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Brave New World Without INF Treaty

Alexander Yermakov

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In late October 2018, following the announcement by the President of the United States announce that the country was pulling out of the INF Treaty, the Russian International Affairs Council published a collection of articles on the collapse of the Treaty and the future of global arms control.

This article offers an overview of the statements made by the two parties in late November and early December, to provide fresher context. During the briefing held on November 26, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergei Ryabkov provided the most detailed explanation of Moscow’s stance on the INF Treaty throughout the history of the current crisis. In fact, it is a pity that such an explanation was not offered earlier. Ryabkov revealed certain details with regard to Washington’s accusations against Russia, and also shed some light on the 9M729 missile:

  • The missile stands out for its warhead (which presumably differs from the 9M728/R-500, the standard cruise missile used in conjunction with the Iskander-M system).
  • The missile’s range is within the INF requirements. On September 18, 2017, a 9M729 missile was launched to a distance of “under 480 kilometres” as part of the WEST 2017 exercises.
  • Russia has supplied the United States with all the technical specifications for the missile, including information about its fuel system (to counter the assumptions of the American side that the missile’s range depends on how much fuel it carries).
  • The test dates for the allegedly offending missiles provided by the United States do not correspond to the 9M729 test dates, which were announced five days before President Donald Trump’s announcement that the United States was pulling out of the INF Treaty.

All this leads us to the interesting conclusion that in the first half of the 2010s, the United States employed technical intelligence to observe parallel bench tests [1] of Kalibr-family long-range sea-launched cruise missiles and ground-launched Iskander-M cruise missiles, or of the Club-M coastal missile system, and arrived at the conclusion that these missiles were all part of the same programme. The information leaked about the alleged evidence held by the United States fits this theory nicely: originally, Washington asserted that Russia “initially test-launched a missile to a long range from an immobile bench, followed by a short-launch test from a mobile platform.”

Given the high technical similarity of these missiles, it may well have been the case that the Americans really did believe that the Russian side was in breach of the Treaty, whereas the Russians believed that their tests were completely legitimate. The 9M729 index was first announced by the United States in connection with the “offending” SSC-8 missile in December 2017, far later than the very first accusations levelled at Russia. In fact, Russian experts had long presumed that the United States was suspicious of this particular index (a number of sources hinted at the existence of such a missile and implied that it was developed by the Novator Design Bureau that did produce a cruise missile for the Iskander-M system). It is, therefore, possible that the Americans, in their search for “an upgraded Iskander missile,” stumbled upon it in this way or even extrapolated its existence by analysing discussions within the expert community. The rather comical situation cannot be ruled out that a missile differing in the warhead it can carry was taken to have a longer range simply due to cognitive aberrations and the United States’ urge to find a fault with Russia.

Russia also clarified its criticisms of the United States. As for target missiles, Ryabkov noted that not all test launches are followed by attempted intercepts, and that the mock-up warheads of these missiles are sometimes allowed to travel all the way towards their intended targets. As for UAVs, Russia is far from nit-picking: the United States is about to create a whole new class of weapons that are similar in nature to ground-launched cruise missiles. Regarding Russia’s efforts to develop such missiles, Ryabkov recalled a statement made by Washington that had gained popularity during the 2017 approval of the budget to create a new U.S. ground-launched cruise missile that the “development of such weapons is not prohibited.” As for the Aegis Ashore anti-missile systems and the associated Mk 41 launchers, Russia expressed its concern with Washington’s plans, as set forth in the latest Nuclear Posture Review, to develop a new nuclear-tipped sea-launched cruise missile that would be either a nuclear version of the Tomahawk missile or compatible with the Tomahawk launchers.

Subsequent developments demonstrated that Ryabkov’s statement came too late. The meeting between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump on the side-lines of the G20 summit, at which the sides were expected to discuss the fate of the INF Treaty, never took place. Whether this was the result of the worsening Russia–Ukraine relations or Trump’s problems on the home front with regard to the so-called “Russian Case” (it was during the G20 meeting that Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen announced he would cooperate with investigators) is beside the point. What is important is that the last possible chance to save the INF Treaty (if there ever was one) slipped away just like that. Instead, the United States intensified talks with its European allies, whose position was probably the main thing stopping Washington from abandoning the treaty.

