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Star Wars II: Here We Go Again | The Nation

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Star Wars II: Here We Go Again

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About the Author

Michelle Ciarrocca
Michelle Ciarrocca is the senior research associate of the arms-trade project at the New School University's World...
William D. Hartung
William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation and a member of...

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Research assistance provided by the Nation Institute's Investigative Fund.

Newt Gingrich is gone from the political scene, but the most dangerous plank of his 1994 Contract With America remains: the section that calls for "requiring the Defense Department to deploy antiballistic missile systems capable of defending the United States against ballistic missile attacks." That plan was added to the contract by Gingrich and his fellow Republican co-author Dick Armey at the urging of Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy.

Efforts to turn the contract's rhetoric into viable legislation proved unsuccessful in the short run, but in mid-1996 the Clinton Administration decided to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by offering a missile defense compromise known as the "3+3" plan--three years of research and testing followed by a three-year crash program to deploy a system--if the President decided it was necessary, feasible and affordable. The "3+3" gambit allowed Clinton to push off a politically controversial decision on missile defense until a later date that fell well past the 1996 presidential election. Unfortunately for Al Gore, that "later date" is now smack in the middle of his second run for the White House. As John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists put it, "This is a political decision driven by the need to defend Al Gore from Republicans rather than defend America against missiles."

While Clinton was yielding ground, Capitol Hill Republicans were regrouping for their next offensive--one result of which was an amendment in the fiscal year 1997 defense authorization bill calling for the establishment of a blue-ribbon panel to "assess the nature and magnitude of existing and emerging ballistic missile threats to the United States." The Republicans wanted their new commission to be viewed as an authoritative and objective body, not just a partisan project. Bearing that in mind, House Speaker Gingrich and Senate majority leader Trent Lott, who were empowered to nominate the majority of the panel's members, chose former Ford Administration Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to head the commission, in the hopes that they could capitalize on his reputation as a moderate Republican with pragmatic views on military matters. Rumsfeld proved worthy of Gingrich's and Lott's confidence when he hammered out a unanimous final report with the appropriate aura of bipartisanship, complete with signatures from Democratic appointees such as former Carter Administration arms-control official Barry Blechman of the Henry L. Stimson Center and eminent physicist and longtime missile defense critic Richard Garwin. Just two weeks after the report came out, Garwin placed an Op-Ed in the New York Times denouncing the misuse of the report by missile defense boosters, asserting, "I am alarmed that some have interpreted our findings as providing support for a new national defense system."

The Rumsfeld Commission report was unveiled in July 1998 amid hysterical cries from Gingrich that it was the "most important warning about our national security system since the end of the cold war." Hysteria aside, the report's primary finding was that given enough foreign help, a rogue state like North Korea could acquire a missile capable of reaching the United States within five years of making a decision to do so--one-third to one-half the warning time projected in the CIA's official estimates. The Star Wars lobby finally got what it needed: an official, government-approved statement that could be interpreted as endorsing its own exaggerated view of the Third World missile threat. While the Rumsfeld report drew heavy editorial fire in papers like the Chicago Tribune and the Milwaukee Sentinel, the Wall Street Journal applauded it as a long-overdue clarion call for missile defense, and Washington's newspaper of record, the Post, published a measured response that endorsed the panel's findings as "useful and plausible."


Inside the Missile Defense Lobby

Upon reflection, it is clear that the Rumsfeld report's Republican backers had always intended to use the panel as a tool to advance their pro-missile defense agenda. All the report actually says is that if a country like North Korea gets major foreign assistance--including the extremely unlikely possibility that a country like China would simply give Pyongyang a fully operational ballistic missile--it will achieve the capability to hit the United States much more quickly than if it had to build the missile without outside help. As Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace demonstrated in Congressional testimony delivered this past February, the Rumsfeld Commission's conservative backers have used the report as a vehicle for changing the intelligence community's traditional means of assessing the ballistic missile threat, from one that attempts to predict the likely pace of missile proliferation in a given nation in the light of political, economic and military factors, to a "worst-case scenario" approach that asks how quickly a given nation could achieve a threatening missile capability if it had no economic or political impediments. As Cirincione also demonstrated, the "sky is falling" approach has been used to obscure the underlying reality that the ballistic missile threat to the United States has decreased in the last decade, not increased.

Just as the Rumsfeld Commission turned out to be less objective than it first appeared to be, so did its chairman. Far from being a moderate, Donald Rumsfeld is a card-carrying member of the missile defense lobby. Prior to his appointment to head the commission that bears his name, he was publicly singled out as a special friend in the annual report of the pro-Star Wars think tank, the Center for Security Policy. As a further sign of his commitment to the missile defense cause, Rumsfeld has also given money to Frank Gaffney's group. If Gaffney's organization were just an abstract "study group," that would be one thing. But it is a highly partisan advocacy organization that serves as the de facto nerve center of the NMD lobby.

Gaffney's center, which now has an annual budget of $1.2 million, was started in 1988 with support from New Right funders like Richard Mellon Scaife and Joseph Coors. Since that time, Gaffney has turned it into a sort of working executive committee for the missile defense lobby. The center's advisory board includes representatives of larger conservative organizations, including Ed Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation; William Bennett, co-director of Empower America; and Henry Cooper of High Frontier, the original Star Wars think tank, which was launched during the early years of the Reagan Administration. Other CSP advisory board members include Charles Kupperman and Bruce Jackson, who serve as vice president for Washington operations and director of planning and analysis, respectively, at Lockheed Martin; key members of Congress like Republicans Curt Weldon, Christopher Cox and Jon Kyl; and a who's who of Reagan-era Star Warriors like Edward Teller and former Reagan science adviser George Keyworth.

Unlike most think tanks concerned with military issues, the Center for Security Policy receives a substantial portion of its funding from weapons manufacturers. Three out of the top four missile defense contractors--Boeing, Lockheed Martin and TRW--are all major corporate contributors to CSP, which has received more than $2 million in corporate donations since its founding, accounting for roughly one-quarter of its total budget.

Rumsfeld's link to CSP is not his only affiliation with the Star Wars lobby. He's also on the board of Empower America, which ran deceptive ads against anti-NMD Senator Harry Reid of Nevada in the run-up to the November 1998 elections. In recognition of his service to the missile defense lobby, in October 1998--just three months after his "objective" assessment of the missile threat was released--CSP awarded Rumsfeld its "Keeper of the Flame" award for 1998 at a gala dinner attended by several hundred Star Wars boosters. In accepting the award, Rumsfeld joined the company of Reagan, Gingrich and several Congressional NMD boosters.

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