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Australia should proceed with the 'Son of Star Wars' project quickly

By James Cumes - posted Tuesday, 27 January 2004

The decision of the Australian Government to join the American Anti-ballistic-missile Program revives the debate, perhaps more on the question of how necessary the program is than on whether it is likely to succeed.

The Non-Proliferation Treaty and other elements of dissuasion have slowed the spread of nuclear weapons but they have not stopped it. Nuclear knowledge, whether peaceful or other, is now more available than ever before.

Restrictions on the development of delivery systems, as distinct from nuclear, chemical and other mass-destruction warheads, are less than those on nuclear weapons and several non-nuclear countries now possess or are moving towards acquisition of the capacity to build intercontinental missiles. China has recently sent a man into nearby space and promises to send a man to the moon. Others will follow the same course.


In the past, the development of nuclear weapons and long-range delivery systems has been confined to the major powers - the superpowers or their nearest rivals. They have had, for the most part, responsible governments or, in any event, governments that are aware of the odds on provoking their own self-destruction.

That has been changing for some years now, with the spread of nuclear and long-range ballistic knowledge and, most importantly, with the terrifying proliferation of what we have come to call "failed states”. There are now dozens of states around the world who have what we may call unstable governance and who are exposed to pressure, manipulation, corruption and, ultimately, domination from outside. The United Nations Charter still carefully protects the sovereignty of these states and their right to develop, in domestic security, their capacity to destroy or initiate the destruction of the rest of the world.

Even more dangerous perhaps has been the extent to which all governments, of failed or unfailed states, have abdicated their sovereignty to private interests, including those in the defence industries. Private armies and private arms dealers have proliferated much more than overt nuclear-weapons capacity; and powerful defence-industrial corporations are increasingly influential with, if they do not dominate, United States Administrations.

We desperately need to bring balance and control into these developments. Among other things, we need to review our notions of national sovereignty and international law. We also need to review our notions of the extent to which our governments should abdicate their sovereignty to private interests, and so put at risk the survival of the societies themselves.

These are fundamental issues and, even given a will much greater than is currently apparent, will take a long time to resolve.

In the meantime, we must acknowledge the dangers inherent in our present reckless arrangements, including the danger that megalomaniac elements might destroy, in a sudden cataclysmic incident, all that our civilisations have built up over the centuries. To guard against those contingencies, we need safeguards of many kinds. One of those would seem to be to develop, as quickly as we can, a reliable defensive system which can deflect or destroy weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles, launched against us by renegade states, groups or individuals. We may not succeed in developing a reliable system but it is imperative that we try.


That is the justification for proceeding as rapidly and energetically as we can with the "Son of Star Wars" project or other enterprises with a similar purpose.

In conclusion, as the author of the novel Operation Equalizer, I must confess to what might be seen as a vested interest in the notions I have put forward above. That does not, I hope, make it any less crucial that we debate fully and responsibly the issues which Operation Equalizer raises.

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About the Author

James Cumes is a former Australian ambassador and author of America's Suicidal Statecraft: The Self-Destruction of a Superpower (2006).

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