On December 4, following a meeting of the NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Brussels, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo presented an ultimatum to Russia, saying that the United States would pull out from the Treaty unless Moscow began complying with its provisions within the next 60 days. The United States specified later that Russia would be served with an official letter if the United States decided to withdraw from the Treaty. Washington’s allies pledged their support in the final joint statement and at Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s news conference. Although Pompeo did not specify whether the United States was going to comply with the INF Treaty during the mandatory six months following the possible pull-out [2] or stick with the proposal put forward by Congress to disregard the document completely, we may assume that Washington will not make a move until next August. But what will happen after that?

Super-Long-Range Cannon, Gunboats and Hypersonic Gliders

After that we are in for a feast of militarism and military engineering technology. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Director Steven Walker has assured the media that there would be “many flight tests” in 2019. So what kind of military technology is the United States busy developing?

The easiest technology to develop would be a mobile platform for ground-launched long-range cruise missiles. This possibility was first mentioned in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 and was subsequently reaffirmed in the document for 2019. An existing cruise missile should have already been selected for the new system (the main bidders being the sea-based Tomahawk and the air-launched AGM-158 JASSM, but no information has been revealed about the development effort over the past year. Tomahawk has a greater range, whereas the JASSM offers better survivability thanks to its lower visibility. The United States has also announced plans to create a new, longer-range JASSM missile, codenamed JASSM XR, which will likely be closer to the Tomahawk in terms of its range, at about 1600 to 1700 kilometres. The JASSM could win this contest because the new system is being developed for the United States Air Force, owing to the division of functions between the different branches of the country’s armed forces. It was the Air Force that operated the ground-launched nuclear-tipped Tomahawk, known as the BGM 109G Gryphon, which took part in the Euromissile crisis in the 1980s.

Ground-based conventional cruise-missile systems are often criticized for being of little use given the existence of naval platforms for such munitions, which are particularly ubiquitous in the United States. This argument disregards a number of advantages presented by overland launchers, including the lower cost of ground platforms, lower operating expenses per launcher, the possibility of replenishing the stock of missiles in the field (ships can only reload their vertical launchers at home base), and also their greater viability in combat, with the dispersed and camouflaged launch and command vehicles being impossible to take out with a single anti-ship missile.

There is, however, more to come, as announced by Pentagon in 2018. The mainstream media were particularly intrigued by the programme to develop the Strategic Strike Artillery Cannon with a range of 1000 miles. Of course, we are not talking about the kind of cannon that Jules Verne wrote about in his novel From the Earth to the Moon, nor are we referring to the kind of “superguns” envisioned under Saddam Hussein’s Project Babylon. Rather, the U.S. programme is about creating a launcher for ultralight precision missiles. Such a system would provide the United States Army with an opportunity to instantly destroy small-sized targets in any operational theatre. It is, however, important for the programme’s success to keep the operational costs within reasonable limits.

More important, though less attractive, is the Strategic Fires Missile programme. Although touted as a “fundamentally new” type of weapon, it is in fact another Pershing missile: a conventional missile with a range of 2000–2250 kilometres and a precision hypersonic glider warhead. This would certainly be classed as a medium-range ballistic missile, and it is this programme that DARPA is focusing on. The United States Army has long been working in this sphere as part of the notorious Prompt Global Strike initiative. Back in 2011, a prototype glider was successfully tested under the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW) programme.

Surface to Surface Fires Operational View, U.S. Department of Defense

Hypersonic research in the United States is not limited to army projects. There are several parallel programmes to create air-launched aeroballistic missiles with gliding warheads that are to be added to the Air Force’s inventory in the early 2020s. One of these is known as the AGM-183A AARW. It will most likely be carried by B-52H bombers, whose underwing hardpoints will be upgraded to accommodate an increased payload of 9 tonnes. The United States Navy is developing its own medium-range ballistic missile with a glider warhead, primarily for Ohio- and Virginia-class submarines. Lighter missiles could be developed for Zumwalt-class destroyers, whose original role as gunboats seems to have failed to materialize due to problems with the onboard cannon (to be more precise, each of their guided projectiles comes at half the price tag of a cruise missile). On the other hand, the Zumwalts could use reinforced vertical Mk 57 launchers. The three branches of the armed forces are expected to share their developments: it is known that the Air Force and possibly the Navy will be using the Army’s lighter and more advanced glider, whereas the heavier naval glider will eventually be added to the Army’s inventory.

