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StratCom in Nebraska

The Most Dangerous Place on the Face of the Earth

By Tim Rinne

For more than half a century, the US Strategic Command (StratCom) in Omaha, Nebraska has symbolized the threat of nuclear holocaust. Formerly known as the Strategic Air Command, StratCom is the command center for the US's nuclear arsenal, inspiring everything from Stanley Kubrick's “Dr. Strangelove” to Christian fundamentalist visions of “the final battle” of Armageddon.

Morbid Cold War policies like the doctrine of “Mutually Assured Destruction” effectively reinforced these doomsday views. America's nuclear deterrent, it was popularly understood, was strictly defensive in intent, meant to keep the Communists at bay with the threat of total annihilation. If nuclear weapons ever were to be used, it would be only as a last resort, in an end-of-the-world scenario where Americans would ‘rather be dead than red.’

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, StratCom's utility and value quickly declined. It was a warrior without a foe, and talk accordingly arose about whether this Cold War icon should be dismantled outright. One of its former commanders, General George Lee Butler, even briefly became a notable disarmament advocate.

StratCom's Mission Expands

But 9/11, as the Bush-Cheney administration never tires of reminding us, changed everything. Within months, StratCom underwent a major mission overhaul. Without yanking any of StratCom's nuclear-related responsibilities, the White House began padding the command's repertoire, adding in quick succession the US Space Command, its “C-4ISR” missions (Command, Control, Computers, Communications, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance), integrated missile defense, combating weapons of mass destruction and “Full-Spectrum Global Strike.”

Foregoing all semblance of its purportedly ‘defensive’ role, StratCom today serves as the command center for offensively waging the administration's international “War on Terror” – with both conventional and nuclear weapons.

As the industry sponsor at the Omaha “Strategic Space and Defense 2006” trade show and arms bazaar so forthrightly expressed it last fall, “StratCom is a laboratory for the future of warfare.” Worse, the battle plans for the next war the US contemplates starting will be drawn up, launched and coordinated from Offutt Air Force Base just outside Omaha.

Under the administration's doctrine of preemption, StratCom has been commissioned to launch a first-strike attack anywhere on Earth–within two hours–if a threat to America's national security is even suspected. Following the same drill used on Iraq over its alleged stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, this new StratCom directive (called CONPLAN 8022) is a high-tech version of ‘shoot first and ask questions later.’ And neither a dithering Congress nor international rule of law will be permitted to stand in the way.

For more than a year now, StratCom has had a war plan in readiness for just such a preemptive and (under the UN Charter's “Prohibition of Aggression”) illegal attack on Iran. It's only been waiting for word from the White House to strike. As an article in the March 2007 issue of Vanity Fair reported, “Another serious development is the growing role of the US Strategic Command (StratCom), which oversees nuclear weapons, missile defense, and protection against weapons of mass destruction. Bush has directed StratCom to draw up plans for a massive strike against Iran…”

We can only hope no one in the Middle East reads Vanity Fair. The command center for the most sophisticated nuclear arsenal in the world has been charged with planning, launching and coordinating an unprovoked assault on a non-nuclear Muslim nation, in order to keep that country from even being able to develop nuclear energy for civilian purposes. StratCom's attack plan even includes the use of tactical nuclear weapons to take out the reinforced bunkers housing Iran's nuclear research facilities.

When the administration's plans to construct a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic were disclosed last January, Russian President Vladimir Putin promptly warned that such a provocation was destined to ignite a new “Cold War” because Russia would take steps to defend itself. At least 15 countries around the world are now engaged in StratCom's missile defense program, the majority of which lie within striking distance of Russia. The White House was quick to claim that the missiles were intended to defend against an attack from Iran. But Putin was unmollified, charging that, by its actions the US–rather than the Iranian government–was menacing the world.

Big Brother is Watching from Space

The mission array of the newly retooled StratCom, however, extends far beyond this vigilante role. In its struggle with the forces of international terrorism, the Bush-Cheney Administration has seen fit to equip the Omaha command center with powers worthy of “Big Brother,” both at home and abroad.

The warrantless wiretaps on American citizens conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA) are a StratCom brainchild. As part of StratCom's C-4ISR mission set, the NSA was made a “Component Command” of StratCom. The decision to begin this domestic spying operation was made by General Michael Hayden before he subsequently became the director of the CIA.

