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Irish Times July 25, 2001

Missile defence is about money and it's here to stay

Elaine Lafferty

A lot of new swimming pools will be built on the back of the boom that Star Wars is set to bestow upon the military economy, writes Elaine Lafferty , in the third part of our series examining President Bush's missile defence initiative

The US plan to build a missile defence system - not really a plan, since it is already being built - in defiance of worldwide concern, Russian and Chinese opposition, and in imminent abrogation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, gains no support in Europe every time President George Bush opens his mouth.

His unilateral dismissal of the treaty as an archaic document made irrelevant simply by being out of fashion, can only be described as chilling. The official mouthpieces deployed by the administration to whip up public support for missile defence use language reminiscent of 1950s American anti-Communist hysteria, a prime example of which appeared yesterday in these pages as US Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz wrote menacingly of scenarios of "carnage" carried out by a "genocidal dictator".

The words and postures are not as absurd as they might initially seem. Fear works, and obfuscation works. It is much easier to sell panic about tomorrow's villainous dictator than it is to discuss openly what the missile defence plan is really all about.

In fact, it is about an entire restructuring of the US military, based on technology, ideology and, most importantly perhaps, economics. An examination of the Bush administration's plans necessitates a look at the context in which this proposal is emerging.

Since 1973 a man named Andrew Marshall has headed an office within the Pentagon called the Office of Net Assessment, a once-obscure unit that is often referred to in the press as the Pentagon's "think tank".

Now 79 years old, Mr Marshall was part of a group formed nearly 50 years ago at the Rand Institute in Santa Monica, California, whose job it was, in the words of a member named Herman Kahn, a model for Dr Strangelove, to "think the unthinkable". In other words, they played war games and imagined horrifying scenarios.

Since the 1980s Mr Marshall has been a promoter of an idea first posited in 1982 by Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov, then chief of the Soviet general staff, called RMA, or "Revolution in Military Affairs". The RMA, in general terms, opines that technological advances have changed the very nature of conventional war. Rather than conflict conducted by ground troops, the new conventional war will be conducted almost like a nuclear war, managed by strategic defence and computers at remote locations targeting missiles at enemies.

The "battlefield", as it once was known, would no longer exist. War, in the RMA lexicon, would be conducted by spy satellites and long-range missiles, by computer viruses that would disable the enemies' offensive and defensive systems, and by a "layered" defence system that would make the US impenetrable.

For most of the last decade, and certainly under the Clinton administration, Mr Marshall and his protégés, who include both Mr Wolfowitz and the Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, and secretary of the air force James Roche, languished in various hinterlands, including a stint for Mr Rumsfeld in the pharmaceutical industry. Mr Marshall ran seminars at the Naval War College in Rhode Island. Neither technological advances nor the political climate existed to make the RMA feasible.

What a difference a vote in Florida can make. During the campaign Mr Bush had promised an "immediate, comprehensive review of our military". And just weeks into the new administration, Mr Rumsfeld ordered exactly that, to be carried out by . . . Mr Marshall!

It is being called the Rumsfeld Review and it is due to be presented to Congress on October 1st. As might be expected, a radical retooling of the military, which involves massive budget shifts away from conventional troops and bases, has encountered opposition from many stalwarts within the armed forces who are concerned that their 1.4 million-strong fighting force may be cut.

By May, Mr Rumsfeld told the Washington Post he had already held 170 meetings with 44 generals and admirals, and another 70 meetings with 115 lawmakers in an effort to sell his vision. Impatient with opposition, Mr Rumsfeld told the paper: "The people it shakes up may very well be people who don't have enough to do. They're too busy getting shook up. They should get out there and get to work."

GET to work? Hmmm. For career soldiers, that means going to the theatre of war. But for businessmen, which is what Mr Rumsfeld and his vocal supporter, Vice-President Dick Cheney, are, that means getting down to the serious business of running profitable companies. And while the RMA may, arguably, have an ideological bent, it surely encompasses a happy economic outcome for US defence contractors.

The 2002 defence budget stands at $330 billion, a 10 per cent increase on the current year. It includes a 57 per cent increase for missile defence. But even Mr Rumsfeld concedes that a budget that reflects his current military review and will undoubtedly include serious new missile defence spending won't come on line until the 2003 budget.

The defence contractors, many of them based in California, are celebrating. The top 100 defence contractors, which include Mr Cheney's former employer Halliburton, according to a survey by Government Executive magazine, won more than $200 billion in contracts in 1999. The top five, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman, alone collected nearly $45 billion. But that was disappointing.

"The business base of the defence industry has declined 60 to 70 per cent since 1985," writes Lawrence Skibbie, president of the National Defence Industrial Association, in the San Diego Tribune newspaper, located in a region heavy with defence contractors. "This has triggered consolidations with consequent downsizing of capability and people."

Not so any more. Let us look, for example, at Boeing. It won a top-secret contract from the National Reconnaissance Office, a low-profile federal agency whose annual budget exceeds that of the CIA, to oversee the building of a new generation of spy satellites, a key aspect of the RMA.

The project, according to analysts, is thought to be worth $25 billion over two decades. The project is classified, but Roger Roberts, a general manager in Boeing's space and communications centre in Orange County, California, confirmed to the Los Angeles Times that the company would be hiring 5,000 engineers and technicians just for the initial design stage. Further, Boeing has recently opened a recruitment centre in Sunnyvale, California, in the Silicon Valley, hoping to hire dot.com survivors.

BOEING'S other facility that will be involved in the integration of space defence systems and satellites is located in El Segundo, a tiny community just south of Los Angeles. El Segundo is also home to TRW, which is building the lasers that are a key element of the layered missile defence, and Raytheon, which is developing radar-imaging equipment as well as ground-based controls for the satellite system.

As John Pike, a Washington DC-based military analyst, told the Los Angeles Times: "Lots of kids will be sent to college, lots of swimming pools are going to get built and a lot of people will spend their career working on this project."

Will Democrats mount serious opposition to a missile defence system that ignores the 1972 treaty? Some are seeking a centrist position - support to build some kind of missile defence, but one that skirts outright violation of the ABMT - but others are leaving the job of serious vocal opposition to Europe and the Russians. The fact is that a great deal of money is involved.

Perhaps we need to listen to Jane Harman, a traditionally liberal Democratic congresswoman from California. She has received a classified briefing. She also happens to represents the South Bay, the area where the new systems are being developed. Her response sounds the note of the foregone conclusion: "I used to say that the area was the aerospace centre of the world. I would now say it is the centre of the world for spacebased intelligence."

Next month the Bush administration will break ground in Alaska for a missile defence test site. Make no mistake: the "Revolution in Military Affairs" is already well under way, long before the Rumsfeld Review finds its way to Capitol Hill.

Elaine Lafferty is an Irish Times journalist based in the US

Copyright 2001 / Irish Times