U.S. Department of Defense

It should be noted that all the aforementioned programmes are conventional, at least officially. U.S. officials dismiss accusations that they are attempting to launch a new nuclear arms race; in fact, there are many open critics of this scenario among the country’s legislators (the Democrats, who have seen their positions in Congress consolidated, are even threatening to thwart Trump’s more conservative proposals on nuclear weapons). It should, however, be remembered that it is far easier to turn a conventional missile into a nuclear missile than vice-versa (a quality nuclear charge is lighter and smaller than the average conventional warhead, and does not have to be as accurate). Should the United States continue with its course towards confrontation with Russia or China, this conventional-to-nuclear transition would be easy to make. Besides, there is nothing optimistic about the creation of conventional strategic-range missiles, because they are psychologically easier to resort to in a conflict, and such an escalation could be very dangerous.

It is clear that, for reasons of geography, the United States only needs missile systems that breach the INF Treaty for purposes of advanced deployment. Such missiles could be deployed primarily in Southeast Asia to counter China. It may be uncomfortable for Russia to admit, but Washington is using Moscow’s alleged breaches of the Treaty chiefly as a pretext for opposing Beijing, which is something the U.S. authorities have been openly talking about for the past several months [3]. It would also come in handy to have some missiles in the Middle East: there is no reason to believe that the region will become peaceful in the foreseeable future, so ground-launched missiles would help relieve some of the burden currently carried by the local naval and aerial forces. The Arab monarchies, which are anxious about the Iranian threat, would be happy to receive such missiles.

The key issue for Russia would be the possible deployment of U.S. missile systems in Eastern Europe. Subsonic cruise missiles are not likely to change the current state of affairs in any significant way (the United States and its allies are already capable of deploying significant numbers of such munitions on naval and aerial platforms if needed), but precision medium-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching any target in European Russia would be unwelcome near the country’s borders. Both Russia and the United States are currently assuring each other that they have no intention of starting another European missile crisis, and Washington stresses that it has no plans to deploy its missiles in Europe. However, as Ryabkov noted at the briefing, these plans may change at any moment so cannot be taken for granted. It would, of course, be nice to agree on an area, “from Lisbon to the Urals,” that would be free of new missile systems. This would not prevent the sides from promptly deploying such systems near the adversary’s borders within a couple of days, but such deployment would come as a consequence of a crisis and not as its cause.

However, the two countries have yet to come up with the new political rules of the changed game, and we are left to hope that they will do so quickly. It would be useful for Russia to assume a more active position compared to the one it demonstrated during the INF Treaty crisis, as well as to step up work, primarily with European countries, which are concerned about the possibility of a new missile crisis on the continent.

Russia’s possible R&D response to Washington’s withdrawal from the INF Treaty merits a separate detailed article.

  1. 1. For the sake of practical convenience, the signatories to the INF Treaty permitted each other to bench-test their ground-launched cruise missiles at one testing centre per country.
  2. 2. On the evening of December 4, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation tweeted that the U.S. Ambassador had submitted a note stating that the United States would stop observing the INF Treaty within 60 days. This circumstance further complicates the situation, though it is insignificant.
  3. 3. Trump also mentioned China as one of the reasons why the United States was going to withdraw from the Treaty, whereas John Bolton stated in no uncertain terms during an interview in Moscow that even if Russia stopped breaching the treaty (which, according to him, was impossible because Moscow was in denial), then the United States would still have to pull out unless China joined the Treaty and destroyed most of its nuclear missile potential, which would certainly never happen.

First published in our partner RIAC

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India’s Space Ambitions

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On March 27, 2019 India has tested its first ever Anti-Satellite (ASAT) missile code named as ‘Mission Shakti’. India shot down one of its own Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite through a ballistic missile and became fourth country in the world after USA, Russia and China having the capability. ASAT weapons are the space weapons which allow a state to attack opponent space assets which disrupt communication channel. Indian ASAT test translates into New Delhi capability which can be used to destroy opponent satellites. The shooting down of its own low orbit satellite with a ground to space missile has made India a ‘space power’. This technology effects Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance (IRS) system of enemy state.

