''Star Wars'' is coming to an Earth near you.
Presidents Bill Clinton and Vladimir Putin, and would-be presidents Al Gore and George W. Bush, seem to agree that missile defense is inevitable. And while the various players are far apart on the details, the end result will likely be a form of global collective security that will be less NMD (National Missile Defense) and more NMO (New Missile Order).
So who will get credit for this utopian vision? Which One Worlder first suggested sharing top-secret defense technology with foreigners? Would you believe ... Ronald Reagan?
Consider: In a speech to the nation on March 23, 1983, the 40th president called for a ''Strategic Defense Initiative'' that would ''give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.''
Indeed, Reagan didn't just want to defend America; he wanted to defend the world, and he was even willing to share yet-to-be-developed technology with the Soviet Union.
And so a fierce debate was joined. The liberal-leaning foreign policy establishment, epitomized by Time magazine columnist Strobe Talbott, dismissed Reagan's anti-missile proposal as ''an arcade video game.'' For its part, the conservative counter-establishment embraced the anti-missile initiative, even as it quietly ignored Reagan's companion idea of sharing the technology.
Now fast forward two decades. The Soviet Union falls, Bill Clinton rises and the same Strobe Talbott ends up as his deputy secretary of State. Here's Talbott now: The strategic situation ''changed very vividly on Aug. 31, 1998, when the North Koreans fired that missile.''
He was referring to a multistage rocket that the Pyongyang regime lofted over Japan.
This April, Vice President Gore gave a speech calling for ''practical defense against a nuclear attack from a rogue state.''
Translation: At least a mini-version of what Reagan had proposed. Two weeks ago, Texas Gov. Bush upped the ante; not only should America defend itself, but ''our missile defense must be designed to protect all 50 states, and our friends and allies.''
Reagan would have been proud; after all, how could such a defense shield be made to work without the cooperation of those same friends and allies? And how could such cooperation not translate into technology sharing?
In Portugal on Wednesday, Clinton added a Reaganesque flourish of his own when he said it would be ''unethical'' not to share defense technology with ''civilized nations.'' Russian leader Putin was quick to put his country in that category. Asked about missile defense, he said, ''Such mechanisms are possible if we pool our efforts and direct them toward neutralizing the threats against the United States, Russia, our allies or Europe in general.''
While the joint Clinton-Putin statement released in Moscow on Sunday fell short of the ambitious levels of cooperation each leader had floated earlier, it seems evident that quiet understandings, combined with politico-military momentum, will carry the two countries toward closer cooperation.
To be sure, Europe is hostile to missile defense. But that attitude will surely change as more ''rogue states'' build their arsenals and their delivery systems; Europeans could find themselves thinking more like Israelis, who have long been enthusiastic for missile defense.
But as the world gets more dangerous in a ''loose nukes'' sense, it also grows more interconnected, as multilateral military operations, such as Kosovo, become the norm.
So whoever wins the White House this year will find himself moving ahead on missile defense only with the permission of ''the international community.''
That doesn't mean that 200-odd countries will all have a say on deployment decisions, not to mention access to the technology. But it does mean that missile defense know-how will be spread far more widely around the world than anyone -- except perhaps Reagan -- ever envisioned.
Now that the Gipper's out-there proposal of 1983 is solidifying into 21st-century defense doctrine, both sides in the Cold War-era ''Star Wars'' debate will need to reassess their old dogmas.
Conservatives who cheered missile defense when they thought it would be America's alone may change their tune when they realize that the United States is being tractor-beamed into an international technology-sharing regime.
And liberals who were loath to give Reagan credit for anything may realize that his strategic defense initiative hastened the day when America's national defense became the world's international defense.
(Pinkerton is a Newsday columnist and a member of its editorial board.)
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.