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Guest Opinion: American In Canberra

American In Canberra


By Ilan Kelman

In John Howard's continuing successes at ingratiating himself with the White House, Australia has joined the American "coalition of the willing" to build a missile defence shield. Perhaps Howard is seeking the 2008 Republican Vice-Presidential nomination, perhaps he enjoys being a Blairite World American-Statesman (The Emperor's New Friends?), or perhaps he is just thrilled at the prospect of new techno toys: radar systems which track incoming ballistic missiles followed by lasers, rockets, and other interceptors for destroying the threats. If the shield works.

Not to put a damper on these invigorating plans nor on the Yankee-Aussie special relationship, but I am forced to wonder idly if the $50 billion over the next five years for the system is cost-effective. Remember, that's American dollars, not a South Pacific currency. Because, while I am certain that the American decision to go ahead with the missile shield is not in any way related to the amount of personal shares held in defence companies by members of the Republican party, for half that dosh, they could:

(a) Bribe the leaders of the rogue states into retiring to small, tropical islands and install other, more obedient rogues instead.

(b) Make significant inroads into poverty reduction, open-minded primary education, and sustainable livelihoods internationally, thereby stymieing terrorist recruitment.

(c) Buy every village on Earth a television, a satellite dish, a generator, and a 15-year supply of diesel plus a maintenance subcontractor, thereby ensuring that the next generation has neither the intelligence nor the initiative to launch a missile or to plant a bomb. At last: a foolproof (fool-creating) method for American ideals to conquer the world without resistance. A McD's shack could even be built next to each television!

Plus, with any of the above options, there's still $25 billion in the bank for Howard's and Bush's cronies to treat themselves to that spare Learjet or two for attending climate change conferences in style in order to present their anti-Kyoto stance. Not to mention hiring brainpower to work out why the September 11th terrorist attacks are being used as a justification for the missile shield. Would the new radar systems lock onto hijacked passenger jets and would the "interceptors" distinguish between evil Osamamen and innocent citizens?

Well, at least we have the comfort of knowing that Indonesia opposes the missile shield, since "dialogue and diplomacy would be far more effective". Pity that this principle was not enacted for East Timor, a country which would make far better use of a spare billion dollars or fifty.

*************

Dr. Ilan Kelman is the Deputy Director of the Cambridge University UK Centre for Risk In the Built Environment http://www.arct.cam.ac.uk/curbe


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