India has the ambitions to enhance its space capabilities as a part of its Defence Doctrine. This ASAT test by New Delhi touches a number of important issues which endanger the contemporary security environment of South Asia and the international security. At international level it generates a debate on space policy, politics and the weaponization. International community gave different reaction on Indian ASAT test. Indian missile test raised concerns in Pakistan as its security threats mainly coming from eastern border.

Pakistan responded that ‘ASAT test should have a matter of serious concern for global community, not only in terms generation of space debris but also because of its consequences for long term sustainability of peaceful space activities’. Bridenstine, administrator of NASA also condemned Indian ASAT test and said that 24 pieces out of 400 debris identified by NASA went above the apogee of International Space System (ISS) which could damage the ISS and other satellites. Russia and China also commended Indian ASAT test. Contrary, US reaction to Indian ASAT was quite supportive but they showed their reservation on debris. Pentagon’s statement in favor of Indian ASAT test shows clearly that US have biased attitude towards New Delhi’s developments. In general, such types of tests have negative impact on existing ISS. International rules and regulations about the space only stop a state from putting WMDs in the space. But it is a matter of concern that destruction of satellite creates debris which will ultimately affect the space system or other satellite. There should be a treaty which deals with the matter of debris.

South Asia security environment is marred with mutual hostility between two nuclear powers India and Pakistan. Owing to this enmity, both the states indulge in arms race. The action reaction spiral governs the arms race between India and Pakistan. This test will also start a new chapter of space race between two states.

The timing of the test i.e. 27th March was crucial in the context of existing tensions and aftermath of February 2019 military escalation between Pakistan and India. The crisis between two states started after 14 February Pulwama attacks in Indian occupied Kashmir (IOK) for which India blamed Pakistan. In this intense environment, the ASAT test opens up new avenue for intensification of existing clashes between the two nuclear armed neighbors. This test has strategic as well as political significance.  Politically it is significant because soon after two weeks of this test, Indian general elections were going to be held. It can be said that the test was a way to strengthen BJP popularity and to gain right wing support in the elections.

Strategically, this test will not only disturb the stability of the region but also increase vulnerability which will ultimately challenge the existing deterrence stability of South Asia. Pakistan considers Indian developments a direct threat to its sovereignty; consequently this test can start a new space arms race in South Asia. Pakistan always in favor of demilitarization of space and tried to controlled arms race in South Asia. Pakistan due to economic constraints faces difficulties to maintain existing strategic balance of South Asia after Indian ongoing conventional and unconventional developments. International community especially US and West has dual standards vis-à-vis India and Pakistan. In this regard, Pakistan should further enhance its collaborations with China which is a time tested friend and strategic partner to maintain strategic stability of South Asian region.

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Khalifa Haftar’s military advance

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Khalifa Haftar’s military advance-started in Jufra on April 4 last –  passed from the South, namely Fezzan, and partly from  Central Libya, starting from the Westernmost point of the area of influence already gained by Haftar in the last military advances.

 The support for his actions against Tripolitania, which stems from very old tensions (the Senussi King Idris boasted he never set foot in Tripoli), materialized with the support of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the Russian Federation, as well as France in particular. Other countries, however, are and will be the future friends of Haftar’s forces, if the General wins throughout the Libyan territory.

 Why so many allies? Firstly, Saudi Arabia regards Haftar as an opponent of Islamic terrorism, the first real danger of the Saudi Kingdom.

 Also the United Arab Emirates, however, start from this first consideration and assessment.

 Moreover, both the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have largely funded Al-Sisi’s coup against the Muslim Brotherhood of the then President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.

 The Emirates also participated in the secret negotiations held last summer to have Libyan oil exported through external channels other than the one approved by the UN, namely the National Oil Corporation of Tripoli.

 Haftar’s forces have already redirected oil shipments from the ports they control -to the tune of several thousand oil barrels.

 Furthermore Saudi Arabia and the Emirates also funded the electoral campaigns of General Haftar’s  candidates. This is a problem close to us, because the upcoming elections announced by the UN envoy, Ghassam Salamè, at the Palermo Conference, scheduled for next spring, will anyway be decisive, whoever funds them.

 In any case, they will be blocked indefinitely due to the  now evident proxy civil war that is taking place in Libya.

