The other star wars

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The Independent Online

The attractions and temptations of a missile defence system - popularly known as "star wars" - are all too apparent. Whichever country meets the technical challenge of commandeering the cosmos will gain a military and strategic advantage comparable, if not superior, to being first to develop a nuclear weapon. And the achievement will precipitate a race to possess the ultimate deterrent.

The attractions and temptations of a missile defence system - popularly known as "star wars" - are all too apparent. Whichever country meets the technical challenge of commandeering the cosmos will gain a military and strategic advantage comparable, if not superior, to being first to develop a nuclear weapon. And the achievement will precipitate a race to possess the ultimate deterrent.

Unfortunately, these thoughts have been prompted less by the recent release of what is said to be the last Star Wars film, than by reports that the Pentagon is planning to release its own policy sequel to Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defence Initiative. The actual weapons may be little more than a glint in researchers' eyes, but the descriptions alone intimidate: killer satellites, aero-vehicles designed to bomb sites as far as 3,000 miles away, massive tungsten rods launched from platforms in space, and laser weapons able to launch strikes within seconds of an order. This last, like the plan for radio waves to disable enemy communications systems, may not be so far from being realised.

Imminent or not, such Pentagon projects deserve to be treated warily. President Reagan's Strategic Defence Initiative may not have been feasible, and President Bush may have found development of his National Missile Defence a more complicated proposition than he had envisaged. But so long as the US is prepared to renounce international treaty regimes that it sees as hampering its quest to conquer space - as the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty did - Washington has only itself to blame if its protestations of peaceful intentions are called into question.

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