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Issue #1551      13 June 2012

Missile Defence: Is it working?

Speech given in Waterloo, Canada on May 20, 2012, by Bruce Gagnon, Coordinator, Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space

One of the biggest questions in the space technology world today is will “missile defence” (MD) really work? Recently we’ve seen articles making a case that it does not work and never will. I would suggest that depending on where you are standing, a strong case could be made that MD is working quite well. It’s all a matter of perception and definition.

When looked at from the point of view of the Russians or Chinese one might consider that they view it very differently than some of the critics. Critics see scripted Missile Defence Agency tests while Russia and China see a hyperactive deployment program, which is directly connected to a larger US/NATO military expansion ultimately leading to their encirclement.

Critics might see the MD system today largely as a corporate boondoggle while the Russians and Chinese are looking toward 2020 and beyond when new generations of a well funded research and development program (now committed to by NATO’s 28 members) has delivered faster, more accurate and longer range interceptor missiles.

Critics in a sense can help demobilise opposition to the program. Some peace activists think it would be a waste of their valuable time and meagre organising resources to spend energy working against a program that has been labelled by experts as unworkable and an exaggeration. But viewed from a wider perspective, that includes US and NATO military encirclement of Russia as well as the Obama administration’s “pivot” of military operations into the Asia-Pacific, one may see an entirely different picture.

Encirclement

The US/NATO military encirclement of Russia and China puts a very different framework around the MD issue. Keep in mind the Space Command’s annual computer war game first-strike attack on China (reported in Aviation Week) set in the year 2016. The existence of MD becomes a crucial factor considering China’s 20-some nuclear weapons capable of hitting the west coast of the US. In the war game the Space Command launches another new speculative space technology, called the military space plane that is now under development. This system helps to deliver the initial attack on China’s nuclear forces. When China fires its remaining nuclear missiles in a retaliatory strike it is then that the US MD systems, now being deployed throughout the Asia-Pacific region, are used to pick off these nuclear weapons. Today ground-based PAC-3 interceptor systems are being deployed in Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and Okinawa. In addition, the SM-3 interceptors on-board Navy Aegis destroyers are increasingly being ported near China’s coast. So China’s experience is that the war-game scenarios – which we presume, they always lose – come alive with each new deployment, each new military base, and each new Aegis destroyer positioned in the region.

Coupled with that is the Strategic Command’s mission of Prompt Global Strike (to hit targets on the other side of the planet in one hour with “non-nuclear” missiles) as another key element in Pentagon first-strike planning.

China will be forced to respond to these moves on the grand chessboard. Its decision to deploy several ballistic-missile submarines demonstrates a deep commitment to make its nuclear forces survivable against US first-strike attack planning. And in turn, Maine’s Congressional delegation, like those from other states, argue that we need to build more Aegis destroyers at Bath Iron Works because China is now expanding its naval forces.

China has long been a strong supporter of Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) at the United Nations Conference on Disarmament. Its reluctance to fully support the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FCMT) is directly linked to US unwillingness to seriously negotiate around PAROS and thus is integrally connected to MD. China feels it can’t afford to forego its option to upgrade or build more nuclear weapons while its coastal region is being sprinkled with MD systems. Chinese leaders nervously view the scene from space satellite imagery as the US essentially doubles its military presence in China’s neighbourhood.

Space-based systems

China is also concerned about possible developments of space-based MD systems that would undercut its strategic nuclear deterrent in even greater ways. With the infusion of funding for additional research and development that will surely come from a broader NATO-wide participation in MD one can understand China’s consternation.

Russia’s leaders, also long-time supporters of PAROS, are now questioning their continued participation in the new Start Treaty. They maintain that the Start Treaty and future nuclear disarmament negotiations are in jeopardy if the delicate balance between strategic offensive weapons and MD systems is destroyed due to an expanding US/NATO program.

Russian military chief Nikolai Makarov didn’t broach the subject of launching pre-emptive strikes against US MD sites in Eastern Europe several weeks ago because Russia views Obama’s Phased Adaptive Approach as – merely – a corporate pork barrel. At a two-day conference in Moscow, Makarov maintained that third and especially fourth phase deployments (Standard Missile-3 Block IIA and IIB missiles) would be capable of destroying intermediate-range missiles. When they are positioned in the Baltic and Black Sea regions this makes them able to take down Russian ICBMs.

These concerns largely come from the Obama administration promises to deploy Aegis based interceptors in the Black and Baltic seas in the years ahead.

US/NATO now has bases and/or military operations in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuania, Estonia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. At the same time NATO partnerships are expanding into the Asia-Pacific region to include the likes of Australia, Japan, South Korea, and very likely India. NATO expansion throughout Eastern Europe and into Asia-Pacific will further Chinese and Russian fears of containment.

