Tag: missile defense

What will the North Korean Military do if Japan Shoots Down the Missile Launch?

Jpn Patriots

A few days ago, I predicted there would be no war, probably because I’m lazy and predicting the future will be the same as the present is an easy way to protect my credibility. But I got some criticism that I was a dippy academic who doesn’t see how dangerous the situation really is. And if I am wrong, I won’t be around to see it anyway; I’ll be swimming for Japan. So here is the most likely escalation pathway I can see, despite my firm conviction the North Koreans do not want a war, because they will lose badly and quickly, and then face the hangman in Southern prisons.

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Explaining Russian Opposition to European BMD

Moscow is once again expressing displeasure with US and NATO missile defense plans.

Russia says it is prepared to use “destructive force pre-emptively” if the US goes ahead with controversial plans for a missile defence system based in Central Europe. 

The warning came after the Russian defence minister said talks on missile defence were nearing a dead end. 

Moscow fears that missile interceptors would be a threat to Russia’s security.
But the US and Nato say they are intended to protect against attacks from Iran or North Korea. 

“A decision to use destructive force pre-emptively will be taken if the situation worsens,” chief of the Russian defence staff Gen Nikolai Makarov said. 

Two days of talks opened on Thursday in Moscow between Russia, the US and Nato.
Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said the talks were “close to a dead end”, but Nato said it remained hopeful of reaching a deal. 

Nato Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow told the BBC that Russia’s fears of a European missile defence shield were “based on some flawed assumptions” and did not weaken Russia’s nuclear deterrent.

Vershbow is correct: US-NATO ballistic-missile defense (BMD) plans, now called (apparently) the “European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) cannot undermine Russian retaliatory capability. It cannot, without significant upgrade, take out Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), let alone sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). It cannot possibly intercept a sufficient number of Russian warheads to give the United States first-strike capability.

The Russians know all this.

Indeed, Russian concerns are rooted in a number of factors, almost none of which have anything to do with the impact of even a greatly upgraded EPAA on the strategic balance.

  1. The optics of the US stationing elements of a BMD system in a former Warsaw Pact country are extremely uncomfortable for Moscow. The Russians don’t like the idea of any permanent NATO military presence in former Warsaw Pact countries, let alone one that borders Russian territory. The (erroneous) neo-conservative narrative that the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) played a role in bringing down the Soviet Union also has surprising purchase in Russian policy circles.
  2. It isn’t clear how much these concerns really matter to the small cabal that runs Russian foreign policy, but they certainly have domestic resonance in the Russian Federation. Given Moscow’s continuing reliance on stoking nationalist sentiment to discredit anti-regime reform pressures and staving off challenges from the right, such domestic political considerations matter a great deal.
  3. Many in Moscow overestimate the ability of the United States to rapidly overcome technical challenges, particularly in the defense sector. The flexible character of EPAA, which is designed to match the shifting threat profile of middle-tier countries (for now, this means Iran) only reinforces their concerns of some kind of US breakout from limited to comprehensive BMD.

All three of these considerations give Moscow incentives not only to demagogue BMD, but to do whatever it can to strangle EPAA in the proverbial crib. Indeed, a number of important NATO members, not to mention some US officials, place a premium on getting some kind of cooperation from Moscow on missile defense. This state of affairs gives Moscow hope that a combination of intransigence, poison-pill proposals, and a healthy does of strum und drang will satisfy domestic-political needs, delay deployment, get them a better deal, or even cause the most ambivalent NATO members (such as the Germans) to get cold feet.


Nuclear Disarmament: Looking Back at Reykjavik

I’ve been looking at some of the documents in “The Reykjavik File” at the National Security Archive. This coming October will mark 25 years since Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev almost completed a startling nuclear disarmament deal.

Had they been successful, both superpowers would have been disarmed 15 years ago!