Overseas, spying on civilians of every nation takes place under the aegis of StratCom's Space Command, based in Colorado Springs. With its international network of listening stations, the Space Command's “Echelon” satellite surveillance system keeps a close worldwide eye on anything deemed suspicious and shady. This StratCom-generated information is, of course, fed right back into StratCom for processing and analysis to determine whether preemptive military action–to be executed by StratCom–is in turn warranted. It is pretty much a closed circle within the executive branch, and consequently leaves precious little room for legislative or judicial oversight.

Expanding to the Final Frontier

Ordinarily, given StratCom's historic mission, it's hard to imagine anything more sinister than being the agent of nuclear holocaust. But impossible as it sounds, the threat StratCom now poses is graver than ever before. In addition to its capacity to trigger a nuclear holocaust, and to intrude on the private lives of people everywhere in the world, StratCom is involved in colonizing space for the US government war machine.

According to US defense officials, nearly 16,000 (or 70 percent) of the bombs and missiles unleashed on Iraq during the “Shock and Awe” campaign in March 2003 were guided from space as so-called precision bombs. The efforts of StratCom's Space Command in coordinating the blitzkrieg on Iraq's military and civilian infrastructure inspired then-Air Force Secretary James Roche to describe that bombing campaign as “the first true space war.”

Moreover, the updated “National Space Policy” released last October calls for securing space exclusively for the United States and its approved allies. So intent, in fact, are the White House and StratCom on dominating space that the US now officially opposes the adoption of any new space treaties. In 2005, the US actually voted against the “Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space” (PAROS) resolution in the UN, as opposed to abstaining like it had previously. As the director of space law for the US Air Force General Counsel's Office publicly stated at a “Space and TeleCom Law Conference” at the University of Nebraska this March, for the US to consent to any UN-backed proposals restricting or prohibiting the militarization of space was equivalent to “disarmament.” These proposed treaties, the counsel declared, were in effect “tools of war” against the United States by our adversaries, they were “law-fare.”

Once on the verge of obsolescence, StratCom has reinvented itself and is now the most dangerous place on the face of the earth. Virtually a law unto itself, StratCom is even collaborating with the University of Nebraska College of Law to create the nation's first “space law” program-presumably to fill the ranks of legal professionals and lawyers needed for the “law-fare” being waged over space.

Challenging the Unchallenge–able

So how do we resist such a threat, which left unchecked may well signal the end of open societies and democratic institutions?

Beginning locally, Nebraskans for Peace is the oldest statewide Peace & Justice organization in the country. We've been working to educate Nebraskans about the risk StratCom represents to our national security since our founding in 1970. The Des Moines Catholic Workers, for their part, have been conducting regular nonviolent protests and “line-crossings” onto the base for nearly 30 years. All of these activities have been valuable to some degree.

But with StratCom having now become an overtly offensive force, capable of starting a war at any moment, we need to extend the reach of our message. While the command's reputation as the nerve center for America's nuclear arsenal is well-known, virtually nobody in the world is aware of the drastic transformation that has taken place there in the past five years. And if we are to have a chance to thwart whatever belligerent, destabilizing and illegal initiative the White House has got up its sleeve, we're going to need the help of the international community-in forums like the UN and the World Court.

At present, though, most of the world doesn't even know what's going on at StratCom. The changes have been so drastic, and kept low-profile, that public awareness hasn't been able to keep up.

Unless the world community has a working knowledge of the threat StratCom now represents, however, we will never be able to muster the power needed to start reining it in -which is why the recent decision to hold the 2008 “Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space” international conference and protest in Omaha is so heartening. Next April 11-13, people from all over the US and around the world will be coming to Omaha to shine bright lights on StratCom.

The Global Network conference will be an important start at alerting the world to this menace. But getting the word out, worldwide, is not only going to require the efforts of all progressives, it must be done soon, because the threat to world peace — nay, survival — is too great.

Tim Rinne is the state coordinator of Nebraskans for Peace, which received a grant from RESIST last year. For more information, contact NfP, 941 ‘O’ Street, Suite 1026 Lincoln, NE 68508; www.nebraskansforpeace.org.

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