Unassailable America: An impossible dream
Fumiko Nishizaki, The Asahi Shimbun, Tokyo
The more America tries to build foolproof defenses to protect itself from terrorists and so-called rogue states, the more its potential enemies will be induced to stockpile inexpensive but sufficiently devastating weapons, for fear of a U.S. pre-emptive strike.
The framework of Japanese support for the United States in the post-Cold War years is becoming clear. Anticipating a U.S. attack on Iraq, the Japanese government has dispatched an Aegis high- tech destroyer, the mightiest warship in its arsenal, to the Indian Ocean.
Moreover, officials said during bilateral security talks in Washington that in addition to providing logistical support in the event of a war in Iraq, Japan would give consideration to the development and deployment of a missile defense system for itself.
In a statement, the Japanese delegation declared that missile defense would provide the only means of a purely defensive nature for protecting the lives of Japanese people and their property.
It was apparently consistent with Washington's strategy to have U.S. allies build their own missile defense systems linked with an American network. But will such a strategy work?
During the Cold War years, the U.S. and the Soviet Union regarded offense and defense as inseparable. Based on the shared perception, they built peace through nuclear parity.
Nuclear deterrence provided theoretical support for this approach to superpower relations. By leaving its people defenseless against a nuclear attack by the other side, each was to demonstrate that it had no intention to mount a first strike. Each also was to take care to deter a first strike by the other side by making sure that it had the capacity to survive an enemy first strike and then to retaliate.
Basically, the theory was supposed to work this way. It was enunciated against a background of deep-seated mutual mistrust between the two superpowers.
They managed to maintain peace only because both wanted to avert an all-out nuclear war.
This situation is crumbling fundamentally now. The reason is that the U.S. has begun to pursue "absolute security" by switching to a new policy, viewing offense and defense as separate matters and maintaining overwhelming attack capabilities.
The Bush administration has decided to promote the missile defense plan and pull out from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, thus signaling that America will aim at bolstering its defenses on its own.
In addition, it has begun picking on countries and organizations that may challenge America, putting pressure on them to disarm.
Judging from Washington's tough line against Iraq and some other countries, it is clear that the U.S. government is weighing as a leading option a strategy under which America would not hesitate to launch a pre-emptive strike, counting on bolstered defenses to neutralize a possible missile attack from the other side.
But to make the U.S. absolutely safe is an unattainable goal. The more America tries to build foolproof defenses to protect itself from terrorists and so-called rogue states, the more its potential enemies will be induced to stockpile inexpensive but sufficiently devastating weapons, for fear of a U.S. pre-emptive strike.
Hitherto, adversaries have accepted military inequalities on the premise that both sides do not want the outbreak of war. The proposed U.S. strategy would make such gaps untenable and bring a world in which each would arm itself to the teeth for absolute safety.
Early in 1946, less than six months after the atomic attacks on Japan, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, who played a leading role in developing the bomb, warned the U.S. government that no country could be absolutely safe from the threat of nuclear weapons.
Oppenheimer and other scientists pointed out to officials that anyone could possess atomic bombs because an attempt to confine science and technology within national borders would be futile.
To protect mankind from the horrors of nuclear arms, they said, it was essential to cultivate the kind of mutual confidence that would make it unnecessary to develop nuclear weapons and build systems that would assure all countries of equal security.
Unfortunately, their advice fell on deaf ears. This set the stage for a nuclear arms race that continued for half a century.
Their proposals to save mankind from annihilation have become more relevant today because prohibitions against the use of military force are being lost by the day.
The international community should take a new look at the concepts and measures proposed at the dawn of the nuclear age and explore the feasibility to translate them into reality.
The writher is a professor of American politics and diplomatic history at Seikei University.