not just for passive

surveillance; the aircraft also collect information used to develop nuclear war

plans" (William Arkin, _Bull. of Atomic Scientists_, May/June 2001).

Canadian military planners advised their government that the goal of BMD is

"arguably more in order to preserve U.S./NATO freedom of action than because

U.S. really fears North Korean or Iranian threat." Prominent strategic analysts

agree. BMD "will facilitate the more effective application of U.S. military

power abroad, Andrew Bacevich writes (National Interest, Summer 2001): "By

insulating the homeland from reprisal — albeit in a limited way — missile

defense will underwrite the capacity and willingness of the United States to

`shape’ the environment elsewhere." He cites approvingly the conclusion of

Lawrence Kaplan: "Missile defense isn’t really meant to protect America. It’s a

tool for global dominance," for "hegemony."


this goal should be embraced by all right-thinking people follows at once from

the principles of the "respectable" opinion that "defines the parameters within

which the policy debate occurs." The spectrum is very broad: it excludes only

"tattered remnants of hard-core isolationists" and "those few beleaguered

radicals still pining for the glory days of the 1960s," and is "so authoritative

as to be virtually immune to challenge" (Bacevich). The first principle is

straightforward: "_America as historical vanguard_." According to this

authoritative principle, "history has a discernible direction and destination.

Uniquely among all the nations of the world, the United States comprehends and

manifests history’s purpose," namely, "freedom, achieved through the spread of

democratic capitalism, and embodied in the American Way of Life." Accordingly,

US hegemony is the realization of history’s purpose; the merest truism,

"virtually immune to challenge."


principle is by no means novel, nor is the US unique in history in basking in

such praise from domestic thinkers.


contrast, the goal offered the public — protection from "rogue states" — is

not taken very seriously. Unless dedicated to instant collective suicide, no

state would launch missiles at the US. And there are far easier and safer means

to inflict enormous damage on its territory. "Anyone who doubts that terrorists

could smuggle a nuclear warhead into New York City should note that they could

always wrap it in a bale of marijuana," one prominent analyst comments

sardonically. Another points out that "a nuclear bomb that could easily wipe out

Manhattan and kill 100,000 people is a ball of plutonium weighing about 15

pounds. It is a little bigger than a softball. One such bomb could be carried

into the United States in a suitcase. And if one could, many could."

Nuclear weapons are, of course, not the only weapons of mass destruction (WMD):

chemical and biological weapons are arguably a greater threat to the rich and

powerful. The 1997 treaty banning chemical weapons is languishing in large

measure because the US has not funded inspections and other action, while

Washington has "made a mockery" of the treaty by effectively exempting itself, a

senior analyst of the Henry Stimson Center observes. Biological weapons bans

have been undermined by US insistence on limiting inspections "in order to

protect American pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies." The Bush

administration reportedly intends to reject the draft treaty resulting from six

years of negotiations on means of verifying compliance with the 1972 treaty

banning biological weapons (NYT, April 27, May 20, 2001).


this aside, it is widely recognized that the most serious threat to US (and

world) security is the huge Soviet nuclear weapons system, with safeguards and

command-and-control systems deteriorating severely as the economy has collapsed

under neoliberal reforms. Clinton negotiators encouraged Russia to adopt

Washington’s launch-on-warning strategy to alleviate Russian concerns over BMD

and annulment of the ABM treaty, a proposal that is "pretty bizarre," one expert

commented, because "we know their warning system is full of holes." Accidental

launch has come perilously close in recent years. Clinton had a small program to

assist Russia in safeguarding and dismantling nuclear weapons, and providing

alternative employment for nuclear scientists. A bipartisan Energy Department

task force called for sharp increase in funding of such programs. Co-chair

Howard Baker, former Republican Senate majority leader, testified to the Senate

Foreign Relations Committee in April that "it really boggles my mind that there

could be 40,000 nuclear weapons…in the former Soviet Union, poorly controlled

and poorly stored, and that the world isn’t in a state of near-hysteria about

the danger." One of the first acts of the Bush administration was to reduce

these programs, increasing the risks of accidental launch and leakage of "loose

nukes" to other countries, including Washington’s favorite "rogue states,"

