Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Columba Peoples’ "Justifying Ballistic Missile Defence"

Columba Peoples is Lecturer in International Relations in the Department of Politics at the University of Bristol.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Justifying Ballistic Missile Defence: Technology, Security and Culture, and reported the following:
The Page 99 test works particularly well when applied to Justifying Ballistic Missile Defence I think. As luck would have it page 99 is the first page of Chapter 4, which briefly recounts the previous arguments set out in the previous chapters and in the process also gives a pretty good snapshot of the overall intellectual structure of the book. Justifying Ballistic Missile Defence charts the presence of two parallel narratives within justifications used for ballistic missile defence systems in the United States from the immediate aftermath of World War II up to the present: one built around an association of technology with progress, where the argument is made that technological innovation can provide a defence against nuclear-armed ballistic missiles (or ‘instrumentalism’ as it is termed in the book); and the other built around a kind of technophobia (or ‘substantivism’), which locates concerns about the proliferation of nuclear technology within broader fears about technology ‘out of control’ (the ‘substantive’ impact of over-reliance on technological systems). The early chapters of the book set out this conceptual framework – which draws on critical and cultural theories of technology – in more detail, and the opening paragraph of page 99 re-establishes its main contours:

[From Page 99]
…the common sense appeal of instrumental theory is rarely unaccompanied by its substantivist opposite: the view that technology is not just something to be used, but has a determinative impact on social life […] The frequent corollary of the substantivist view, then, is that technology, far from being an instrument of human control, has gotten out of control; it now controls us.
The book argues that these two forms of justification, although ostensibly contradictory, are in fact co-present in arguments for missile defence historically: in arguments for Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) systems in the 1960s, for the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) or “Star Wars” in the 1980s, and in contemporary justifications for national Ballistic Missile Defense. Couplets of chapters analyse the presence of instrumentalism and substantivism respectively in relation to missile defence advocacy during these three periods. Chapter 3 catalogues instrumentalist arguments for ‘Defence in the missile age’, and Chapter 4, which begins on page 99, consequently
…illustrates the occurrence of [the] substantivist strain in early debates on missile defence in the United States. It does so by highlighting substantivist understandings and accounts of key issues in relation to missile defence in the period leading up to the ABM treaty of 1972 – the launch of Sputnik and reactions to it, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s attitude towards missile defence, and broader attitudes towards the nuclear arms race. The Chapter shows how these more substantivist interpretations relate to the early case for missile defence, and by way of conclusion it attempts to outline how and why instrumentalist and substantivist elements, though contradictory, began to be combined in discourse promoting missile defence during this period.
By investigating the presence of these two forms of justification, the book aims to provide a deeper insight into one of the most challenging, costly and controversial, but also one of the most persistent, goals in US security policy.
Read an excerpt from Justifying Ballistic Missile Defence, and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue