Alternative to Missile Defense: Global Security through Conversion of the Global War Machine

By Mary Beth Sullivan

April 17, 2009

It is fair to say that we are living in very dark times.  As we come to the waning years of the first decade in the 21st Century, we can assess the damage done by the far-reaching arm of U.S. militarism:  the wars and subsequent occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan; increasing numbers of US military bases around the world; NATO expansion; weapons sales around the world; space technology used to enhance war fighting; military budgets that continue to increase at the expense of meeting human needs.  This list goes on and on…

But the dawn is coming.  The people of the Czech Republic turned its government on its head in large part because of its efforts to bring a U.S. missile defense radar base on its land.  Global climate change has made many in the U.S. realize we must change our priorities to create a renewable energy infrastructure – and it is evident to some of us that the only serious source of funds to engage that effort is in the Pentagon.  The seeds that were planted twenty years ago by economist Seymour Melman and many others who talked about conversion of American industry from one that creates wars to one that creates peaceful enterprise for the future of our planet might finally be taking root.

With the global economic crisis, the militarists will persist in demanding that industry continue building weapons systems.  But they will lose.  They must lose, if the planet is to survive.

The Aegis destroyer is a good metaphor for the times we live in.

My hometown of Bath, Maine has one of two shipyards in the U.S. that builds naval destroyers – Bath Iron Works or BIW.  Of course, these destroyers are outfitted with Aegis systems and operate as part of the sea-based missile defense systems.

Currently there is a conflict going on inside the US government.  On the one hand is the Pentagon saying it no longer wants the newest class of naval destroyers made at BIW.  There are two reasons: first, intelligence reports say they are quite vulnerable to numerous types of foreign missile attacks.  Second, these big ships are very expensive – with estimates saying the current price is just under $5 billion each.

On the other hand is the U.S. Congress.  Maine has two powerful women Republican Senators who are committed to building this new war ship at BIW.  They recently collaborated with key Democratic leaders and threatened to cut off funding for all surface combat ships in 2009 if the contract for the new destroyer is not continued at BIW.

The Pentagon finally agreed to keep the contract to build this ship it doesn't want. 

Meanwhile, we know from past and current research studies, that money spent on military production creates significantly fewer jobs, in some cases half as many jobs, than if those same dollars were spent on building rail systems, solar power, education, health care, or weatherizing homes to make them more energy efficient.

In my mind, this very large, very expensive naval ship is a perfect symbol of the 20th Century's blind excesses that must be curtailed.

Meanwhile, inside the shipyard we have a friend named Peter Woodruff.  He suffers from knowing the role the Aegis destroyers built at BIW played in the U.S. shock and awe bombardment of Iraq in 2003.

A group of us have come together to look at the issue of conversion of the military industrial complex.  We know that corporate globalization sent U.S. industrial jobs oversees seeking lower wages and lower environmental regulations.  We know that over many decades, the U.S. Congress handed over the U.S. industrial base to the Pentagon.  We know that the top U.S. industrial export product is weapons.  U.S. industry arms the world, and the corporations reap great profits when the world is engaged in war.

We also know that this planet cannot survive a 21st Century that perpetuates militarism as a jobs program, and as the only solution to world conflict.

Unless the workers at BIW soon become engaged in building wind turbines and mass transit rail cars, Maine's economy will sink under the weight of the destroyer the navy doesn't want.

Our friend Peter Woodruff recently started circulating a petition among the workers at BIW demanding that they begin building the renewable energy infrastructure – building wind turbines– and that BIW be the location for that work.

We are forming collaborations with environmentalists, union workers, peace activists, and other political activists to express a unified voice across our state that says we must cut the budget of the Pentagon.  We must convert U.S. industry to one that builds the renewable energy infrastructure…..

In an odd way, the Aegis destroyer connects many of us here in this room.  Ships that are built in my hometown are used in the missile defense testing in Hawaii.  They are ported in Japan.  They are used in war-gaming exercises off the shores of Korea and Australia.

Every one of our international friends here knows of an American military installation near your homes, on land that should be used for something else.

In every instance, the myth is that the American military base provides jobs that are good for the community.  In every instance, the American military base is polluting the land it sits on.

The 21st Century started with the military invasion of Afghanistan.  And then the pre-emptive strike against Iraq.  This Century begins with one million, three hundred thousand Iraqi deaths over the last six years.

The 21st Century began with tens of thousands of humanity's sons and daughters flying the planes, steering the ships, pulling the levers and squeezing the triggers that unleashed the technology to accumulate that unbearable number of deaths.

Deepak Chopra is a medical doctor and popular Indian-American personality who has written 50 books on subjects of spirituality and mind-body healing. On January first of this year, Deepak Chopra wrote an open letter to Barack Obama offering 9 steps to Peace.  His nine steps included subsidizing conversion of military companies to peaceful uses; calling a moratorium on future weapons technologies; making foreign arms sales illegal over time; and phasing out all foreign military bases.  His bottom line was this:  "Without a conversion of our present war economy to a peace economy, the high profits of the military-industrial complex ensures that [war] will never end." 

The seeds to that notion were planted more than 20 years ago by a vast array of international peace movement organizers. The time has come to focus our attention on the profound knowledge within that seed, and make it bear fruit in our world.

Those of us in Maine will continue to work to transform BIW into a facility that begins production of the renewable energy infrastructure.  We can see it.  We know it to be true.  We must bring that certainty to our neighbors and engage them in the vision.  Together, we will take courage from the people of the Czech Republic, and we will believe we can convince our political leaders this is so.

We must close the bases of this US empire and protect our mother earth. 

Thank you.

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