a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Blast from the past

Posted by Thomas Nephew on August 20th, 2004

The New York Times reports “Bush Promotes His Plan for Missile Defense System“:

“I think those who oppose this ballistic missile system really don’t understand the threats of the 21st century,” he said. “They’re living in the past. We’re living in the future. We’re going to do what’s necessary to protect this country.”

Bush is on to something — if (1) the North Koreans get a missile that can hit the U.S., (2) they decide there’s some very compelling reason they actually want to hit the U.S., and (3) we had a missile defense system that, oh, I don’t know, ACTUALLY WORKS — in which case (4) the North Koreans unaccountably decided not to just load the bomb into a shipping container and float it into San Francisco Bay instead or (5) failed to just add two or three $1 Mylar balloons to the missile payload for a multi-million dollar ABM to choose from. Sure, that sounds like a good reason to spend $53 billion, $10 billion in FY 2005 alone.

There are so many better things to do with that kind of money for real security problems. Here’s one, suggested by Nick Kristof in a New York Times op-ed piece yesterday: increase funding for the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which has deactivated thousands of nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union, and which could continue to buy or secure weapons-grade uranium and plutonium there.

Earlier this year, Bush actually proposed cutting back this program from $451 million to $409 million. That is, Bush was dickering about $42 million for something that actually works now, as opposed to spending $10 billion for something that may never work.

Why would those extra $42 million be well spent? In a prior article, Kristof wrote:

…Al Qaeda negotiated for a $1.5 million purchase of uranium (apparently of South African origin) from a retired Sudanese cabinet minister; its envoys traveled repeatedly to Central Asia to buy weapons-grade nuclear materials; and Osama bin Laden’s top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, boasted, “We sent our people to Moscow, to Tashkent, to other Central Asian states, and they negotiated, and we purchased some suitcase [nuclear] bombs.”

…But the White House has insisted on tackling the most peripheral elements of the W.M.D. threat, like Iraq, while largely ignoring the central threat, nuclear proliferation. The upshot is that the risk that a nuclear explosion will devastate an American city is greater now than it was during the cold war, and it’s growing.

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