 In addition, General Haftar started the April 4 offensive after informing Emirate’s Prince Mohammed bin Sayed al-Nayan on April 2 and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz (but not the acting Prince) on March 27.

 The penetration into Tripolitania had already been militarily planned by General Haftar with both the Saudi and Emirate leaders, with whom he had very secret contacts.

 The political will of the two Arab States in the peninsula is to put al-Sarraj’s government in Tripoli under such strong pressure as to make al-Sarraj accept the agreement that had been defined in the Abu Dhabi meetings with General Haftar himself on February 28 last.

 In Abu Dhabi, the first issue to be discussed was the Sharara oil field, the most important one in Libya, held by General Haftar’s forces, as well as the gradual unification of the two State structures.

 The signing of that agreement, which reaffirmed – sine die- the bureaucratic union of the two parts of Libya was welcomed everywhere, but evidently that agreement had been written on the desert sand.

 For the Sharara oil field, Prime Minister al-Sarraj accepted the sale of 300,000 barrels/day, managed by the Libyan NOC, the Spanish Repsol, Total, the Austrian OMV and the Norwegian Equinor. However, no progress has been made so far.

 Nevertheless the “Libyan National Conference” that the previous Palermo Conference had scheduled for late January 2019 was never held, despite the passion and enthusiasm shown for it by the UN envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salamé.

 France sent its DGSE operatives to  Haftar’s area in late  2015, encamped near the Benghazi airbase.

 What does France want from General Haftar? It wants to close the Maghreb region to other countries’ influence – especially Italy’s – so as to create a large Françafrique area from Central Africa to all Mediterranean African coasts except for Egypt, which is too big for the forces (of France and Great Britain) that even had to stop – for lack of ammunition – during the first phase of Gaddafi’s Libya “conquest” and asked the United States to intervene.

 Certainly France also wants all the Libyan oil, which is currently in General Haftar’s hands.

What about the Russian Federation? It supports Haftar, although with a sui generis approach. In fact, while I am writing this article, Haftar is holding a talk with Vladimir Putin for two reasons: he wants to sell weapons to the Libyan National Army, but also to avoid competition from Saudi Arabia, which is also a major oil producer and could add the Libyan oil and gas to its own, thus quickly becoming the unparalleled top exporter of crude oil in the world.

 Here – regardless of OPEC or not – the situation does not change: the price of the oil barrel would be set by Saudi Arabia.

 Russia’s allies on the field are not homogeneous in their alliances. Turkey and Algeria support al-Sarraj while – as already noted – the others support General Khalifa Haftar.

 There is also the possibility of a Russian military base on  Cyrenaica’s coast, when General Haftar fully wins the game.

 Nevertheless, rumours are already rife that the Russians of the Wagner Group, the main private military group used by Russia, are present in the Benghazi forces’ area.

 In late 2018, the Russian newspaper RBC reported that there were “Russian troops in Libya”.

 General Khalifa Haftar’s forces, the Libyan National Army, moved from Fezzan – through the territories of the various local tribes – in two ways: with the good – and not only recent – good relations they had with that tribe world or with large cash payments.

 The first military advance line of the Benghazi Free Army was between Bani Walid and Sabratha, towards Gharyan, the crossing point to Tripoli from the South.

 In late March, many local, tribal and non-tribal brigades had changed sides, in favour of General Haftar, mainly thanks to the example of the Seventh Al Khaniat Brigade from Tarhouna, which started fighting with the Benghazi National Army that, in fact, advanced through the Southern districts of Tripoli.

 The Seventh Brigade’s attack  probably had the opposite effect, thus making some Tripoli’s brigades remain loyal to al-Sarraj’s government, although no one knows for how long.

 Even the “moderates” of Misrata -led by the current Interior Minister of Tripoli, Fathi Bachaga – that until now have been open to future negotiations with General Haftar, have stiffened their stance in defence of Tripoli.

 The troops of Misrata, the Libyan “Sparta”, amount to  15,000 soldiers and would make the difference in any future confrontation.

 However, Misrata has already mobilized its military forces, but for the time being there is only a small Misrata force alongside the other forces in Tripoli.

 The Benghazi Defence Brigades, which also include some soldiers  from Misrata, and the Halbous militia have instead agreed to be part of Tripoli’s counteroffensive.

