As Democrats and Republicans aggressively strive to set themselves apart from the other party in the minds of voters, election year partisan politics have unabashedly infiltrated into much of this summer’s congressional lawmaking. Indeed, with third party candidate Ralph Nader and others criticizing presidential hopefuls Gov. George Bush and Vice President Al Gore as beholden to the same corporate puppeteers, the political parties and their leaders hope to clarify for voters how disparate Republicans and Democrats actually are, while simultaneously following the other party’s popular proposals. As a result of all this posturing, sound legislation suffers and little of worth is accomplished, as has been the case with the national missile shield.
After three interceptor missile tests — two that were complete failures and one that was dumbed down to secure success, Republican legislators remain gung-ho about the importance of former President Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” vision. President Bill Clinton and many other Democrats have also continued to push for the defense system. Although Clinton has not decided whether to go ahead with construction — a decision he said he will make this summer — he and his party fear showing themselves weak on defense in the eyes of voters, who have consistently voiced their support for such a defense shield.
While legislators focus their attention on the upcoming elections, other nations’ concerns have been widely ignored or quickly dismissed as a misunderstanding of the shield’s intent. Though Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Jiang Zemin denounce the United States’ nuclear shield plan, which they say will instigate another nuclear arms race, Clinton and supportive members of Congress are hoping to reassure the leaders that the limited shield will not scrap mutual assured destruction or detente. The Pentagon stresses Russia’s nuclear arsenal would overwhelm the Clinton missile shield, which was designed with nations like North Korea and Pakistan in mind.
But Putin’s announcement last week that North Korean President Kim Jong Il agreed to eliminate its nuclear program if other nations would supply him with rockets for his country’s space program makes us wonder whether a nuclear shield would protect the United States from the types of threats these rogue nations impose. It is more likely that a belligerent government would plant a nuclear warhead in a suitcase and smuggle it into America than for a leader, no matter how unstable, to launch a nuclear attack against the United States with the certainty of a reciprocal attack and total destruction. Pentagon’s Cold War thought process is crude and simply does not fit with modern dangers.
Still, the Republicans are obsessed with a powerful national defense, and plenty of inherent nationalism remains in the traditional American psyche to make the idea of an indestructible United States a popular notion. A recent bill in the House sponsored by several Democrats would have required more missile shield tests before presidential approval can be given for the project. Republicans united together and voted the bill down. As with their tax cuts, Republicans believe public opinion rests on their side.
Although public sentiment should have a strong impact on foreign policy, most Americans are ignorant of the larger issues and the intricate details necessary to make intelligent foreign policy decisions. Despite its apparent popularity, a national missile shield should either be scrapped or delayed until adequate testing can guarantee its dependability.