Gates Urges Missile Defense As Counter-Force Against Nuclear Rogue States

By | November 3, 2008 | Government, Satellite News Feed

United States Needs Cheap, Quickly Orbited Satellites To Replace Those Lost In Anti-Satellite Attacks: Gates

The leader of the largest war-making force on the planet told members of an august peace group that weakness doesn’t prevent war, and that the best bar to conflict lies in strength and a capability sufficient to deter aggression.

That includes erecting a U.S. multi-layered ballistic missile defense shield, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said before the Carnegie Endowment for Peace think tank in Washington, D.C.

His comments come as some Democrats in Congress are expected to attempt cutting funds for missile defense in deliberations next year, as they have in prior years.

He also said the United States needs cheap, easily-orbited satellites to replace any that are destroyed by enemies in anti-satellite operations such as interceptor shots.

Gates outlined the manifold threats that increasingly confront the United States, its allies and its interests, and indicated it would be a colossal blunder to permit emerging enemies to wield weapons of awesome power while American armed forces had no ability to counter that danger.

What U.S. military leaders seek isn’t merely a parity with these dangerous factions, but rather an overwhelming American competence and capability that can compel would-be enemies to abandon their attack schemes aborning, Gates indicated.

Preventing war is to be preferred over fighting a war, he said. But what won’t work is to ignore a threat in hopes that an attack won’t materialize.

"Deterrence has a specific policy goal, and in this sense, deterrent strategies can be applied to many situations," he explained. "A few examples come to mind."

Gates specifically cited the growing threats posed not by major military powers, but by rogue nations.

"Rogue regimes that threaten their neighbors and our allies, potentially with nuclear weapons, are a problem today and will be in the future," he said. "Our goal is, in part, to reduce their ability to hold other nations hostage, and to deny them the ability to project power." And missile defense will help the United States to achieve that objective.

Gates extolled the new triad of American military power. While the old triad consisted of long-range bomber planes, intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarines with nuclear-tipped missiles, the new triad includes those nuclear-strike components, plus a conventional strike element and the ballistic missile shield.

"A conventional strike force means that more targets are vulnerable without our having to resort to nuclear weapons," lessening chances of a nuclear exchange, he continued.

Missile Defense Critical

"And missile defenses reinforce deterrence and minimize the benefits of rogue nations investing heavily in ballistic missiles," he said, so that missile defense systems are a force for peace.

The greatest value of missile defense may not be seen in a hot war such as a nuclear attack by missiles launched by rogue states, but rather in how missile defense prevents such conflicts from erupting in the first place, Gates stated.

Would-be assailants "won’t know if their missiles will be effective," he said, "thus other nations will feel less threatened. And let’s not forget the deterrent value of other parts of our conventional military forces."

Gates stressed that the threats, nuclear and not, that the United States faces in the contemporary world are proliferating, not dwindling.

"We … still face the problem of weapons passing from nation-states into the hands of terrorists," he observed.

As military analysts have noted, while a rogue nation may hesitate to launch a nuclear-tipped missile against the United States or its allies, for fear of a massively devastating U.S. counter-strike, terrorists launching missiles from a cargo or other ship have no such fears, no return address for a U.S. nuclear response to target.

However, an American counter-strike even then might be possible if U.S. intelligence can ferret out just which rogue nation supplied the nuclear weaponry to the terrorists.

"To add teeth to the deterrent goal of this policy, we are pursuing new technologies to identify the forensic signatures of any nuclear material used in an attack — to trace it back to the source," Gates said.

"After September 11th, [2001, President Bush] announced that we would make no distinction between terrorists and the states that sponsor or harbor them," Gates recalled. "Indeed, the United States has made it clear for many years that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force to the use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States, our people, our forces, and our friends and allies.

"Today we also make clear that the United States will hold any state, terrorist group, or other non-state actor or individual fully accountable for supporting or enabling terrorist efforts to obtain or use weapons of mass destruction — whether by facilitating, financing, or providing expertise or safe haven for such efforts."

Identifying Guilty Parties

The United States is attempting to devise technologies that would read "fingerprints" in the aftermath of any nuclear attack, to determine where the nuclear weapon originated.

