"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." — Elie Wiesel

Monday, April 6, 2009

They've Got Missiles so We've Got Missiles, or Where Do We Go From Here?


As with much of President Obama's Eurofest, the Czechs rolled out the red carpet this past weekend, but he was also welcomed by significant crowds representing the 70 percent of Czechs who do not want any part of the U.S. missile defense shield in their country, and helped topple their pro-missile defense government not long before the President's visit.

President Obama is not ready to let this folly of the U.S. Military-Industrial Complex go quite yet (or perhaps he's channeling Ronald Reagan); during his speech in Prague, he spoke of going forward with European missile defense (invoking Iran as its raison d'etre), and praised the Czech Republic for agreeing to host the radar system (he must have missed the recent news).

As expected, the President threw out some heavy rhetoric about North Korea's launch of a Taepo-dong 2 missile on the same day as the President's speech. He also focused on "Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile activity." He made all the predictable statements, among them, "Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something. The world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons." All very presidential.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718 does prohibit North Korea from shooting off missiles (like the Taepo-dong 2) that could carry nasty things like nuclear warheads. Despite the evidence that the North Koreans have a long way to go in becoming a serious nuclear contender, has anyone considered the fact that while President Obama is chiding the North Koreans for shooting off another dud, the U.S. regularly lobs ballistic missiles from its shores all the way to the Marshall Islands (and quite successfully too)???

The 30th Space Wing, 576th Flight Test Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base, located on the Southern California coast, conducts regularly scheduled quarterly operational test launches of ballistic missiles so they can be confident when the time comes to launch the real thing, that everything will work. So they ship one of those bad boys, a Trident D5 or a Minuteman III, to Vandenberg where they reassemble it with a dummy warhead (phew!), and then lob it 4,800 miles away to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

Of course, besides all the other data they gather about the functioning of the missile, the most important thing is to see how close the re-entry vehicle will come to its intended target. After all, when they shoot one off containing a real nuclear warhead they want it hit dead on. Of course, what's a few metres when you're talking about an explosive yield of 335 kilotons (W78 warhead)???

But I digress (as usual). The point is that we're screaming at the top of our lungs about the North Koreans shooting a missile or two, and here we are shooting them off right and left. I am not trying to defend the North Korean government; it would be nice if they could feed their people rather than building death machines. But let's face it; until the nuclear powers start making real progress towards disarmament, the six-party talks might as well be the five-party talks (not much of a party, eh?).

I believe President Obama knows that this is the historical moment in which we may have the last opportunity to begin the new and difficult journey towards the abolition of nuclear weapons. If we miss this opportunity, the future could well be a grim one indeed. This President is one who I see as the marriage of idealism and pragmatism, a marriage that creates a most difficult tension when dealing with an issue such as nuclear weapons. How he approaches every aspect of this subject is of critical importance; an error of judgement on just a single aspect could negate progress on many other aspects.

While we must (as nuclear abolitionists) keep the pressure on President Obama on every issue of importance, it will also be extremely important to support him in every positive proposal (and thank him as well). Much of what the President said in his Prague speech was extremely positive; he laid out a clear vision of a nuclear weapons-free world and demonstrated (for the first time in recent years) real U.S. leadership on this most important issue

It will be important to gain as much Congressional support for the President's positive measures. You can advocate by contacting your Senators and Representative and signing a petition at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, and you can also send a personalized email courtesy of the Campaign for a Nuclear Weapons Free World .

It wouldn't be a bad idea to send an email (or letter) to President Obama thanking him for his commitment to a nuclear weapons-free world, and sharing your priorities regarding nuclear weapons. He is going to need both our support and prodding in this journey in which he faces opposition from deeply entrenched interests in both government and industry. Let's stay with him all the way!



CLICK HERE to read the full text of President Obama's speech on nuclear issues delivered in Prague (courtesy of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation).

CLICK HERE to watch the entire speech on video (at the BBC).

Photo Notes/Credits: (1) Posters hanging from a bridge in Prague over the Vltava river protest the possible construction on Czech soil of a U.S. radar tracking system (By Petr David Josek -- Associated Press); (2) A minuteman III ICBM launches from a silo at Vandenberg AFB. (30th Space Wing Public Affairs, USAF)

1 comment:

  1. Re-entry vehicle is not a "cute euphemism" for a warhead. They are two seperate, but related items. Specifically, the warhead is contained within the reentry vehicle, which protects it from the extreme heat of reentry.