 (Others’) money counts.

 The Forces of Zintan, another major military centre of  Tripoli’s armed forces, are divided between the group still loyal to Tripoli’s GNA, led by Oussama al-Jouili and Emad al-Trabelsi, while all the others are now supporting General Haftar.

 The latter, can still rely on a large amount of ammunition.

  The Rada Militia, led by Abdelraouf Kara, has not yet made any choice.

 It is currently called “Unit for the Prevention of Organized Crime and Terrorism” and controls Tripoli’s nerve centres.

 Hence if Haftar wins, the old Rada Militia will be on his side.

 General Haftar has already had contacts with this organization, which is affiliated with the same Makhdalist Salafist movement that is already operating in favour of General Haftar in the East.

 The strength of the African Salafist sect, which aims at an African and Libyan jihad, must certainly not be underestimated.

 The strategy of forcedly re-proposing the Abu Dhabi agreement to al-Sarraj, who would obviously be weakened, is supported – on Haftar side – by Russia, which coincidentally voted a UN Security Council’s motion condemning General Haftar’s advance.

 Egypt itself has some fears for the current advance of the Benghazi forces. It is afraid that this may have repercussions both on the many Egyptian workers still present in Libya and on the country’s internal equilibria.

 France has supported General Haftar’s advance, also with its operatives – not only from the DGSE and its Service Action. France thinks that General Haftar’s advance is the only barrier against terrorism, but also the way to reconquer Libya after the disastrous operations following Gaddafi’s ousting in 2011.

  General Haftar is openly pro-Gaddafi, as he demonstrated by having the Rais image portrayed on his banknotes  printed in Russia.

 Moreover France has greatly favoured Haftar’s advance in  Fezzan by collecting and assigning to the Benghazi General the intelligence gathered by a spy-plane provided by CAE Aviation, a company belonging to DGSE and to its Service Action, in particular.

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New plans for “star wars” or bluff to wear out foes?

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On March 27, the Indian leadership announced a successful destruction by a missile launched from the ground of a space satellite positioned at an altitude of about 300 km. According to Western media reports, thus the number of countries that have successfully tested anti-satellite weapons technology has increased to four. Western analysts accounting for India’s moves say they have been prompted by fears about China’s military capabilities, which Beijing demonstrated back in 2007. Meanwhile, on January 17 this year, the United States released the first in nine years, review of the country’s Anti-Missile Defense strategy. One of the priority projects involves near-earth orbit combat lasers capable of shooting down intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). On April 1, it was announced that the United States had blocked the final report of a UN expert group which envisaged measures to prevent the deployment of weapons in outer space. Who is pushing a space arms race?

India’s recent project to test means of destruction of space objects indicate that  compared to nuclear weapons, anti-satellite weapons technology needed a much shorter time to spread beyond the “club” of leading players. Significantly, each time the initiative to develop these types of weapons came from Washington. The first tests of the US anti-satellite weapon system were carried out in October 1959. Now, US President Donald Trump’s ambitious plans to deploy combat systems in outer space bring back memories of the infamous ‘star wars’ initiative, which was launched by Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s.

The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), proclaimed by President Reagan in March 1983, has been described by many American experts as “a big scam”. Nevertheless, many in the US believe that a new round of arms race, which was prompted by SDI, played a significant role in the economic collapse of the USSR. By the end of the 1990s, the United States claimed to have achieved unparalleled military might and as great political and economic influence in the world. That means that America can openly proclaim a de facto imperial strategy of conduct on the international scene. Washington has made an unequivocal bid for strategic dominance in all areas of human presence, including outer space. As a result, President George W. Bush withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

The withdrawal from the ABM Treaty all but confirmed fears that the United States never stopped developing new space technologies for military purposes. In 2004, it put into operation the ground-based midcourse phase antimissile defense system (GMD),which is designed to combat ICBMs, while its main targets, until recently, were the missile potentials of Iran and North Korea. However, in 2008, the so-called ‘younger sister’ of the GMD interceptor – the SM-3 missile, which is part of the Aegis ship-based missile defense system, – successfully hit a satellite in a 240km orbit. Notably, the potential capabilities of a GMD missile (known as the Ground-Based Interceptor – GBI) are much more significant. Developing a speed of 7-8 kilometers per second, GBI is able to bring the striking combat unit to a height of 6 thousand kilometers. Thus, any satellites in low earth orbit and some spacecraft in high elliptical orbit are within its range.

