Archive for the ‘nuclear technology’ Category

Missile Defense at 25

March 23, 2008

By James Hackett
The Washington Times
March 23, 2008

It is fitting that the 25th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s announcement of the Strategic Defense Initiative is on Easter Sunday, a day synonymous with peace. As a result of Reagan’s vision, and President Bush’s determination in withdrawing from the ABM treaty and fielding defenses, this Easter the world is a safer place.
Ronald Reagan
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Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, the danger of nuclear-armed missiles is still with us. Russia under permanent ruler Vladimir Putin still has 2,945 deployed nuclear warheads and is fielding new SS-27 Topol-M intercontinental missiles (ICBMs). And Moscow is developing a new version known as the RS-24, which has been tested with three warheads but is expected to carry as many as six.
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Mr. Putin threatens to target missiles on Poland and the Czech Republic if they host U.S. missile defenses, and on Ukraine if it joins NATO.
Vladimir Putin
And in Asia, China is engaged in a massive military buildup, with new ballistic and cruise missiles designed to strike U.S. aircraft carriers, new DF-31A ICBMs aimed at the United States, and more than 1,000 short-range missiles opposite Taiwan.
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Other countries are developing longer-range missiles while seeking nuclear weapons, notably North Korea’s oddball regime, which seems willing to sell nuclear technology as well as missiles to anyone, and the mullahs in Iran. Then there is Pakistan, which already has an arsenal of nuclear warheads and missiles to carry them. Pakistan is an ally today, but al Qaeda wants to seize power and control the “Muslim bomb.”
 

Google Earth captured an image of the new Chinese ballistic-missile submarine, docked at the Xiaopingdao base south of Dalian. U.S. officials say the new submarines may increase Beijing´s strategic arsenal.
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The main value of missile defense is to deter opponents from using nuclear missiles to intimidate and achieve their goals through fear. Defenses also provide security in the event of an actual missile launch by design or accident. And as the recent shoot-down of a falling satellite showed, missile interceptors can be used for other useful purposes, including deflecting asteroids on a collision course with Earth.
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The missile defense program has come a long way since Reagan’s speech 25 years ago today when he said deterrence works, weakness invites aggression, and we maintain peace through strength. He urged use of our technological strength to find a way to deter attack. It may take decades, he warned, “but I believe we can do it.”
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He was right about American technology. The idea of striking a very fast missile with a fast interceptor was considered a joke by many at the time. But that technology, unmatched by any other country, is now the key element of our missile defenses. After several test failures, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has done a remarkable job of improving the program to conduct successful flight tests.
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Since 2005, there have been 26 intercepts in 27 tests, an amazing record for a new weapon system. Today there are 24 interceptors in silos in Alaska and California protecting the United States, and 25 on ships in the Pacific, with more on the way. It is important to keep this successful program on track and not make changes that might jeopardize progress toward deployment of a global layered defense.
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As Vice President Richard Cheney said at a recent Heritage Foundation dinner, the talk about which presidential candidate would be best to take a call at 3 a.m. reminds us that no president should ever be told that a missile is coming toward the United States and there is no way to stop it.
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Missile defense can stop it.
 

The plan is to base 40 interceptors in Alaska, four in California and 10 in Poland, a radar in the Czech Republic and a mobile radar closer to Iran. But as the threat grows, more interceptors will be needed, at least 20 in Europe and up to 100 in Alaska, given the growing threat from China.
 

There is some discussion of breaking up the missile defense program to separate sustaining current deployments from future development. It is natural for MDA to want to turn operational activities over to the services and concentrate on research and development. But that could lead to future budget cuts as research projects fail and the services meet their immediate needs by reducing missile defense funds.
 

Another issue involves moving toward a very centralized command-and-control system, which could increase the risk of systemwide failure. It is important not to tinker too much with the program that has been highly successful in producing the defenses protecting the nation today. It is up to the White House and defense secretary to keep this effort on track, finish negotiations for the bases in Europe this year, and preserve the legacy of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

James T. Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times based in Carlsbad, Calif.

Re-election Strategy or New Cold War?