The US proposal at Reykjavik was fairly startling, as reported in the Memorandum of Conversation, Reagan-Gorbachev, Final Meeting, 12 October 1986, 3:25 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. – 6:50 p.m., October 16, 1986. Document 15 (or see this archive for educators):

“Both sides would agree to confine themselves to research, development and testing, which is permitted by the ABM Treaty, for a period of 5 years, through 1991, during which time a 50% reduction of strategic nuclear arsenals would be achieved. This being done, both sides will continue the pace of reductions with respect to all remaining offensive ballistic missiles with the goal of the total elimination of all offensive ballistic missiles by the end of the second five-year period. As long as these reductions continue at the appropriate pace, the same restrictions will continue to apply. At the end of the ten-year period, with all offensive ballistic missiles eliminated, either side would be free to deploy defenses.”

Obviously, the US was interested in the possibility of researching and testing anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems during the offensive disarmament period and then potentially deploying the systems after a 10 year period.

This is the somewhat different Soviet counterproposal (as reported in the same document), which also aims at disarming offensive arsenals over a 10 year period. However, it includes somewhat tougher language about research and testing limits under the 1972 ABM Treaty:

“The USSR and the United States undertake for ten years not to exercise their existing right of withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, which is of unlimited duration, and during that period strictly to observe all its provisions. The testing in space of all space components of missile defense is prohibited, except research and testing conducted in laboratories. Within the first five years of the ten-year period (and thus through 1991), the strategic offensive arms of the two sides shall be reduced by 50 percent. During the following five years of that period, the remaining 50 percent of the two sides strategic offensive arms shall be reduced. Thus by the end of 1996, the strategic offensive arms of the USSR and the United States will have been totally eliminated.”

Sadly, nuclear disarmament was blocked by a fairly narrow difference over a pipe dream technology.

For a U.S. government analysis of the negotiations, written in the first person and signed by Ronald Reagan, see Document 25: National Security Decision Directive Number 250, “Post-Reykjavik Follow-Up,” 3 November 1986, 14 pp.


Election 2010: the Foreign Policy Elephant in the Room (updated)

CBS Nevada reporter Nathan Baca tried to approach [Sharron] Angle during a stroll through the airport and the airport parking lot with questions about her foreign policy views.

After going through several evasive answers, an irritated Angle replied: “I will answer those questions when I’m the senator.”

Much of the liberal reaction to Angle’s latest evasion of the press has taken the form of “if she can’t face reporters, how can she a U.S. Senator?” In light of Angle’s general bizarreness, I can understand the comparative lack of attention given to issue areas she refused to address. But, as Dan Drezner’s noted, the 2010 elections have been marked by an almost total absence of foreign-policy debate. That’s not surprising. The Obama Administration hasn’t exactly been “soft on terrorism,” the unemployment rate hovers near ten percent, and Republican politicians basically support U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. In short, international affairs doesn’t provide particularly rich soil for harvesting votes.

However, this election may prove quite consequential for U.S. foreign relations. Even if the the Democrats hold onto a slight majority in the Senate, the legislative branch is about to shift significantly rightward. This is not a terribly comforting thought, given that the current GOP combines an impoverished foreign-policy playbook with a scorched-earth mentality toward the Obama Administration.

Consider three signs of what’s to come.

First, Republican opposition to New START. While New START is not without its problems, none of them bear any resemblance to the outlandish criticisms offered up by the GOP. Even Robert Kagan admits that conservative objections to the treaty don’t justify blocking ratification. The charge that the administration, whose deterrence policies depend on a robust commitment to the Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) to Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD), is willing to let Moscow veto BMD policy, should strike any observer as particularly ludicrous.

New START is, in many respects, a rather modest nuclear arms-control agreement; the major differences between a world with and without ratification are twofold: in the latter, the U.S. (1) lacks important tools to monitor Russian nuclear happenings and (2) loses significant credibility when it comes to negotiating binding agreements with not only Moscow, but other foreign powers. Yet all indications are that the Republicans will block ratification.

Second, the tenor of Republican media on U.S. foreign-policy issues. For example, The 2010 Nuclear Security Summit contained its share of successes and failures. Among the latter was a series of botched attempts to forward Turkish-Armenian normalization, which only succeeded in undermining US-Turkish and US-Azerbaijan relations (the latter wasn’t even invited to the Summit). During all of this conservative media was interested in one burning question: was a stylized version of the Bohr model actually a quasi-secret sign of Obama’s interest in imposing Sharia law in the United States, appeasing Iran, or something. Otherwise, the summit was mostly met with conservative silence.

