Star Wars

E.P.Thompson, ed. Penguin 1985. 165 pages pb, $7.95

By Rajan Phillipupillai (reviewer)

E.P. Thompson's symposium has some useful commentaries on Europe's responses to Star Wars or "Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars)" (SDI). For the present generation of European governments, the prevention of conventional war in Europe through American nuclear deterrence has become an article of faith. Their principal perception has been that Star Wars would be a first step in decoupling Europe from America and exposing it to Soviet attack. Thus Europe's initial response was an amalgam of incredulity, irritation, and (as the Americans viewed it) ingratitude. Mrs. Thatcher went so far as to express her opposition to Star Wars at a joint press conference with Mr. Gorbachev. But even as President Reagan forced the Iron Lady to eat her words, his sales agents for Star Wars, Inc. decided to have two sets of labels for their product: one for "Middle America," which E.P. Thompson calls Star Wars I, the other for their NATO allies, called Star Wars II. Star Wars I is the patented concoction of Ronald Reagan: the promise of a leakproof astrodome obviating the need for nuclear retaliation, a promise with which Reagan "outhomilied the [Catholic] Bishops and stole the Freeze movement's clothes while it was bathing." Star Wars II, on the other hand, promises "not to abolish but to ´enhance' deterrence." The switch, across the Atlantic, between Star Wars I to Star Wars II, is not merely a sales gimmick, but also an admission of the impossibility of erecting a leakproof dome over America or elsewhere. Any change from the existing treaties, with their insistence on defensive limitations, should be toward disarmament and cooperation.

Star Wars would take us in the opposite direction, argue Ben Thompson, John Pike, and Rip Bulkeley. Pike holds that Soviet compliance with the ABM Treaty is such as to offer no basis for an aggressive American ABM program. Star Wars, says Bulkeley, is an outcome of U.S. determination under Reagan to "turn away from an arms control approach to security in pursuit of decisive strategic superiority." This strategic superiority may be nothing more than a leaky dome, Thompson points out, but it is good enough to provide partial protection to missile silos and save sufficient missiles for launching retaliatory attacks, a prospect which would only encourage "the temptation to regard a nuclear war as being fightable."

Among the motivating energies of Star Wars are military interests which are not considered to be a dominant component. The "rapacity of the military-industrial complex" is identified as an authentic force which, however, has to compete for resources with other powerful sectors of the U.S. economy. The SDI forces are ultimately sustained by the ideological component. While the SDI project may be assured of "an independent life within American ideology," it had to await the arrival of Reagan, the consummate populist ideologist, to evoke the fears and yearnings of susceptible Americans, harness the military-economic interests looking for a leap into space, and deliver a patronizing deal to keep his constituents happy.

Outside America, the Third World countries expressed their opposition to SDI. New Zealand went further, Australia declined to bid for SDI subcontracts, and Canada settled for a qualified rejection. The Soviet Union's diplomatic responses to SDI have been unexceptionable, but the Russian notoriety for secrecy, its military edge over Europe, and the absence of "any independent citizen lobby in the Soviet Union capable of watching its own military," are viewed by Thompson as legitimate reasons for caution in the West, particularly in the matter of drawing up treaties and verifying compliance.

The French perceive SDI as a booster for U.S. capitalism, which explains their advocacy of Eureka (either as an impulse toward European economic autonomy or "as an idiot's copy of SDI") and Mr. Jacques Chirac's proposal for a European Charter of Defence.

Europe, the old hag, is still groping between the French interpretation and, on the other hand, the American sop (mainly as subcontracts to the British) in the form of EDI (European Defence Initiative), which is a mundane version of SDI purporting to protect Europe from short range Soviet missiles underflying the SDI shield. (At the time of writing, Mr. Neil Kinnock is nothing more than a lone ranger in the NATO alliance.)

Edward Thompson warns of a hidden agenda, behind SDI, to integrate Western Europe within the technological and security controls of a single automated U.S. command. He draws attention to the danger to world peace arising from the continuing bi-polar division of the world, and calls on Europe to emerge as an independent, nonaligned mediator between the two blocs, both at intergovernmental levels and in the form of direct citizen's initiatives. Regis Debray had expressed similar sentiments in France.

Two recent events, long after the publication of the book, have thrown up new possibilities with implications for the future of Star Wars. The Reykjavik Summit has shown that an American retreat from SDI need not be a diplomatic defeat. More importantly, what may be the impact of the Iranian debris on the vision of an astrodome?

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1987

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1987, page 38. Some rights reserved.

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