October 25, 2007

By James Hackett
For Peace and Freedom
October 25, 2007

The question in Washington and European capitals this fall is whether Moscow’s aggressive behavior is the onset of a new Cold War or just a gambit to win votes in upcoming elections. The central issue is the future of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia’s hard-earned democracy is rapidly morphing back into an authoritarian state under President Putin, who is eager to stay in power. He probably could scrap the constitution and become president for life, but has said he will not do that. More likely, he plans to put a puppet in the presidency and rule from behind the scenes or as prime minister, and then run for president again in 2012.

Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin
Владимир Владимирович Путин
Vladimir Putin

The Russian constitution adopted in 1993 states in Chapter 4, Article 81, “No one person shall hold the office of president for more than two terms in succession.” Mr. Putin was elected in 2000 and won reelection with a 71 percent landslide in 2004. He will complete two terms in 2008, so is ineligible under the constitution to run next year, but could run in 2012 or later.

Elections to the Duma will be held on December 2, after which the political parties will nominate their candidates for president. That election will be March 2, with the new president taking office May 7. Less than six months before the election Vladimir Putin stands astride Russian politics like a colossus, with polls showing an approval rate as high as 80 percent.

Videos have been released showing Mr. Putin in campaign mode, a vigorous 55, horseback riding and fishing. For months he has been taking step after step to appeal to the majority of Russians who yearn for a return to the great power status their country lost when the Soviet Union collapsed. He is taking advantage of the booming global market for energy, renationalizing the oil and gas industry and using the proceeds to rebuild Russia’s military.

For years, Russia has been developing the Topol-M mobile ballistic missile, the Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missile, a new multiple-warhead missile, a new evading warhead, the S-400 missile interceptor, fifth-generation fighter planes and four new missile-firing submarines. Progress was slow and funds scarce, but the recent surge in oil and gas wealth has made it possible to expand and accelerate these programs.

Now Mr. Putin is using his improving military to throw his weight around, confronting countries from Georgia to Norway. He has resumed long-range nuclear bomber flights, opposes missile defenses in Europe, claims the North Pole for Russia and suspends cooperation under the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty. He also sells air defense missiles to Syria and nuclear technology to Iran, suspends gas and oil shipments to pressure other countries, and threatens both to withdraw from the Intermediate Nuclear forces (INF) treaty and to target NATO countries by basing missiles in Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave.

Instead of joining Europe and America against the threat of militant Islam, Mr. Putin has joined with China, Iran and other authoritarian regimes against the West. All this appears to be fine with most Russians. A poll by the Yuri-Levada Institute found that 68 percent of Russians said their top priority was security. Democracy was hardly mentioned. Other results showed that 75 percent consider Russia a Eurasian state, while only 10 percent see themselves part of the West.

Mr. Putin could decide to emulate his friend, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, and make himself president for life. Amending the Russian constitution requires large majorities in both the Federation Council and Duma, which he probably could get from those rubber-stamp bodies, but it would require compomises he may not want to make. Instead, he probably will handpick a temporary successor.

Until a few weeks ago, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, a former KGB officer and recent defense minister, was considered the most likely choice. But he could be a strong leader and Mr. Putin may prefer to name a more subservient caretaker for one term. That could explain why he recently chose Viktor Zubkov, a loyal 66-year old nonentity, to be prime minister. Mr. Zubkov may also be Mr. Putin’s choice to keep the president’s seat warm until he can legally return to that office in 2012.

The bluster from Moscow could be just a run-up to the elections, to show voters President Putin takes a hard line toward foreign powers he claims are encroaching on Russia’s borders. This xenophobic anti-West foreign policy seems very popular in Russia. It may also reflect a resurgence of Cold War thinking by Mr. Putin and his ex-KGB colleagues, who spent decades confronting the West.

Whether we are in for a brief pre-election spell of Russian aggressiveness or a long-term struggle with a new anti-Western axis led by Moscow and Beijing remains to be seen. We will have a better idea next spring, when Russia chooses its next president.

James Hackett is a former national security official who now lives and writes in Carlsbad, Calif.  He is a frequent contributor to the Washington Times and other national journals and newspapers.

Related:

The Problem of Putin

Putin Digs In

Cold War Redux?