Charles Colson's argument for a strategic-defense system seems to suggest that American Christians have two choices: support national missile defense (NMD) or support Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)—the policy of nuclear proliferation during the Cold War. No other alternatives are mentioned. Yet for followers of Jesus, there are alternatives to violence and force.Colson, along with many others, bases his argument for NMD on Augustine's just-war theory, defending just-war principles because they have "historically informed Western thought." But historical longevity is no more valid an argument for war than it was for slavery or oppressing women. A careful study of wars in our nation's history shows that, in many cases, just-war theory has simply validated using war to achieve merely political ends, despite the resultant horrors.It clearly is right for us to condemn the insanity of MAD. Nevertheless, national missile defense has its own problems. For instance, building such a defense would violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, thus angering allies and enemies alike. It would likely revive the arms race. What is more, it would be an enormous drain on our country's financial resources—resources desperately needed for addressing poverty, education, and healthcare.According to estimates by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the price for an NMD system would range anywhere from $30 billion to $60 billion by 2015, depending on the scale of the system. Furthermore, NMD might not work, judging by the failed tests conducted by the Pentagon, and would require constant expensive updating to counteract new technologies.Finally, there is little likelihood that NMD would ever be needed. In fact, defending NMD relies on exaggerating the threats facing the United States: some reports indicate that North Korea, the most commonly cited "threat," wants to halt development of missile systems, and is willing to give up its long-range missile program in exchange for assistance with its space program.National missile defense research has been enthusiastically supported by the Pentagon's top four weapons contractors—Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, and TRW, all of whom have contributed generously to the 25 most ardent supporters of NMD in the Senate. The bottom line: NMD would earn these solicitors of weapons a very hefty profit.

Rebuking nuclear idolatry

In considering the most Christlike response to the issue of NMD, Christians should carefully scrutinize the rhetoric of those who stand to profit, either financially or politically, from the development and deployment of an NMD system. Moreover, Christians should listen to the arguments of those opposing NMD, a contingent not only massive and international in scope but composed of many wise, discerning individuals.According to the Council for a Livable World, among those who have issued statements opposing NMD development are 50 American Nobel laureates, including Daniel C. Tsui (1998 in physics), Paul D. Boyer (1997 in chemistry), and Steven Chu (1997 in physics); high-ranking international political leaders like French President Jacques Chirac, Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder; and U.S. religious groups such as Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, Church Women United, Episcopal Peace Fellowship, the United Church of Christ, Methodists United for Peace with Justice, and the historic peace churches (Brethren, Mennonites, and Quakers).Most importantly, the New Testament writers unanimously call Christ's followers to respond to adversity by following Jesus' example. Jesus (and, incidentally, most of his earliest followers) responded to conflict nonviolently. Rather than using force and vengeance against his enemies, Jesus modeled loving, sacrificial service—ultimately to the point of taking up the cross. He called his followers to exemplify the kingdom of God by doing the same.The vocation of every Christian is to model for the world the character of God's kingdom by choosing the way of self-giving service and by putting absolute trust in God's justice and protection rather than in the machinations of man. When measured against this vocation, investing in and trusting in an expensive, unreliable system to blow up incoming missiles in midair appears both ludicrous and idolatrous.A more Christlike response to the debate regarding nuclear weapons and possible warfare is to speak the truth in the face of the insanity of nuclear proliferation, regardless of what it might cost us. Our role as followers of Jesus is to call this game of nuclear strategizing what it is and to expose the power-lust at the core of nuclear politics. We must do this out of love for our Creator and all of creation.Lastly, we must be more shrewd than to accept uncritically the rhetoric that a national missile defense system is a benign defensive strategy, compatible with Christian ethical standards. Are we really to believe, if a nuclear missile were fired at the United States and an NMD system was actually able to intercept it, that the U.S. would take no proportional retaliatory action? That is a very dubious prospect.

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Darryl Brownis a graphic designer and illustrator whose work often appears in CT.

Tricia Gates Brown is adjunct professor of biblical studies at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon.

Related Elsewhere

Read Chuck Colson's " MAD No More" column which spurred the Browns to write this piece.Read more about just-war theory.Stay on the lookout for Christianity Today's December story about Christian peacemakers.Other media coverage of anti-missile systems includes:It Only Looks Like He's Not Doing Anything—CNN (Sept. 4, 2000) Russian intransigence led to U.S. missile delay—The Japan Times (Sept. 4, 2000) Putin hails Clinton's move to delay building missile system—The Boston Globe (Sept. 3, 2000)Previous Christianity Today stories about Christian principles and war include:Does Kosovo Pass the Just-War Test? | The military intervention introduces moral questions that the church ought to raise now, not waiting until the body bags start coming home. (May 24, 1999) The Last Good War | Three "Best Picture" nominations ask why we fight. (April 5, 1999) Was the Revolutionary War Justified? | Americans fought a war to gain the kind of freedom that Canada, New Zealand, and Australia were simply given. (Feb. 8, 1999)

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