National Missile Defense (part II)

This move comprises several aims. First, by collaborating with Russia, the US military-industrial complex stands to benefit from possible advances in Russian technology. Russia has a been making a fairly strong, if underfunded, research effort in NMD-related fields, and has already transferred some directed energy weapon technology to the US. However, regardless of what specific technological advantages are gained from such a partnership, the very fact and precedent of having such a partnership is significant. Geopolitically, military-industrial collaboration with Russia would have the effect of preventing a potential anti-US alliance between Russia and China, both of which have an interest in countering US domination. After a series of talks, the formation of such an alliance has not made substantial progress, but the potential for it is there. Moreover, such collaboration would open up the Russian military industry for absorption into the better-funded US transnational arms corporations, thereby extending their market penetration and eliminating potentially troublesome competitors.

Seen in this light, the NMD program signifies the end of the Cold War era and the emergence of a new world order. The Cold War order was based on bipolar opposition of two competing systems of holding power, and militarily was characterized by a thermonuclear standoff stabilized under the doctrine of mutually assured destruction. The new world order, on the other hand, is characterized by the global penetration of a single system of domination and the drive towards totalization of that system, and in the military sphere is driven by the need to enforce and protect that system through the institutions and technologies of a global police state. The NMD program represents an effort towards the development and deployment of the technological and organizational arrangements necessary for implementing such a global policing regime.

Elements of a global police state

G. H. W. Bush’s declaration of a new world order at the time of Operation Desert Storm was well timed, as that operation in a way showcased the features of the emerging world system, particularly its military aspects: a multinational coalition totally dominated by the United States intervening to restore order (i.e. secure the interests of the transnational corporate ruling class and shift the regional balance of power in a direction favorable to continued US domination), completely unopposed and facing no ramifications, with its chosen viewpoint being delivered unquestioned and in real time through the corporate media into the brains of a spellbound home audience cheering in awe at the images of violent destruction. A key factor enabling the United States to dominate the situation was its control of information, including reconnaissance satellite data, media channels, monitoring and disruption of communication systems, etc.

However, this operation also revealed some inadequacies of the existing enforcement system. Thus, for instance, while the US was able to secure international funding for this intervention and assemble a broad multinational coalition, the process created substantial tension with various “junior partners”, such as France, who didn’t like being junior partners and being forced to do things they did not necessarily find in their best interest, and who would think twice before doing this sort of thing again-especially after Kosovo. The operation likewise strained relations with more distant partners such as Russia and China, who stood aside this time, but in the end were rather troubled by the affair (and all the more so after Kosovo). Furthermore, assembling the military forces in theater was both logistically and politically complicated and time-consuming, increasing the chances for domestic opposition, especially if there should be casualties or a protracted conflict.

The first set of difficulties can be seen as stemming from the ad hoc nature of the operation, the parameters of which had not been adequately institutionalized-who is to say what the proper way to intervene against a rogue state is-and thus inevitably prone to be a source of contention. The implementation of an NMD system would remedy such problems by providing an established technological and organizational framework within which an intervention is to be carried out, thereby codifying the intervention process and eliminating the need to deal with the same problems each time an intervention is made.

The second set of problems of crossing national boundaries and airspaces and of complex troop deployment can be substantially alleviated under an NMD program by moving the weapons platform into outer space. The militarization of space is a direct and primary goal of the NMD program. “…the means by which the placement of space-based weapons will likely occur is under a second US space policy directive-that of ballistic missile defense”, writes J. Oberg in Space Power Theory, a manual published by the US Space Command, the agency in charge of NMD operations (the first directive being to “ensure freedom of action in space and, if directed, deny such freedom of action to adversaries”). “DOD [Department of Defense] must have the appropriate capabilities to deny when necessary an adversary’s use of space systems”, noted Defense Secretary William Cohen in a 2000 posture statement. According to a study commissioned by the Pentagon, to gain such capability, “DOD must develop the means to control and destroy space assets (both in space and at ground level)”.

Much of the confusion and incoherent argumentation regarding NMD as a program for defending against missiles stems from the fact that NMD is not essentially a means of missile defense. NMD is a program for the development and deployment of space weaponry, which may or may not be useful for countering certain ballistic missile attacks. Given the controversial, classified, and often uncertain nature of space weapon technologies, many of which may not yet be fully developed, missile defense provides a convenient political, fiscal and ideological cover for promoting and conducting the program. Thus, for example, in 1998 Clinton cut all funding for the KEAsat kinetic energy antisatellite weapon being developed by Boeing, while pouring billions into the NMD program, for which Boeing is the primary contractor and which includes development of the essentially the same weapon technology.

With current military operations already heavily dependent on satellite-based services, the development and deployment of antisatellite capabilities constitutes an immediate objective of NMD. Antisatellite weapon systems would furthermore enable a credible first-strike capability by allowing the operator to disable or delay an adversary’s response, thereby giving greater leverage to the US’s arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and freeing it up from the Cold-War era constraints of mutually assured destruction.

NMD furthermore envisions the development of space-based unmanned bombers, airborne and space-based laser platforms, and various other directed energy weapons, which, in addition to possible uses against satellites and ballistic missiles, can be deployed against ground targets, allowing the more rapid and fine grained sort of response required for a global policing regime. “…space offers us the prospects…of inflicting violence-all with great precision and nearly instantaneously, and often more cheaply”, expounded NMD advocate Sen. Bob Smith.

In addition to the annihilation of targets, directed energy weapons also hold the promise of more sophisticated aggression, including weather modification and manipulation of living organisms. Such technologies could be deployed covertly, reducing the risk of public scrutiny. Furthermore, they would provide the ability to dissuade, degrade, torture or otherwise neutralize opponents without raising the moral and political controversy attendant to directly killing or maiming them.

The recently unveiled Vehicle Mounted Active Denial System (VMADS)-which the Air Force Times heralded as “the biggest breakthrough in weapons technology since the atomic bomb”-is an example of the fruits of NMD research. Marketed as a non-lethal crowd dispersal weapon, VMADS, which emits a wide electromagnetic beam, is intended to disperse and neutralize through inflicting burn-like pain, allowing torture without a trace, as well as degrading human targets through long-term side effects, and dissuading through the fear of the already widely published concerns about such side effects or of “the amount of time the weapon must be trained on an individual to cause permanent damage or death”, which is “classified”.

Full Spectrum Dominance

NMD is the primary program for attaining capabilities of “Global Engagement”, which the US Space Command defines as “the application of precision force from, to, and through space”. This is an essential component for achieving the overall US military vision of “Full Spectrum Dominance”, which together with other technologies and institutions of control, such as biotechnology and free-market democracy, is to secure the global dominion of a corporate master race. The logic of this machine of domination is insatiable: it can never have enough, and must continue to expand its systems of control into all spheres where power can be exercised. And therein lies its terminal weakness: beyond total dominion, there is only oblivion.

NMD beguiles with the promise of a capability to strike instantly against any rogue element that dares to oppose the institutions of global capitalism. Yet the binary image of the rogue as a mad, evil tyrant to be neutralized and destroyed or an unfortunate victim of circumstance to be incentivized and reformed-mirroring the nature vs. nurture, educate vs. incarcerate, liberal vs. conservative pseudo-debate of bourgeois society-fails to disclose the significance of the rogue state in relation to NMD and the world system which it is to secure.

Collectively and individually, we externalize our violence, our evil-the ugliness inherent in our way of life, in the structure of our society and world. How else could we go on living, taking ourselves to be good, upright people, feeling good about ourselves, when the world is the way it is? That ugly spirit falls upon those most susceptible, and they give vent to it through what we call an evil act. We say it is their fault, prosecute and punish them with a righteous zeal of denial, that we may go on feeling good about ourselves.

The image of the rogue state, above all, starkly discloses the failures of the world system, tearing open the façade of its advanced godly civility to reveal the hollowness of its claimed superiority and the barbaric chaos that permeates its order. In view of this, the theatrical struggle against the rogue becomes above all a struggle to protect the relevance of the systems of power which in their totalizing quests of delusional godliness can achieve no more than a lowly absurdity of contradictions. The rogue or criminal as such neither threatens nor resists the superstructures of the police regime-he exists orthogonally to them, mirroring the very power relations of the systems which he is accused of violating.

Once we see the real character and content of an NMD program, it becomes clear that the race to establish an NMD regime of global surveillance and punishment is fundamentally not an effort to fend off rogue states or achieve any other specific practical purpose: the purpose of NMD is NMD. Thus, rational arguments and critiques about why NMD would not work or how it is not the best way to achieve a given purpose necessarily fail to get to the heart of the matter. NMD is not rational, or rather, it is rational or makes sense only in the context of the historical unfolding of global capitalism, which itself is not rational insofar as it is driven by the systemic inevitability of institutions rather than by the ideation or work of rational actors. And the nature of the institutions of global capitalism-of the free market-is such that whenever an opportunity presents itself, you have to take it, regardless of how idiotic, destructive or substantively useless it may be. It is the logic of inexorable, cancerous growth.

