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Missile-Defense: Is it Working?

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Headlined to H2 5/26/12

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24 May 2012

By Bruce Gagnon
Securing the Peaceful Use of Space for Future Generations
Waterloo, Canada

One of the biggest questions in the space technology world today is will "missile defense" (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 Defense Agency tests while Russia and China see a hyperactive deployment program, which is directly connected to a larger U.S./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 demobilize opposition to the program. Some peace activists think it would be a waste of their valuable time and meager organizing resources to spend energy working against a program that has been labeled by experts as unworkable and an exaggeration.  But viewed from a wider perspective, that includes U.S. 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.

The U.S./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 U.S.  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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. essentially doubles its military presence in China's neighborhood.

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 preemptive strikes against U.S. 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.

U.S./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 U.S. interceptor missile launched from an Aegis warship in 2008 struck a falling American spy satellite orbiting 130 miles over the Pacific Ocean, fears that these MD systems could be used as anti-satellite weapons also surfaced.

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Bruce Gagnon is the Coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space.

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