Third, the commitment to unlimited defense budgets. Even as conservatives criticize the Obama administration for record deficit spending, they still find time to complain that military spending is too low. Seriously. The “finest” foreign-policy minds in the GOP think the Obama Administration is jeopardizing U.S. military preparedness against decades-away threats by not pushing a sufficiently large increase in U.S. defense spending. That sound you hear is Zombie Eisenhower crying.

So we’re likely in for an opposition with international-affairs positions variously inherited from the Bush Administration, dictated by a desire to oppose and embarrass the President at every turn, and determined to avoid talking about substantive foreign-policy problems. The irony, of course, is that we desperately need a “loyal opposition” to highlight and correct serious failures in Obama foreign policy. Which we’re not likely to get.

Oh, goody. I can’t wait.

UPDATE: Foreign Policy’s list of influential GOP foreign-policy congresscritters pretty much makes the point.


Nuclear news

I’m beginning to think that a number of important people in the Obama administration must have read the Keir Lieber and Daryl Press piece in Foreign Affairs, March/April 2006, which explained burgeoning U.S. nuclear primacy, and have taken seriously the potential risks of primacy.

Just more than 10 months since George W. Bush left office, the new administration in Washington has already taken a couple of important steps to reassure other states that the U.S. is trying to reduce the risks.

Duck readers may recall that Bill blogged about the Lieber-Press thesis two and a half years ago — and then Dan mentioned a practical application in summer 2008. Also, I typically assign the reading in my film class during the week we view “Dr. Strangelove.”

Nonetheless, I should briefly explain the argument for those who are just joining the discussion. Essentially, the scholars claim that the U.S. is undermining classic notions of deterrence by pursuing nuclear first-strike capabilities versus Russia, China and other lesser nuclear powers. They point to modernization of various American weapons, as well as deterioration (or negligence) of potential rival arsenals. New burrowing weapons and missile defense technologies contribute to the problem as they magnify nuclear war-fighting capabilities.

If Leiber and Press are right, the U.S. might think the unthinkable in some future political crisis and attempt a “splendid” nuclear first strike against a weaker foe — including Russia. Even if the U.S. is not tempted to attack, potential adversaries might believe that Washington could attack. Therefore, such a state might think it has to “use ’em or lose ’em” and would thus be tempted to launch a preemptive strike in a crisis situation. Nuclear primacy isn’t good for crisis stability, even if its advocates think that it might provide the U.S. with tangible advantages.

Arguably, policy signals and moves by the Obama administration reduce the risks of nuclear primacy somewhat dramatically. Most prominently, several months ago, the President called out “clearly and with conviction, America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” The U.S. is a long way from eliminating weapons, of course, but embracing an abolitionist goal stands in stark contrast to the idea of nuclear primacy. Obviously, concrete followup would be needed to ameliorate the risks outlined by Leiber and Press. The signal itself may have some value.

More tangibly, this past month the administration announced that it was scrapping the Bush-era plans to deploy extensive missile defenses in Europe. While the planned system was ostensibly designed to reduce threats from Iranian nuclear missiles, most Eastern European (and Russian) foreign policy elites saw the defenses as a way to reduce Russian nuclear threats. Missile defenses might be virtually useless against a large Russian missile attack, but they arguably have much greater utility against a so-called “ragged” retaliatory capability that would exist after an American counterforce attack. Again, Lieber and Press specifically point to missile defenses as an element of American nuclear primacy and there’s good evidence that Russian genuinely feared US systems.

Already, the announced new missile defense plans look far less threatening to Russia. The replacement systems have the added bonus of potentially being more effective against Iranian threats — and the altered plan has not unduly hurt relations with Eastern European NATO partners.

I should note that the Pentagon is hastening the pace of the “bunker buster” bombs developed potentially to strike underground nuclear facilities in countries like Iran or North Korea. While this arguably moves the U.S. towards nuclear primacy, it seems to be a much greater threat to new proliferants than to the Russian arsenal.


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