years ago, Stanley Kubrick and Terry Southern drew our attention to
the sex dripping down the leg of the Cold War. Dr. Strangelove opens
with the erotic minuet of a bomber refueling in mid-flight, proceeds
to drop enough innuendos to launch a thousand theses, and culminates
in the iconic image of Slim Pickens straddling an H-Bomb in ecstasy,
the detonation of which triggers a montage of multiple thermonuclear
orgasms, each released to the lovesick lyrics of Vera Lynn's "We'll
Meet Again." Drip, drip, drip.
years later, feminist critics of Ronald Reagan's arms race picked up
the Strangelovian thread, snickering in symposia and books at the homoerotic
jargon infusing so much nuclear strategy. Leading the charge was the
Australian freeze activist Dr. Helen Caldicott, whose 1984 Missile Envy
described the arms race as the psychotic expression of sublimated phallic
worship. Chunks of GDP, she noted, go to developing missiles that "release
maximum payload" all over the other guy's most "sensitive"
locations, after "entering and penetrating deep inside" his
territory, catching him with his pants down if possible. Even defense
is all about who has the hardest silos and the most mobile units. Crises
require "stiff" resolve.
20 years after Strangelove, U.S. war planners still don't get the joke.
Exhibit A is the "Long-Rod Penetrator," which today's Pentagon
longingly envisions for its future arsenal of space weapons. To work,
40 Long-Rod Penetrators must be launched into low-earth orbit at a cost
of $8 billion, which would make the program the most expensive dildo
collection in the world.
system would involve blasting beams of tungsten or uranium into space,
then releasing them high above their terrestrial targets. The idea--the
$8 billion idea--is essentially to recreate the old Road Runner cartoon
where an ACME crate comes whistling out of the sky, pounding Wile E.
Cayote into the ground. Considering that the U.S. military already has
cruise missiles, ICBMs and billion-dollar stealth bombers well suited
to such tasks, dropping barbells from outer space isn't that far on
the stupidity scale from Dr. Evil's plan in Austin Powers to destroy
the world by triggering a massive volcano.
space weapons like the Penetrator are no joke. The nation's political-military-defense-industry
leadership sees outer space--currently a global commons populated by
bits of flotsam and peaceful beeping satellites--as a future theater
of conflict. It believes the U.S. must dominate this "ultimate
high-ground" and establish "full-spectrum dominance."
It is the logical extension of Manifest Destiny and the Monroe Doctrine.
It's also a way to ballast defense stocks for decades to come.
there are space lasers--an idea that refused to die with Edward Teller--and
something called the "Spaceplane," a hypersonic bomber that
swoops in from outer space. Like the Penetrator, both are very expensive
ways of duplicating existing U.S.-military capabilities. In the case
of the former, there is also the debilitating fact that lasers attenuate
upon atmosphere, i.e., they don't work when it's cloudy, and can be
defended against with about an inch of common cork. The Pentagon will
spend billions on this weapon; our enemies will defeat it with a case
of cheap wine.
Sec. of Defense, the John Holmes of space weapons, is especially horny
for such toys. Before taking on his current job, the man his boss calls
"Rumstud" chaired the Commission to Assess United States National
Security Space Management and Organization, whose 2001 report remains
the foundational document for all space-weapons planning. Though the
more fantastic elements are a ways off, Rumsfeld could oversee the breaking
of the space barrier as early as next year, when the Missile Defense
Agency plans to launch its first intercepts into orbit. By 2008, the
MDA hopes to have an entire fleet of "kinetic energy kill vehicles"
in place to strike targets in space.
understand what an obscene waste of money all this is, look no further
than the "missile defense" system now being deployed in Alaska.
technology behind the Alaska system has failed four out of nine rigged
tests, including an embarrassing debacle on Dec. 15, in which an "unknown
anomaly" caused the entire system to shut down; the $85 million
interceptor never even left the ground. This latest failure was so pathetic
that it has temporarily delayed activation of the system, originally
scheduled for 2005. But the farce barrels on. Boeing Co. remains the
prime contractor for the ground-based "shield" and its future
expansion into space. Other chubby fingers in the ever-expanding pie
include usual suspects Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and
Orbital Sciences Corp.
line connecting missile defense and space weapons is direct, thick and
no secret. Before chairing the Space Commission, Rumsfeld chaired its
precursor, the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to
the United States, whose 1998 report recommended immediate U.S. withdrawal
from the ABM Treaty and construction of the troubled land-based missile
defense system currently costing us $10 billion a year. The symbiosis
between missile defense and space weapons is also evident in the fact
that former Missile Defense Agency director Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish is
among Bush's leading candidates to head NASA.
experts believe the Pentagon doesn't care if the land-based stuff works
or not. The real purpose of building the Alaska system, says Victoria
Sampson of the Center for Defense Information in Washington, is an end-run
around "the taboo on placing weapons in space." By calling
the early stages of the grand plan a "land-based defensive system,"
Sampson thinks planners are trying to avoid public debate over the contentious
issue of militarizing the heavens.
that there's anything warm or squishy about the world's overwhelming
opposition to weaponizing space. China and Russia have been pressing
hard for a treaty banning space weapons not because they fear space
debris and radiation will obstruct our study of the cosmos--though it
will--but because they don't want generals at U.S. Space Command blowing
their satellites out of the sky like targets in some 80s video game.
Satellites are sitting paper ducks compared to missiles or protected
ground targets, and there's nothing easier than blitzing your opponent
down below after "blinding" him high above.
all weapons systems, missile defense and space weapons are "defensive"
or "offensive" depending on which side of the barrel you're
looking down. Since missile "defense" has proved so easily
defeated or tricked in battle simulations, the system makes much more
sense as an offensive weapon against fixed-orbit targets--not missiles
flying through space at the speed of sound. As for space-based weapons,
U.S. officials sometimes cite the need to protect American satellites
in urging their deployment, but there is currently no threat to U.S.
satellites that can be countered from space. Space weapons and missile
defense only make sense as part of an offensive strategy.
starting an arms race in space, the U.S. will be putting a self-fulfilling
prophecy into motion, and not for the first time. The entire nuclear
era is the story of U.S. research spreading into other hands, as scientific
knowledge tends to do. Suitcase nukes, to pick just one relevant example,
resulted from a crash nuclear miniaturization program at MIT in the
70s. Anything we invent and put into play will eventually be arrayed
against us. To stop the dynamic from starting, you need to give treaties
the Pentagon's space dreams would no doubt break Boeing's heart, but
there really are other things we could be doing with the money. We could
start by securing the nation's ports, which remain the likeliest entry
points for weapons of mass destruction. The 2005 homeland security bill
contains just $150 million of the $400 million port officials say is
needed to secure their facilities. Although the shortfall roughly equals
the cost of a few rigged missile defense tests over the Pacific, the
Bush administration holds that port cities and shipping companies are
responsible for making up the difference. Think of it as a kind of test-run
for the Long-Rod Penetrator. Call it, "Operation Bend Over, America."