Stories about the transformation U.S. Strategic Command has undergone since 9/11 have been dribbling out for years. But just recently have we gotten a clearer picture of what these changes portend.
In October 2002, when the U.S. Space Command was shifted to StratCom, nobody could have imagined that in six months the “shock and awe”bombing campaign on Iraq would originate from Omaha. But with 70 per cent of the missiles and smart bombs used in that pre-emptive attack guided from space, StratCom directed what Air Force Secretary James Roche termed the “the first true space war.”
Then, in August 2003, the “Stockpile Stewardship Committee” overseeing StratCom’s nuclear arsenal held a classified meeting at StratCom to plot the development of a new generation of crossover nuclear weapons — so-called “bunker busters” — that could be used in conventional military conflicts. The “firewall” between nuclear and conventional war-fighting was being smashed down, and StratCom was swinging the hammer.
And who could have guessed in December 2005, when revelations about the warrantless wiretapping program became public, that this National Security Agency operation had StratCom fingerprints? But the NSA, under StratCom’s new mission of “Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance,” had been made a StratCom “component command,” and the NSA director, Gen. Michael Hayden (who now heads the CIA), was carrying out this constitutionally suspect activity.
It’s been nearly three years since the story broke that Vice President Dick Cheney ordered StratCom to draw up plans for an air- and sea-based attack on Iran. Under its “Prompt Global Strike” and “Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction” missions, the Omaha headquarters is now charged with attacking any place on earth — within one hour — on the mere perception of a threat to America’s national security. The war on terror is being waged from StratCom, and the next war the White House gets us into (whether with Iran or a geopolitical rival like China) will start in Nebraska.
With all the missions it’s now got in its quiver, you can hardly open a newspaper anymore without reading about a StratCom scheme.
The current flap with Russia over the proposed missile defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic — that’s StratCom’s handiwork. The command picked up its “Integrated Missile Defense” mission in 2003 after the Bush/Cheney administration pulled out of the ABM Treaty. And those Eastern European installations — which the Russians warn are reigniting the Cold War — will be added to the network of international bases already under StratCom’s command.
But from reading the news accounts, you’d never know the command was involved. StratCom’s name is never mentioned.
Or who realized that, when a U.S. Predator drone fired a missile killing al-Qaida commander Abu Laith al-Libi in Pakistan this past January, StratCom did everything from supplying the intelligence to helping fly the unpiloted vehicle? That incident dramatized how easily StratCom — with its new war-fighting authority — can skirt the law. According to an Associated Press story, the missile attack infringed on Pakistan’s national sovereignty, meaning international law may have been breached. But with the free hand it’s been granted, 60 minutes from now, StratCom could have started a war and Congress wouldn’t even have had a clue.
This is not our fathers’ StratCom.
Gone are the days when Strategic Command simply controlled America’s nuclear deterrent, and its doomsday weapons were only to be used as a last resort. Since 9/11, StratCom has gone from “never supposed to be used” to “being used for everything.” Likening the changes that have occurred at the command to a tsunami, former astronaut and current StratCom Commander Kevin Chilton brags that StratCom today is “the most responsive combatant command in the U.S. arsenal.”
It’s now also the most dangerous place on the face of the earth.
And hardly anybody knows it.
StratCom’s well-publicized shootdown of the spy satellite, however, may have finally shown the world just how menacing the command has become. Barely a week after the United States repudiated a treaty proposal to ban space weapons at a U.N. Conference on Disarmament, StratCom shot down the satellite — using its “missile defense” system. And the message this shootdown sent to the world struck with all the force of an anti-satellite missile. Despite the innocuous name, missile defense is now understood to be an offensive weapon by which the United States (in the language of the administration’s national space policy) means to “dominate” space …
And whoever controls space controls the earth.
Operating like some executive-branch vigilante, StratCom has just launched a new arms race — because you can bet Russia and China will never surrender the heavens without a fight.
What’s equally worrisome, though, is that StratCom is now hourly making a mockery of our system of congressional checks and balances. And if Congress can’t rein in StratCom, can anyone?
Tim Rinne is the state coordinator of Nebraskans for Peace, the nation’s oldest statewide peace and justice organization. Nebraskans for Peace will co-sponsor an international conference April 11-13, 2008 in Omaha about the threat StratCom poses.