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Talk About Missiles Sends Harknett to Washington
From: University Currents
Date: May 12, 2000
By: Carey Hoffman
Phone: (513) 556-1825
Archive: Research News

The world wonders: Just what will the United States do when new gains in technology strengthen its already-dominant defense capabilities? Sorting out those possibilities will send Richard Harknett, associate professor of political science, to Washington, D.C. next week.

Harknett, an international relations and security expert, will present at an Institute for National Security Studies' conference, "Revising the ABM Treaty: Seeking Strategic Stability in a World of Nuclear Danger." His analysis, which will likely be heard by Pentagon officials as well as Capitol Hill representatives of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, offers insight into crisis stability and deterrence. "This was a good research project for me," Harknett said, "in the sense that after looking at these issues, I came out where I didn't necessarily expect to."

U.S. pursuit of a missile defense system has been front-page news this year. While such a system, which is not yet technically feasible, promises protection against attacks from rogue states like North Korea, other nuclear powers such as Russia and even U.S. allies remain wary of international strategic imbalances it would create. A decision whether to proceed with development will be made soon, either by the Clinton administration or the new administration that takes office next year.

The conference will add input from leading academics into that process. Harknett concludes introduction of such a system would undercut the issue of crisis stability. The surprising part of that analysis, however, is his interpretation: that may not necessarily be bad for U.S. national security. Harknett reasons that while crisis stability was a goal during the Cold War, war avoidance is not always a U.S. goal in the current climate. When a conflict is with a small or medium-sized belligerent state such as Iraq, "war avoidance isn't necessarily in the interest of national security," Harknett said.

The second major observation Harknett will lobby for is that missile defense system deployment would negatively affect U.S.-China relations moreso than any other strategic relationship. While Russia and its threats to abrogate the anti-ballistic missile treaty have been getting the most attention, he fears the effect on Chinese relations is being overlooked.

"In the most extreme case, you could interpret this as creating preventive war dynamics with China," said Harknett. "By that I mean that a country anticipates its opponents' capabilities down the road that eliminate its options, and decides to wage war before those options are in place. That could happen if China remains truly committed to its threat to use force in (reunifying) Taiwan."

Harknett's views on the missile defense system also tie into an article he authored last winter in the journal Orbis titled "The Rise of a Networked Military." In that article, he and co-authors from the Joint Center for International and Security Studies argued that the U.S. military should move slowly and prudently in adopting an information technology-driven revolution in military affairs (IT-RMA), a concept proponents believe will revolutionize the military and drive the United States into a permanent position of unchallenged leadership in world politics.

The linkage between the missile defense system and IT-RMA, Harknett believes, comes when considering questions of geo-political stability. "From the view of China or Russia, they don't look at American military policy in these separate departments. They fit together the American pursuit of missile defense with the American pursuit of IT-RMA and a third component, the militarization of space, and those three factors give the U.S. significant power projection capabilities," Harknett said.

"Their question then becomes: Why, with no clear competitors (for superiority), is the U.S. looking at these power projection issues? What are we up to? The more those countries start to review the U.S. as a revisionist rather than a status quo power, the more likely it is we'll see an emergence of balancing dynamics, where these other countries coalesce and align with each other over the next 20-to-50 years."