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Pentagon Hypes Risk From "Rogue Nation" Attack

by Eric S. Margolis

Most of the apocalyptic warnings about `rogue nations' come from Israel's partisans
Washington plans to spend $13 billion -- and up -- on a rudimentary anti-missile system to defend against potential nuclear attacks by nefarious `rogue nations.'

This mushrooming folly is called NMD, or National Missile Defense. It makes about as much strategic sense as building a second Maginot Line along the Texas border to defend the U.S. from invasion by Guatemala or El Salvador.

NMD's is to consist of 100 interceptor missiles and ground-based radars, plus a constellation of space-based warning and targeting satellites. The program has powerful backers in Congress, the military, and industry. NATO allies, Persian Gulf emirates and Japan are being pressed to participate this mini-Star Wars program. Canada, joined at the hip to the U.S. through NORAD, the North American Air Defense Command, is under particular pressure.

NMD technology remains unproven, with only one questionably successful test in a string of failures -- shades of the 1980's Star Wars program. But leaving aside the difficulty of hitting an incoming warhead in space, what makes this concept so harebrained is what military men call `threat assessment.'

According to NMD proponents, `rogue states' -- Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Afghanistan, maybe Syria, and North Korea -- may develop long-ranged missiles (ICBM's) capable of hitting North America. `Rogue state' Cuba is not considered a threat. With the important exception of North Korea, and chemical attack by Serbia, such claims are preposterous and comical.

The top-secret U.S. National Intelligence Estimates found that while many nations are potentially interested in long-ranged missiles, almost none have, or will ever have, the technology or funds to develop them, or to remotely threaten the United States.

Iraq, everyone's favorite `rogue state,' has been bombed back to the late Stone Age. Its pre-1991 Scud missile force, armed with small, conventional warheads, caused minor danger to Israel in the Gulf War. Saddam's Scuds were little better than the medieval trebuchets that hurled boulders over the walls of besieged cities. Iraq never threatened the U.S. with anything more than hot air.

Iran's most advanced missile is the prototype Shahab-3, a 1,300-km ranged primitive, 1960's vintage missile with poor accuracy and low payload. Washington is 14,000 kms from Iran. Iran has no nuclear capability and won't anytime soon. Iran's rudimentary missile force only threatens Israel.

Most of the apocalyptic warnings about `rogue nations' come from Israel's partisans in Congress and the media who are anxious to preempt any potential threat to the Jewish state, preserve Israel's Mideast nuclear monopoly, and enable it to gain full access to the latest U.S. defense technology and space systems. Ironically, Israel is selling reverse-engineered U.S. weapons technology and nuclear technology to China and India, both potential future strategic threats to U.S. security.

Libya is so backwards, it must import bakers from Egypt to make bread. Col. Khadaffi's few rusting Scuds are even more useless than Saddam's. But Libya look high-tech compared to wretched Sudan. Afghanistan is just creeping into the 11th Century. Syria's short-ranged missiles could reach parts of Israel, but no further.

Why would any of these nations launch missiles at North America or Europe? The U.S. would wipe them off the map with massive nuclear retaliation. The so-called `rogue nations' are all on excellent terms with Europe(Britain excepted) and Japan. Only geographically and historically illiterate North Americans could possibly believe Iran somehow intends to lob an A-bomb at Rome or Vienna.

Unlike the backwards `rogue' Mideast states, North Korea is a real danger. In 1998, North Korea fired a three-stage Taepo-Dong, long-ranged missile right over Japan, to Tokyo's fury and humiliation. The Taepo-Dong can probably hit Hawaii and Alaska today; more tweaking and it could reach as far east as Denver. North Korea has nuclear capability. Kim Jong-il's self-isolated regime is dangerous, unpredictable, and weird in the extreme.

Rather than spending what could easily hit $30 billion on an unproven anti-missile system that may not even stop a limited attack, the U.S. and its allies should warn North Korea that if it attempts to deploy long-ranged missiles and launch facilities, the result will be the type of massive bombing and destruction that Iraq has had to endure for nine years. Taking out North Korea's missile before they are set up on their pads and targeted is called `counter-force' action. This makes military and financial sense.

A Taepo-dong missile costs a paltry $8 million. Why spend $13-30 billion defending when an always more effective attack would only cost millions and solve the problem? Bombing a nation in time of peace is unappetizing, but North Korea, which is truly a promoter of terrorism and a highly successful nuclear blackmailer, has put itself beyond the pale. Unfortunately, the Clinton Administration has chosen to pay off North Korea every time it rattles its nuclear arms rather than destroy Pyongyang's ability to terrorize its neighbors. By contrast, Iraq continues to be bombed daily to prevent it from again threatening Israel.

The best that can be said for an NMD system is that it may serve as a platform for development of a true anti-missile system to protect the U.S. against attack by Russia or China. But the current NMD concept is too small and too easily spoofed or evaded to serve as the foundation of a national ABM defense.

Deployment of a limited NMD system will likely violate nuclear arms reduction treaties with Russia, which fears NMD as Son of Star Wars -- which bankrupted the old USSR. Canada and Europe are also unhappy, fearing they will be forced to ante up for NMD to protect them against what Washington warns is the growing threat of attack by spear-armed Sudan.

© Eric Margolis
Eric Margolis is a syndicated columnist and broadcaster whose "Foreign Correspondent" column appears twice weekly.
"War at the Top of the World - The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Tibet" by Eric S. Margolis was published in the U.S. last month by Routledge-NY

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Albion Monitor April 10, 2000 (

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