followed by nuclear scientists with no other way to employ their skills. Russian

proposals to reduce missiles sharply, well below Bush’s proposals, have been



common argument is that BMD won’t work. A much more dangerous possibility is

that it may seem feasible; appearance is interpreted as reality on matters of

survival. US intelligence predicts that any deployment will impel China to

develop new nuclear-armed missiles, expanding its nuclear arsenal tenfold,

probably with multiple warheads (MIRV), "prompting India and Pakistan to respond

with their own buildups," with a likely ripple effect to the Middle East. The

same analyses, and others, conclude that Russia’s "only rational response would

be to maintain, and strengthen, the existing Russian nuclear force." At the UN

conference on the Nonproliferation Treaty in May 2000 there was broad

condemnation of BMD on grounds that it would undermine decades of arms control

agreements and provoke a new weapons race. Both political parties insist on it,

though at different rates.

General Lee Butler, former head of the US Strategic Command (1992-94), regards

it as "dangerous in the extreme that in the cauldron of animosities that we call

the Middle East, one nation [Israel] has armed itself, ostensibly, with

stockpiles of nuclear weapons, perhaps numbering in the hundreds, and that

inspires other nations to do so. An October 1998 "Memorandum of Agreement"

between the US and Israel, upgrading their military and strategic relationship,

was widely interpreted to mean that the US regards Israel’s nuclear arsenal "not

only as a positive factor in the regional balance of power, but also as one it

should support and enhance" (Foundation for Middle East Peace Special Report,

Winter 1999). From 1998, unofficial US policy has been to increase military aid

to Israel by $60 million a year. In January 2001, the outgoing Clinton

administration announced that the policy is to continue through 2008, at which

point the previous $1.8 billion annual level will have increased to $2.4

billion. Clinton also recommended that Israel be among the first recipients of

the F-22 jets now under development. In June the Israeli air force announced the

purchase of 50 F-16 jets at a cost of $2 billion, to be financed largely through

US military aid, shortly after its US F-16s were used to bomb Palestinian

civilian targets. The US and Israel conduct regular secret joint exercises, as

Israel is being converted into an offshore US military base (on these programs,

see William Arkin, Washington Post, May 7, 2001). According to the Israeli

press, one of these joint exercises, in September 2000, was devoted to plans for

Israeli reconquest of the enclaves transferred to Palestinian administration; US

marines provided training in weapons that Israel lacked and "American fighting

techniques." What is already "dangerous in the extreme" will become even more so

as the renewed US impetus to proliferation of WMD has its predictable effects,

again increasing the threat to everyone’s security, even survival.


actual plans may seem irrational, but that is only if one values survival above

hegemony. The history of the arms race reveals quite a different calculus. 50

years ago, the only threat to US security, then only potential, was ICBMs. It is

likely that the USSR would have accepted a treaty terminating development of

these weapons, knowing that it was far behind. In his history of the arms race,

McGeorge Bundy reported that he could find no record of any interest in pursuing

this possibility. Recently released Russian archives strongly reinforce

assessments by high-level US analysts that after Stalin’s death, Khrushchev

called for mutual reduction of offensive military forces, and when these

initiatives were ignored by Washington, implemented them unilaterally over the

objection of his own military command. US archives reveal that the Eisenhower

administration had little interest in negotiated disarmament and other moves to

relax international tensions. Kennedy planners doubtless shared Eisenhower’s

understanding that "a major war would destroy the Northern hemisphere." They

also knew of Khrushchev’s unilateral steps to reduce Soviet offensive forces

radically, and also knew that the US was far ahead by any meaningful measure.

Nevertheless, they chose to reject Khrushchev’s call for reciprocity, preferring

to carry out a massive conventional and nuclear force build-up, thus driving the

last nail into the coffin of "Khrushchev’s agenda of restraining the Soviet

military" (Matthew Evangelista, Cold War International History Project, Dec.


Without continuing, the record shows that there is little novelty in

Clinton-Bush preferences.



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