Thus, when the course of technological and organizational development becomes such as to enable the implementation of a global policing regime, it is institutionally inevitable that “players” will step forward to fulfill that role, to occupy that market segment-the only question is, who will get there first. In this case, the US ruling class has stepped forward, leveraging its lead in the fields of surveillance, punishment and incarceration and in the technologies of destruction and violent domination-even as its would-be competitors chomp at its heels, plying their own analogous wares. Given the global scope of the product, whoever is able to bring an NMD product to market first stands to capture overwhelming if not total market share, thereby squeezing out the competition and establishing monopoly control. In this context, any party that for whatever reason is willing and able to develop and deploy competing products threatens the monopoly. In this respect, the distinction between rogue and non-rogue states is spurious.

One such category of products is of course ballistic missiles. While NMD is promoted as a defense against ballistic missile threats to you, what ballistic missiles threaten most of all is NMD itself, both in the sense that they represent a competing technology, a competing paradigm of domination, and even more so in the sense that the successful use or threat of use of a ballistic missile would greatly undermine the credibility of an NMD program, which has been marketed as a ballistic missile stopper, and possibly generate demand for a different approach, such as diplomacy. But given the present lack of a substantial ballistic missile threat from those states most likely to come under US aggression, an NMD program becomes plausibly marketable. The marketing of NMD, like that of other capitalist products, instantiates the psychology of commodity fetishism-creating a perceived need and offering a product perceived to meet that need.

Which brings us back to the briefcase critique. Although technically, using a briefcase could be a means for the terrorist delivery of a weapon of mass destruction surreptitiously and in circumvention of any missile defense system, such a delivery would not generally be effective as a counteraction or direct challenge to the system of global enforcement provided under the NMD program, unless it specifically targeted and destroyed components of the NMD system. This, however, would for the most part be rather difficult to do with a briefcase, since those components are in outer space-which is indeed a major reason why they need to be in outer space: to protect them from briefcases. To put this in more general terms, a critical requirement for systems of enforcement or domination is that they be designed such that persons subjected to the system will, for technological, financial, organizational, intellectual or other reasons, be unable to disrupt or subvert the operation of the system. Such denial of subversion capabilities is to a large extent effected by creating a situation whereby persons wishing to go against the system, will act in such as way as to reproduce the power relations inherent in the system being resisted.

The enforcement of a global police regime may thus mean that such surreptitious deployments of weapons of mass destruction may come to make sense to some people as a viable thing to do, thereby reinforcing the global order of domination. In this respect the briefcase critique is valuable: it reveals that a regime based on the rule of violence cannot provide security from violence. Yet in its appeals to the regime, this critique belies a dangerous assumption: that the capitalist ruling class fundamentally does not attend mass destruction. This assumption, which buys into the hypocrisy of democratically elected leaders, is baseless. The market does not fundamentally value life, unless sold under patent as a market product.

The failing of the briefcase critique and other micrological arguments about the relative merits of systems of domination is that they reinforce the sense of inevitability of some such system. And while the fascist police program of NMD is correctly viewed as an inevitable extension of the institutions that blindly drive the machine of global capitalism, those institutions themselves are not inevitable.

Resistance, when misdirected in accordance with the requirements of existing power hierarchies, is futile. Such resistance is allowed and even encouraged under capitalist democracy. Yet resistance guided by radical insight is effective: such resistance is outlawed and brutally persecuted through technocratic enforcement systems. We must understand the nature of our freedom, that we may become free. Our freedom is a system, floating in space…

The paradigm of policing necessarily entails a counter-element which is to be policed, prosecuted and punished: an offender, a criminal, a rogue state. The contradictions of such a paradigm reveal that crime cannot be prevented by policing, educating, or through any other special measure, but only by creating the conditions under which it need not occur: a healthy, cohesive community living in harmony with its environment and thus with itself. Many such diverse communities can collectively form a healthy, cohesive, peaceful global community of people. At all cost, we must not lose sight that such a community is possible.

Yet such a vision can be valid only insofar as it reveals and implements the historical process of its attainment-otherwise, it devolves into an illusion. The epitome of capitalism is the eradication of objectivity-of people’s objective history-making capabilities. It has no vision of a community of people and offers as its end point only the subordination of all human activity to a violent institutionalized hierarchy of market relations enforced by a global police state apparatus.

So do we need NMD? In our public dialogue, the question seems to be answered by focusing on some aspect of what NMD is, what it can or cannot do, what its ramification will be. Yet in some ways, the answer depends more on who “we” are. If we are the US capitalist ruling class, which seeks above all to propagate and perpetuate its dominion, we need it badly. To say no to NMD, we must say no to capitalism. Otherwise, our voice has no meaning.