Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Iran Threat Excuse

The justification for the missile defense has evolved over the years. In its nascent years, it was conceived to protect the US from an attack by the former Soviet Union. During President Clinton’s presidency, the system was touted as a means to protect the US from “states of concern” as they were known then, primarily from an emerging North Korea threat (remember the DPRK’s missile test which flew over Japan in 1998?). Though the Bush administration also carries the line that the system can protect from a launch by North Korea, Iran has taken center stage as the justification for deploying a system in Europe. Today, President Bush gave a speech at the National Defense University in which he cited the Iranian threat as a justification for deploying missile defenses in Eastern Europe.

In his speech, President Bush said:

“The need for missile defense in Europe is real and I believe it's urgent. Iran is pursuing the technology that could be used to produce nuclear weapons, and ballistic missiles of increasing range that could deliver them. Last November, Iran conducted military exercises in which it launched ballistic missiles capable of striking Israel and Turkey, as well as American troops based in the Persian Gulf. Iranian officials have declared that they are developing missiles with a range of 1,200 miles, which would give them the capability to strike many of our NATO allies, including Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, and possibly Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia. Our intelligence community assesses that, with continued foreign assistance, Iran could develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States and all of Europe before 2015. If it chooses to do so, and the international community does not take steps to prevent it, it is possible Iran could have this capability. And we need to take it seriously -- now.
“Today, we have no way to defend Europe against the emerging Iranian threat, so we must deploy a missile defense system there that can.”

The Iranian threat is largely fabricated. In contradictory remarks during a press conference today in Prague, Czech Republic, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that the United States might delay activating its planned East European missile defense sites. According to Gates, the missile defense system might not be activated until Iran takes some concrete action, such as testing its own missiles.

Even Congress is buying into the Iranian threat as a justification for the system. On July 12, the Senate voted 90 to 5 to pass a modified version of Sen. Sessions (R-AL) amendment No. 2024 to the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization bill. The amendment states that it should be the policy of the United States to develop and deploy, as soon as technologically possible, an effective defense against “the threat from Iran.” It also says that any US missile defense system in Europe should be complementary to any missile defense system fielded by NATO.

Missile defenses provoke rather than prevent the proliferation of ballistic missiles and they could contribute to regional conflicts and arms races. In addition, the US has spent more than $120 billion on missile defenses since Ronald Reagan’s presidency and yet missile defenses have not proven effective.

Instead of manufacturing threats to justify spending billions of dollars on a system that does not work, the US should focus its efforts on bringing countries into the Missile Technology Control Regime, bolstering the regime and controlling, limiting and dismantling ballistic missiles globally.

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