However, the new “American nationalists” want more than this. By the end of the first year of Trump’s presidency, they managed to secure a “comprehensive revision of the US missile defense policy” and establish provisions for a significant increase in military spending. In place of protection from a “limited ballistic missile strike,” they declared the essentially global goal of covering the territory of the United States and its allies. Finally, in December 2018, Trump issued an order to set up a US Space Command with a view to carry out military operations in space. At present, Pentagon officials are contemplating an appropriate strategy for launching a variety of small and cheap satellites to the low-Earth orbit to track the flight of an ICBM at all its stages without exception. They are considering “non-kinetic means of impacting spacecraft”, a further development of and the launching of dual-purpose satellites, intercepting or disabling foreign spacecraft under the pretext of fighting space debris. According to Western and Russian experts, in the near future the United States plans to look into the possibility of deploying interceptor missiles or laser installations and “cluster groups” of anti-satellite and anti-missile weapons in space.

In addition to military, defense, organizational and bureaucratic measures in guaranteeing a new stage of militarization of space, Washington has been making a number of unambiguous diplomatic steps. In January this year, the United States suspended its participation in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and is set on burying it for good in six months. Simultaneously, Washington has jeopardized the last of the existing strategic arms limitation agreements – the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-3), which, if not renewed, will no longer be valid by 2021. The United States is the main opponent to any international legal initiatives on the prevention of arms race in outer space. Among these initiatives, first of all, is the Russian-Chinese draft treaty on the prevention of the deployment of weapons in outer space, on measures to prevent the use of force against space objects. The treaty is based on a political pledge not to be the first to deploy weapons in space. Thus, the United States has persistently been pursuing the policy of “breaking the instruments of strategic stability” – something that causes the concern of the world’s top players.

Economic and technological competition is becoming the main area of rivalry between the leading powers. We can even say that it is replacing the military-political confrontation. However, everyone understands that even the “theoretical possibility of creating a reliable national missile defense system and the development of missile defense programs” jeopardizes the strategic deterrence potential of any of the nuclear powers. However, the political agenda chosen by the current US leadership is not seen just as another attempt to regain “world supremacy” or maintain unilateral military superiority. Trump has opted for a slow “strangulation” of competitors, a financial and economic “offensive”. He is trying to force unwelcome countries into making a choice between the logic of economic development and the “logic of geopolitical confrontation”, between modern reforms and “security and control priorities”. Apparently, according to Washington’s plan, space systems should become a new policy tool and an effective instrument of pressure to exert on countries that are lagging behind in space technology development.

Russia is well aware of the threats and challenges the new American strategy is fraught with. The US’ attempts to “unceremoniously crush strategic stability in their favor” do not go unanswered. Asymmetrical,  but extremely effective due to “advances in military technology”. Moscow’s composure and determination was demonstrated on March 1 last year by President Vladimir Putin, as he spoke of Russia’s brand new strategic weapons systems. At the same time, Russia is not looking for unilateral advantages and is steadily in favor of “thwarting an arms race in outer space.” Moscow is prepared for a parity dialogue “with all states in order to keep outer space free from weapons of any kind – one of the major conditions for ensuring international peace and security,” – the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

In general, as in the 1980s, the current US military space plans have triggered a fairly skeptical reaction from many American and international experts. Like before, the main driving force may not be so much to do with translating these plans into practice as tapping into the huge budgetary funds and an attempt to drag geopolitical competitors into a new technological race. Meanwhile, the dangerous nature of the current US space initiatives is associated with changes in the global parameters of strategic stability. Thus, India’s steps towards the development of space destruction weapons can hardly be directed against the United States. Nonetheless, Washington’s persistent attempts to draw Russia and China into a bilateral military-political confrontation of the type of the Cold War force them to take retaliatory steps.

At the same time, the United States is demonstrating blatant unwillingness to discuss not only a ban, but even measures to limit or establish international control   over military activities in space. Given the situation, more and more states that deem national sovereignty a lasting value are taking preventive measures based on the most dramatic scenario for changes in the international strategic environment.

 First published in our partner International Affairs

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