19 June 2007
Missile-Defense Plans Endanger Nebraskans
Paul Olson
UNL Professor Emeritus
Nebraskans for Peace


The following op-ed appeared in the June 15, 2007 Omaha World-Herald.

The war of words between the Kremlin and the White House over the administration’s insistence on deploying Missile Defense bases in Eastern Europe revives bad memories.

As an echo of Cold War standoffs, the current clash between the Russians and us erodes our hopes of peaceful international relations. But, beyond stirring bad memories, it creates bad blood.

The Bush/Cheney Administration, as it did with Iraq, has opted to ‘go it alone,’ trying to deploy “Star Wars” bases in Eastern Europe without even the approval of NATO. It wishes to base its installations in two former Soviet satellites, both of which have had a traumatic history with the Kremlin (the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the Soviet crackdown on Poland’s “Solidarity” movement in 1980).

When you consider that the U.S. has actively courted these former Warsaw Bloc nations, promoting their entry into NATO while barring Russia’s admission, it makes sense that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government feel of threatened.

President Putin and his government have recently accused the Bush/Cheney Administration of launching a new arms race and engaging in “imperialism.”

Their anxious response has not been limited to words. Claiming self-defense, they recently test-fired two new types of missiles said to be able to evade all state-of-the-art missile defenses. And they have promised that more advances will be forthcoming — so long the U.S. proceeds with its plans.

This is a risky course for the U.S. and Russia to be pursuing. It is destined to inflame anti-American feelings throughout the world. It sets a bad example. China has now stepped forward to condemn the proposal, and even the Czech president has conceded that his citizens overwhelmingly oppose deploying a base in their country for fear it will make them a terrorist target. Clearly the international stakes are high and getting higher all the time.

For Nebraskans, this foolishness has a homegrown significance. The proposed missile-defense bases are the handiwork of the U. S. Strategic Command, since StratCom’s “Integrated Missile Defense” mission would arm Eastern Europe.

However, the arming would also make Nebraska a target. The recently announced nomination of StratCom Commander James Cartwright to be the vice-chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will further enhance StratCom’s role and give it new global reach.

But, as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reminded the graduating cadets in his commencement address at the Air Force Academy last month, the U.S. military is constitutionally bound to serve the wishes of the president — and the Congress.

Given that StratCom is in the home state of Nebraska Senators Chuck Hagel and Ben Nelson, both senators are uniquely poised to play a leading role in counseling caution and urging restraint to defuse this latest international crisis.

Hagel and Nelson are held in high regard by their Senate peers. The need for their leadership has never been greater, particularly because were hostilities to erupt, StratCom — and Nebraska — would be the target of any retaliation.

President Putin has proposed alternative locations for the radar base and missile battery outside of Eastern Europe. These would allay his nation’s security concerns. His timely proposal might well permit both of our countries to pursue a missile defense strategy that would be of mutual benefit.

While the alternatives are being studied, the Kremlin has further called on the U.S. to stop its current deployment plans for Poland and the Czech Republic. Although the Bush/Cheney administration has not rejected the Russian proposal outright, it has regrettably made clear that it wants to go ahead with building the Eastern European bases.

We need no ‘brinkmanship’ now. This is the time to seek NATO and Russian cooperation in the venture. Sens. Hagel and Nelson have been invaluable in providing levelheaded leadership on both the Iraq and Iran. Now America dearly needs work from them to defuse the crisis over missile defense in Eastern Europe.

Global Network