This is a departure from a focus on New Mexico to one on another state, Massachusetts, and another educational institution, MIT, that has strong ties to the military. Their ties may be institutionally stronger than institutions in New Mexico, but the principles of military influence in the educational system are still the same. It ties those institutions that are supposed to stand for universal principles to their state and corporate interests that fund them and gain their material benefits. Those benefits are in subsidized research, and research directed toward military ends. Those military ends are imperialistic ends that continue a global system of inequality. To end that system we have to understand it. And universities are part of that system. Understanding how one institution can be directed toward militaristic ends for imperialism will help in understanding the ways our own institutions are directed toward militaristic ends for imperialism. We mean a global system of exploitation where the First World reaps the luxuries of the global social product at the expense of the exploited in the Third World, who have their labor, resources, and land taken from them. Military force is one of the ways this system maintains, as shown in many documents. The billions of dollars spent on military research is done for rational reasons. As shown in the Postol case, when those interests clash with academic principles, it is obvious who benefits.
Theodore Postol, MIT, and Missile Defense Research
Theodore Postol is a professor of science, technology, and national security studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He became known for debunking the performance of the Patriot missile in the Gulf War, and is also a long time critic of ballistic missile defense schemes (1). Basically because they cost a lot of money and will not likely work. He has fought with the Pentagon and MIT over the scientific accuracy of missile defense test results. The struggle Postol has waged shows the confluence of universities and the military, and what lengths the military will go to push their agendas.
Brief History of Missile Defense
Back in 1968, Richard Garvin and Hans Bethe wrote an article for Scientific American arguing against missile defense (2). The main argument is that it would be technologically infeasable and easily eluded by enemies. This position led the United States and the Soviet Union to sign the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 1972, prohibiting either country from from deploying a nationwide defense system. In the 1980’s the Reagan administration toyed with the Star Wars missile defense system. The proponents fell into either Dreamers or Schemers, the fanatics and the realists. The dreamers saw a missile defense shield as not only feasible but also making the U.S. invulnerable to nuclear weapons. The schemers saw absolute defense as a pipe dream but useful as a bargaining chip against the Soviets in arms control. In 1987 an arms control treaty was signed that scaled back nuclear weapons between both countries. This treaty was a bone to the proponents. As a counter to missile defense nations would build more missiles, and decoys at that.
Moderate opponents saw the danger in missile defense as the idea that a nuclear war could be won. The strategy was deterrence, where the ability to obliterate an enemy prevented them from doing anything rash. As articulated by Keith Payne, “the logic of missile defense is to make the stakes of power projection compatible with the risks of power projection” (3). Missile defense thus is about offense. Other nations with nuclear weapons prevent the United States from exerting its military might. The argument of missile defense as an offensive strategy would be hard to swallow for the public, especially after the Cold War.
The new argument was missile defense as “homeland defense.” Missile defense would be used to counter rogue states like the Axis of Evil (Iran, then Iraq, and North Korea), and any accidental launches by Russia or China. National missile defense was a key part of the right wing agenda. After the Republicans took congress in 1994, missile defense was a key part of their agenda, and pushed the White House to adopt it, and in 1996 Clinton announced it would develop a homeland defense system. Tests were conducted in 1997, and we will come back to those particular tests.
In July 1998 a commission of experts led by then former secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, along with other neoconservatives, concluded that North Korea or Iran could develop an ICBM, with little warning, within five years. The supposed findings gave a boost to supporters of national missile defense. That year North Korea tested multi-stage missiles, although none could reach the United States. Then undersecretary of defense Jacques Gansler told congress that it was only a matter of when the U.S. would deploy missile defense. In 1999 the Pentagon gave an additional $6.6 billion to future defense budgets for national missile defense, and the Clinton administration backed away from opposition to it. That year the General Accounting Office estimated that limited missile defense would cost between $18 billion and $28 billion, while conceding the costs would likely expand.
With so much money at stake on unproven technology of dubious importance, it would seem only natural that the Pentagon and those whose interests lie with it would do what they needed to protect it. Luckily a few like Tom Postol are around to stand on principles.
- Carroll, James. “A Missile Coverup at MIT?” Boston Globe. December 3, 2002.
- Garwin, R. L.; Bethe, H.A. (March 1968). “Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems”.Scientific American 218 (3): 21–31
- Keller, Bill. “Missile Defense: The Untold Story. New York Times. December 29, 2001. http://www.nytimes.com/2001/12/29/opinion/29KELL.html