Additionally, when a US interceptor missile launched from an Aegis warship in 2008 struck a falling American spy satellite orbiting over the Pacific Ocean, fears that these MD systems could be used as anti-satellite weapons also surfaced.

To be correctly understood MD must be viewed in a much larger context than is presently done by most critics. The current global competition for declining scarce resources is driving much of the world’s conflict today. Canada’s recent announcement that it will spend US$35 billion to expand its warship-building program in coming years is clearly connected to the reality of melting ice in the Arctic regions, which makes it possible for oil and gas corporations to drill there. The US is already lining up Canada, Norway and other Arctic allies to stand against Russia in this push-and-shove for control of these resources.

The fact that Russia has the world’s largest supply of natural gas, and significant supplies of oil, indicates one likely reason the US and NATO are militarily surrounding her.

Haven’t we come to realise by now that the Pentagon’s primary job today is to serve as the resource extraction service for corporate globalisation?

China’s economy

In the case of China, while the US can’t compete with its economy, the Pentagon has apparently determined that controlling China’s access to vital resources would give the US the keys to its economic engine.

Historians have made the case for years that even though nuclear weapons have not been used since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they have been strategically utilised in numerous incidents since 1945 as guns pointed at the heads of particular countries.

In the same way the mere threat of MD as a key element in Pentagon first-strike attack planning is a loaded and cocked gun pointed at the heads of Russia and China. Both of these nations have to assume the worst-case scenario and prepare and plan to respond. Perception informs and creates reality.

MD deployments indeed provoke military responses from Russia and China (and Iran and North Korea). Their responses are then used to further demonise those nations in the eyes of the citizens of the US and people around the world. These images of aggressive Russian and Chinese militarists are then used to justify even greater military spending in the US (and among NATO allies) in order to ward off their supposed aggression.

The public in the US knows virtually nothing about the Pentagon surrounding Russia and China with MD systems but they do know that US Secretary of War Leon Panetta hosted China’s Defence Minister at the Pentagon on May 7. The Washington Times reported at the time, “A key issue the US will explore is the objective of China’s ‘very robust and rapid’ military modernisation, especially in a region that is ‘at peace,’ a senior defence official told reporters.”

When Russia deployed nuclear missiles in Cuba in 1962 there was not much discussion about how well they would work or what their range and explosive capability was. The concern was over their close proximity to the continental US and the potential for misunderstanding and over reaction. The mere presence of these Russian systems, so close to the US, was almost enough to trigger a deadly nuclear war. In order to close the deal to remove the missiles from Cuba, President Kennedy secretly agreed that it would dismantle all US-built Jupiter IRBMs deployed in Turkey and Italy.

It’s quite amazing that when the situation is reversed, when the US and its NATO allies are literally surrounding Russia and China that we might be surprised that they respond similarly to how the US reacted in 1962.

Given enough time and money it is possible to consider that some kind of MD systems could be made to “work”. If we’ve learned anything over the years it should be that technological advances in weapons development are a guarantee. Humans started out throwing stones at one another and graduated to the club. Then they moved on to the bow and arrow, the Gatling gun, nuclear weapons, stealth bombers, and now space scientists land rovers on Mars. True or not, who is going to believe that MD will “never” work?

The Pentagon always says, “We work on many technologies at once. Some of them work and some don’t. But we make progress along the way and are able to get something to work in the end by adapting various technologies.”

First strike

Russia and China see the development of MD and clearly understand the mission configuration. These systems are designed to serve as key elements in Pentagon first-strike planning. Whether one version of MD works or not is less important than the overall decision to build and deploy a first-strike offensive web of weapons systems surrounding Russia and China.

The historically important goal to rid the world of nuclear weapons hinges on serious negotiations and treaties that must include banning weapons from, in, and through space.

To say MD does not work is to miss the larger point. MD is working quite effectively to help destroy the system of international treaties that limits humanity’s mad rush to extinction. The UN’s Conference on Disarmament has largely been frozen for the past 20 years and one key reason is the space technology issue. The US and its NATO allies seek control and domination of space and the Earth below on behalf of corporate interests and investments. Why would the US be so adamant in its refusal to seriously negotiate on PAROS unless it still maintained hopes and plans to create a space-based MD first-strike attack system?

I would hope that critics of MD would use this current controversy over US/NATO military expansion eastward to help the public understand the larger issues in play. We miss the key issue of our time when we do not see that MD, and all other military systems being used to surround Russia and China, are obstacles to nuclear disarmament, serious negotiations on PAROS, and true peace.

We have real problems today called climate change and growing global poverty. We cannot afford to stand by and watch the dismantling of international treaties and institutions like the United Nations while US and NATO push an aggressive campaign to further militarise the world. Future generations remind us that we should oppose not just some of the technology systems, but that we stand against the policies of endless war that are tearing the world to pieces.  

Next article – Domestic solution for thousands of climate-displaced Bangladeshis

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