U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration and China worked together to remove highly enriched uranium (HEU) from Nigeria in 2018. This collaboration effectively reduces the risk of nuclear terrorism. The article highlights how “Across the globe, the IAEA and its partners have worked to swap out weapons-grade material with lightly enriched uranium, or LEU, which is enriched […]
By: Cassandra Peterson One of President Obama’s overlooked nuclear weapons milestones is altering the U.S. arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to carry only one warhead. Previously, U.S. Minuteman 3 ICBMs could carry three multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs). This “de-MIRVing” process, according to the Obama Administration, allows the U.S. to “enhance the stability […]
By Lt. Gen. Robert Gard (USA, ret.)
Dealing with other nations to reduce tensions and advance mutual interests is facilitated by establishing embassies and consulates in those countries to enhance communication and increase understanding. This is a long-established diplomatic practice that has been recognized through the ages as highly beneficial in inter-state relations.
Diplomatic recognition of another country and its government is nothing more than an acknowledgement of its de-facto existence as a nation state, not tantamount to approval of its political system or its policies. In fact, it is especially important to establish diplomatic relations with governments with which we have strong disagreements to prevent unintended escalation caused by misunderstandings.
Yet the United States has failed to recognize some key nation states whose governments it finds objectionable. It took us 15 years to recognize the existence of the Soviet Union and establish diplomatic relations with it in 1933. We clung to the myth that the Chinese Nationalist regime that fled to Taiwan represented mainland China for more than 23 years, from 1949 until 1972, when President Nixon visited the Peoples Republic; and we finally established diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979.
We have found it beneficial to maintain diplomatic relations with both China and Russia despite some major conflicts of interest and even the imposition of economic sanctions on Russia in the wake of its aggression in Ukraine. The vital New START nuclear treaty with Russia continues to function effectively, as does our logistical passage through Russia to Afghanistan; and Russia continues to supply us with rocket engines we use to enhance our national security and to ferry our astronauts to the international space station. Our diplomatic relations with China have resulted in improvements in our economic relations with the world’s second largest economy, and agreement on military contacts and exchanges hedges against increased tensions that could result from disagreements between China and some of our allies in the region.
With the recent military successes in Iraq of ISIS, the Islamic State, the United States finds itself with a vital interest in common with Iran, but without diplomatic relations that could facilitate cooperation and provide insights into the problems faced by the current Iranian administration with which we are trying to reach agreement on its nuclear program.
Why haven’t we learned the obvious lesson of the advantages to us of recognition of foreign governments and the establishment of diplomatic relations with them? We actually appear to be retrogressing in this regard. It took us 15 years to recognize the Soviet Union and 23 years to acknowledge that the Peoples Republic controlled mainland China. In Iran, the revolutionary movement solidified its control in 1979, 36 years ago; and we still have not accorded it the de-facto recognition that could lead to mutually beneficial diplomatic relations.
Some hawkish members of the House Armed Services Committee and conservative missile defense advocates are promoting a vastly expanded missile defense system that could entail huge new expenditures and be of dubious effectiveness.
That is the message of a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing on missile defense.
The current system to defend the U.S. homeland against intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) is called the Ground-Based Mid-Course missile defense system (GMD). GMD is designed to counter an attack by a rogue state with a single or very few missiles (for example a future North Korean or Iranian ICBM threat), or an accidental or unauthorized missile strike from Russia or China.
While serious questions remain about whether the existing GMD system can perform its intended mission, the proposed expanded roles for missile defense are the height of folly.
The House Armed Services Committee Strategic Forces Subcommittee hearing was entitled, “Adapting U.S. Missile Defense for Future Threats: Russia, China and Modernizing the NMD Act.”
The main question posed to the witnesses was, “Does a policy of limited missile defenses against limited threats continue to make sense in today’s threat environment?”
Here is the deal.
In 1999, Congress overwhelmingly adopted legislation endorsing a National Missile Defense system to defend “against limited ballistic missile attack.” The language also called for deployment only if the system is “effective” and “as soon as is technologically possible.”
Some of the committee Republicans, led by Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL), now think that it is time to go beyond “limited” missile defense. So too does the conservative Heritage Foundation and others.
In other words, these members of Congress and others would like to see our missile defense system efforts go beyond the ability to defeat one or two missiles from a rogue state and instead design the system to defeat all out attacks by Russian or Chinese ICBMs.
During the hearing, Ambassador Robert G. Joseph explicitly endorsed expanded missile defense that could include directed energy and space weapons previously rejected as impractical and too expensive. He also called for shifting emphasis from theater defenses and shorter-range threats to national missile defense.
Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) also embraced space based defenses and directed energy weapons, options previously rejected by governments of both parties.
The two problems: even the limited GMD missile defense currently deployed is not “effective” as required by the legislation, and an expanded defense against the Russian and Chinese nuclear forces would be a prohibitively expensive scarecrow.
The witnesses were Philip Coyle, Senior Science Fellow, Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, former CIA Director James Woolsey, Jr. and Former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security and Ambassador Robert G. Joseph.
Coyle is a recognized expert on U.S. and worldwide military research, development and testing. He has served under four U.S. Presidents, mostly recently as the Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs in President Obama’s White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Coyle’s remarks hit the nail on the head. In his opening statement, he outlined three important reasons why it would be unwise for the United States to pursue an expanded missile defense against Russia and China.
First, the technology simply does not exist to deal with a deliberate Russian or Chinese ICBM attack. U.S. missile defenses against ICBMs can at best deal with very limited attacks—say from Iran or North Korea—and even that goal continues to be a technological challenge.
Second, the costs of trying to deploy a system to deal effectively with a Russian or Chinese attack would be staggering. In 2002, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the cost of several different proposed missile defense programs that would be integrated into one layered system in 2025. The CBO estimated that a system of ground-based interceptors would cost between $27 and $74 billion, a system of ship-launched interceptors would cost $50 to $64 billion, and a Space-Based Laser system would cost $82 to $100 billion. All of these systems are meant for only a “limited” attack. CBO has not yet estimated the costs of a system designed to defeat Russia and China’s ICBMS, but it would necessarily be considerably more expensive.
Third, if the U.S. had missile defense that could effectively defeat Russian and Chinese ICBMs without being overwhelmed, it would be strategically destabilizing and provoke military responses from Russia and China. If Russia and China perceived their ICBM arsenals had been rendered useless, Russia and China would need to respond with new forces—perhaps more attacking missiles, cruise missiles (against which our missile defense systems are useless), or perhaps even the deployment of troops areas of the world that are currently peaceful.
Furthermore, Russia would certainly not agree to further reductions in its nuclear arsenal and may then use new U.S. missile defense programs as justification to withdraw from New START and other important arms control agreements that have significantly reduced the threat from nuclear weapons.
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral James A. Winnefeld Jr., in a May 28 talk at the Atlantic Council, punctured the expansive views of those who argue for massive new missile defenses as he explained why limited defenses are in the best U.S. interest.
“As you know,” he said, “we’ve told Russia and the world that we will not rely on missile defense for strategic deterrence of Russia because it would simply be too hard and too expensive and too strategically destabilizing to even try.” Later the Admiral reiterated this point, saying, “And let me be clear once again: it’s not the policy of the United States to build a ballistic missile defense system to counter Russian ballistic missiles.”
On July 4, Chinese president Xi Jinping concluded a two day summit in Seoul, South Korea. During the summit, Xi met with South Korean president Park Geun-hye to discuss, among other matters, the pressing issue of North Korea’s nuclear program.