19 January 2019 — Moon of Alabama
On December 12 2001 then President Bush pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty. Under the 1972 ABM treaty the Soviet Union and the United States had agreed to deploy only one anti-ballistic missile system each. With that limit gone the U.S. started to build a global missile defense system in Alaska and California that was designed to defend against incoming Russian missiles. The Russian president warned about the illusion such a system would create:
“Starting from 2002, after the US unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, which is an absolute cornerstone of international security, the strategic balance of forces and stability, the creation of the US global missile defense system has been continued persistently,” said the Russian president. According to him, this poses a threat not only to Russia’s security, but also to the entire world — just because of the possible disruption of this strategic balance of forces.
“I think this is harmful for the United States as well, because it creates the dangerous illusion of invincibility,” Putin said.
Russia, like other countries, feared that the U.S. would come to believe that it could launch a large first strike against Russia’s strategic weapons and use its missile defense to prevent being hit by a smaller Russian retaliation strike. This upset the balance of Mutual Assured Destruction that has prevented a large scale nuclear war.
The global missile defense system the U.S. installed proved to be largely incapable. Out of a total of ten carefully choreographed tests five failed completely, the others were largely unrealistic.
Still, the issue prevailed and the U.S. kept expanding its missile defense projects. In consequence Russia started research programs to create new weapon system that would be immune to any missile defense. President Putin introduced the new weapons in his state of the nation speech in March 2018. The systems include hypersonic weapons, nuclear propelled cruise missiles and extreme long range torpedoes. All experts agree that there is currently no possible defense against the new Russian systems.
Yesterday the Trump administration issued the Missile Defense Review (pdf) report as mandated by Congress. The MDR report is more hawkish than the last one (pdf) issued in 2010 under the Obama administration. The technical plans therein did not change much. The new review mostly foresees more research into some crazy projects, like space based lasers, that are unlikely to ever be deployed.
The report also proves that missile defense is a self-licking ice cream cone. It uses the new Russian systems, build as reaction to new U.S. missile defense systems, to justify more U.S. missile defense:
Potential adversaries are investing substantially in their missile capabilities. They are expanding their missile capabilities in three different directions simultaneously: increasing the capabilities of their existing missile systems; adding new and unprecedented types of missile capabilities to their arsenals; and, integrating offensive missiles ever more thoroughly into their coercive threats, military exercises, and war planning.
The review goes own to justify an expansion of missile defense even though it is clear that there is no defense against the new Russian and upcoming Chinese systems.
Trump used the occasion of the MDR launch to exaggerate the possibilities of new missile defense systems:
Our goal is simple: to ensure that we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States — anywhere, anytime, anyplace.
We are committed to establishing a missile defense program that can shield every city in the United States.
My upcoming budget will invest in a space-based missile defense layer. It’s new technology. It’s ultimately going to be a very, very big part of our defense and, obviously, of our offense. The system will be monitored, and we will terminate any missile launches from hostile powers, or even from powers that make a mistake. It won’t happen. Regardless of the missile type or the geographic origins of the attack, we will ensure that enemy missiles find no sanctuary on Earth or in the skies above.
What Trump is aiming at is a replay of the Reagan era Strategic Defense Initiative, derisively nicknamed Star Wars. It included some crazy weapons like the “rods from god”, telephone pole size tungsten projectiles thrown from space.
The cost to put 1 kilogram into low-earth orbit are some $5,000-$20,000. Those are just the transport costs, not the cost of the more expensive high tech load. A missile defense layer in space that would cover the full surface of the earth at any time would require thousands of systems, each weighing several tons. Low flying satellites require permanent replacements. They can be shot down by Russian and Chinese anti-satellite weapons. Any such program, if technically feasible which it is not, would ruin the United States.
Regular readers of this site will remember that we predicted that Trump will do this. On January 20, the day Trump was inaugurated, we wrote about the military support that helped Trump to win the elections:
The military will demand its due beyond the three generals now in Trump’s cabinet. But soldiers do not like to go to war. That means that Trump will increase conflict rhetoric against some foreign countries but also that he will not start any serious war.
Expect the announcement of some super nifty, new but useless military wonder weapon for which Trump will promise trillions (Reagan’s star wars redux).
In August 2017 we predicted that Trump would use the case of North Korea to argue for his remake of Reagan’s Star Wars:
The Reagan wannabe currently ruling in the White House may soon revive Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, aka “Star Wars”, which was first launched in 1984. SDI was the expensive but unrealistic dream of lasers in space and other such gimmicks. Within the SDI the U.S. military threw out hundreds of billions for a Global Ballistic Missile Defense which supposedly would defend the continental U.S. from any incoming intercontinental missile. The program was buried in the early 1990s. One son of Star Wars survived. It is the National Missile Defense with 40 interceptors in Alaska and California. It has never worked well and likely never will. If NMD would function as promised there would be no reason to fear any North Korean ICBMs.
Missile defense is largely a fraud to transfers billions of dollars from U.S. taxpayers to various weapon producing conglomerates.
I expect that the North Korean “threat” will soon be used to launch “SDI – The Sequel”, another attempt to militarize space with billions thrown into futuristic but useless “defense” projects. It will soothe the Pentagon’s grief over the success North Korea had despite decades of U.S. attempts to subjugate that state.
The first country the new Missile Defense Review names under “Current and Emerging Missile Threats to the American Homeland” is of course North Korea. It is followed by Iran, Russia and China.
Why Iran is mentioned is unclear. It has regional missile capabilities but neither nukes, nor the technology, nor the intent to build intercontinental missile that could reach the United States:
Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has restricted the range of ballistic missiles manufactured in the country to 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles), the head of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard said.
It is likely that National Security Advisor John Bolton, who in 2001 was behind Bush’s pull out of the ABM treaty, pushed to include Iran in the Missile Defense Review.
Anyway. Little will come from Trump’s dream of new toys except a stream of revenues for the research laboratories and weapon manufactures that will think up the most crazy systems, but will ultimately fail to achieve Trump’s aim.
Russia has shown how even a working missile defense can be circumvented and others will follow its path.
The U.S.’ “illusion of invincibility” is just that.