Matthew Hoey responds to the Mello-Knight exchange

Matthew Hoey is the founder of the Military Space Transparency Project (MSTP) and a former senior research associate at the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies (IDDS) where he specialized in forecasting developments in missile defense and military space technologies. He responded on 02 March 2010 to the Mello-Knight exchange of views on nuclear disarmament and the Obama administration.

President Obama’s hopes to begin the long march toward a nuclear free future are not limited to just words, though I understand how some may believe this to be the case. Upon closer examination, the President is taking the critical first steps in an effort to go beyond his address at Prague. The President is in the process of negotiating a new arms control treaty with the Russians, and it is highly likely that he will be pursuing even deeper cuts in the future. He has also made efforts to expand and strengthen the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Where are the results? Why have we not seen action? When will the nuclear threat begin to wane–even if it happens ever so slightly?

This is a very informative thread, and I have enjoyed reading all of the entries. What Charles [Knight] has initiated here serves as an example of how if we draw upon all of the myriad arguments before us, we are sure to paint a more nuanced picture of the road to consensus and cooperation. The same could not be truer in regard to our domestic political and international diplomatic climates as well. Parties in all corners have legitimate disputes and concerns, and until these are all fully addressed in a courageous and aggressive new fashion it is my belief that our drive towards zero will never get in gear. Here are my thoughts on how we can get moving.

One step would be for both American and Russian defense industries to gradually be converted into commercial industries – in the current global economy this would be slow to begin but would eventually reap tremendous benefits. Such a transition would even free university students from the confines of military contractors as a leading option for employment, ensuring that this generation of young people would not be bound to the archaic practices of the military industrial complex. The ripple effects on cooperative defense would be tremendous. As it is, our overall military capabilities are already unrivaled. Such reductions in military spending and subsequent reinvestment in new technology would not in fact lessen our strategic dominance, since cooperative defense would diminish the move-countermove dynamic that has long undermined disarmament efforts. Then taking into consideration cooperative defense and the promotion of one another’s security, our mutual economic potential would be enhanced further, thus strengthening our international relationship to an unprecedented level.

This would not be a cooperative security agreement limited to just sharing military and launch data; such a partnership would also extend into a shared strategic defense. In this era where the war on terror and the threat from extremism is the focal point of nations such as the US and Russia—ever posed with internally-based security threats and intrusions by radicals who would not hesitate to use a nuclear weapons in a major city—this simply makes sense.

The pursuit of missile defense to guard against incoming threats is the single greatest impediment to progress – this is the lynch pin, and under the banner of reducing national security threats it does nothing more than increase them. It is a fool’s pursuit. Should the United States pull back from its BMD aspirations in concert with the initiation of cooperative defense discussions, real progress toward reducing the threat of a missile attack against the US could begin. This would also help to motivate the US and Russia to find common ground in regard to Iran during this heady time. With the world’s two military superpowers acting as enhanced security and economic partners, it is more likely that this leadership by example would take hold and could spur the beginning of a global trend over the long run.

Spending has long been unrestrained within the nuclear complex and the national labs. This is a perennial phenomenon—the effect of unwavering pork barrel spending and lobbying by elected officials in cahoots with the defense industry to bring home jobs to their home districts. This cannot be undone without disastrous results. The US economy is addicted to the defense dollar and must be weaned from it gradually. This would come in the form of a transition away from the development of destructive technology and towards the development of beneficial technologies, for example, alternative energy solutions or emerging technologies that would enhance space exploration. Far too many working American families rely upon the defense budget and the nuclear dollar. If consensus for disarmament efforts is to extend across the aisles of Congress and the Senate, this must be understood and honored. If not, we face divisions and a squandered opportunity that may not present itself again.

Once such a transition takes place, a type of economic vacuum effect could commence where free markets, capitalism and innovation driven by new technology could lift the US and Russian economies out of the mud that is the threat of nuclear annihilation. This vacuum effect was not possible in years past, and is actually enabled by the current economic crises and the need for new industries that would contribute to economic recovery and job creation. It does not require any more courage, concessions or clarity to pursue a world without nuclear weapons through such avenues than what is needed to cling onto weapons that can and will someday kill millions.

When placed side-by-side, exchanges and the resulting debates regarding the increase in the nuclear complex budget versus the White House’s current policy positions beg for such a solution. In fact, if such a solution is initiated cautiously through careful consideration of the needs of all parties, it could ripple across the economy help to address our greatest global challenges. This could be accomplished while progressively extracting more and more American and Russian scientists from the nuclear gadgetry industry and channeling their enormous individual and collective talents into a more prosperous direction.

Barack Obama and Dimitri Medvedev have the courage and clarity to understand and express their willingness to discuss a world without nuclear weapons. Progress will require a steadfast commitment to courage in the face of the defense industry and the clarity to see that thousands of Russian and Americans rely on these industries and will need jobs that provide the means to support their families. Cooperative defense will lead to the beginning of a transition from massive defense spending to productive civilian investment that stands to benefit all.

Offering concessions and placing cooperative defense on the table while viewing the road ahead in a broader context should get the discussion moving in a direction that turns words into additional actions. As long as the United States refuses to give up missile defense in Eastern Europe we will remain at a standstill.

It was Dr. Randall Forsberg who opened my mind to this way of thinking. She taught me about how cooperative security could be used as a vehicle for peace. Her words that follow, written in 1992, ring today with a renewed poignancy:

The end of the Cold war represents a turning point for the role of military force in international affairs. At this unique juncture in history, the world’s main military spenders and arms producers have an unprecedented opportunity to move from confrontation to cooperation. The United States, the European nations, Japan and the republics of the former USSR can now replace their traditional security policies, based on deterrence and unilateral intervention, with cooperative policies based on minimum deterrence, non-offensive defense, nonproliferation, and multilateral peacekeeping.

There are four important reasons to make this change, and make it quickly:

First, massive resources are at stake. With a cooperative security policy, the United States could cut the annual military budget… A peace dividend on this order is exactly what we need to revitalize the economy and meet the backlog of needs in housing, health, education, environment and economic infrastructure.

Second, the cooperative approach to security is prerequisite to stopping the global proliferation of armaments and arms industries. The prospect of proliferation has become the single greatest military threat to this country and to the world…

Third, the choice by the major industrial nations either to perpetuate a US-dominated international security system or to develop a more cooperative system will have far-reaching political ramifications at home and abroad… here in America, the change would help reverse the nasty mixture of cynicism, violence, and racism that has increasingly pervaded our society since the first Reagan Administration made increases in military spending at the price of national debt and deep cuts in domestic programs.

Last but not least, a cooperative approach to security is likely to be far more effective than the traditional approach in reducing the incidence and scale of war. Despite these enormous stakes, Congress and the Administration have, until recently, refused even to consider substantial cuts in post-Cold war defense spending, much less seize the unprecedented opportunity to develop a cooperative security system. [Randall Forsberg, “Defense Cuts and Cooperative Security in the Post-Cold War World”, Boston Review, May 1992]

Should President Obama choose to accept this torch I believe that we can achieve the goals outlined in Prague within our lifetime.

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