For Star Trek fans, the news is grim. Some set of maniacs on planet Earth is ready to take all the pleasure out of that low-budget TV show and its ensuing set of big-budget movies. They are actually planning someday to manufacture phasers, ones large enough to vaporize incoming missiles and others small enough to be hand-held and, if not vaporize, then inflict terrible pain. Sooner or later, they expect to beam them down to this planet and set them to work.
Oh, sorry, those aren't maniacs; they're the weaponizers at defense giant Raytheon (in conjunction with the U.S. military). As the National, the English-language newspaper of the United Arab Emirates, reported recently, Raytheon is in an arms race with Boeing to produce such weaponry perhaps for the coming decade.
One of the strangest aspects of these last years when two administrations, the U.S. intelligence community, and the American media have focused on, obsessed about, speculated wildly about, and generally chewed over a single potential proliferation story -- Iran's nuclear program -- is how little other weapons proliferation stories even qualify as news. I'm excepting, of course, the usual alarms over possible nuclear weapons developments in North Korea, Syria, and the like. And I'm certainly not referring here to the estimated 200 to 400 nuclear weapons in Israel's undeclared arsenal that hardly rate a peep in our media.
I'm thinking about us. We are, after all, the numero uno weapons proliferator on the planet. I'm thinking about -- to pick a few weapons systems almost at random -- the U.S. Air Force's next generation bomber, an advanced "platform" slated for 2018; or the truly futuristic bomber, "a suborbital semi-spacecraft able to move at hypersonic speed along the edge of the atmosphere," on the drawing boards for 2035. I'm talking about the coming generations of ever more powerful, ever more independent pilot-less drones which the Air Force is now planning out until 2047.
As with the drones today, the story of those Raytheon "phasers," large and small, if they ever come on line, will be reasonably predictable. Ever since the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991, the world has been experiencing an arms race of one. A single great power, the United States, continues to develop new weapons technology, often for the distant future, that is staggeringly advanced and strikingly destructive (potentially reaching, in some cases, an almost nuclear level of local devastation). It continues to act, that is, as if it were still in an arms race with another threatening superpower.
Once our latest wonder weapon is developed, whatever it may be, it is sooner or later sold to allies -- after all, we now control almost 70% of what's still dubbed the "global arms trade" -- while other states rush to develop their own versions of the same. (Just last week, for instance, Iran proudly unveiled its first "drone bomber.") Sooner or later, such weaponry will predictably drop down to the level of non-state groups. Just wait for the first "suicide" drone to hit something American, or the first terrorist to unsheathe a "phaser" on some airplane. Then, of course, a drone- or phaser-proliferation panic will set in, "rogue states" will be threatened for having the nerve to develop such weapons, and we will redouble our anti-drone or anti-phaser research, while our media discusses appropriately aggressive actions that need to be taken ASAP.
Hence, Iran's present nuclear adventure (which, by the way, began in 1957, thanks to the Eisenhower administration's Atoms for Peace program). Check out Tony Karon's deconstruction at TomDispatch.com of the present "debate" over whether to bomb Iran back to the pre-nuclear age, and while you're doing so, take a second to wonder why there is no media debate over whether to bomb the U.S. After all, we are the planet's foremost weapons proliferator; we have a reputation for using what we produce and parceling it out as well; and, as it happens, we're still investing money in improvements to our vast nuclear arsenal.
© 2010 TomDispatch.com Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture: a History of the Cold War and Beyond, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing. His most recent book is The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's (Haymarket Books).