"There is no way to ignore efforts by rogue states such as North Korea and Iran to develop and deploy nuclear weapons, or Russian or Chinese strategic modernization programs," Gates said.

"As long as other states have or seek nuclear weapons — and potentially can threaten us, our allies, and friends — then we must have a deterrent capacity that makes it clear that challenging the United States in the nuclear arena, or with other weapons of mass destruction, could result in an overwhelming, catastrophic response," he vowed.

Gates was realistic, predicting that efforts to force some nations to surrender nuclear weapons and missiles may be difficult.

"There is little doubt that some nations will continue to think that possession of nuclear weapons is the best way to preserve their regime or threaten their neighbors," he observed. "We remain concerned that this is the case with North Korea and Iran today, as it was with Libya and Iraq in the past."

Both of those latter nations, however, no longer have nuclear programs, with Libya deciding to back away from its nuclear program voluntarily, and Iraq now being occupied by U.S. forces.

Nukes have a great attraction for some nations, Gates conceded.

"Demographic and budgetary concerns have led other countries to rely heavily on their nuclear forces," he said. "This is a strategy that resembles President Eisenhower’s ‘New Look’ during the 1950s, where nuclear weapons became the top priority for defense budgeting and strategic planning, as Eisenhower feared that trying to compete with Soviet conventional forces would either bankrupt America or turn it into a garrison state."

Unfortunately, the more things change, the more they are the same.

"Ironically, that is the case with Russia today, which has neither the money nor the population to sustain its Cold War conventional force levels," Gates said. "Instead, we have seen an increased reliance on its nuclear force, with new ICBM and sea-based missiles, as well as a fully-functional infrastructure that can manufacture a significant number of warheads each year."

Russian ICBM Tests

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in a single week, personally witnessed test launches of a land-based intercontinental ballistic missile, and the launch from a submarine of a strategic missile with a 7,200-mile range. (Please see Space & Missile Defense Report, Monday, Oct. 13, 2008.)

And another major power also is flexing nuclear muscle.

"China is also expanding its nuclear arsenal," Gates observed. "It has increased the number of short-, medium-, and long-range missiles — and pursued new land-, sea-, and air- based systems that can deliver nuclear weapons.

"To be sure, we do not consider Russia or China as adversaries. But we cannot ignore these developments — and the implications they have for our national security."

In such an environment, this is no time for American weakness, he indicated.

"Our nuclear arsenal also helps deter enemies from using chemical and biological weapons," he asserted. "In the first Gulf War, we made it very clear that if Saddam [Hussein] used chemical or biological weapons, then the United States would keep all options on the table. We later learned that this veiled threat had the intended deterrent effect as Iraq considered its options."

In discussing these considerations, one must go beyond focusing merely on all-out nuclear exchanges, or World War III, he said.

"While some may not see a real nuclear threat to the United States today, we should be mindful that our friends and allies perceive different levels of risk within their respective regions," he explained. "Here, our arsenal plays an irreplaceable role in reducing proliferation."

As a rule of thumb, he said, "the international community has recognized that the fewer nuclear-armed states, the better. In recent years, this concern has been highlighted by the grim realities of ideological terrorism, revelations about scientists selling nuclear know-how to the highest bidder, and information exchanges between irresponsible regimes."

Generally, Gates asserts that the more the atomic genie escapes from the bottle, the world will face a greater threat of nuclear annihilation, absent countervailing forces for peace applied by the United States and other nations.

Anti-Satellite, Cyber Attacks

Finally, the secretary of defense pointed to other threats that could cause widespread damage, even though they don’t involve weapons of mass destruction detonating in the United States or on allied territory. For example, he cited the threat of attacks against U.S. and allied military and civilian (business, financial, navigation, weather and other) satellites.

China last year used a ground-based interceptor to destroy one of its own aging weather satellites, and also has used a ground-based laser to disable a U.S. military satellite.

"As we know from recent experience, attacks on our communications systems and infrastructure will be a part of future war," Gates predicted. "Our policy goal is obviously to prevent anyone from being able to take down our systems.

"Deterrence here might entail figuring out how to make our systems redundant, as with the old Nuclear Triad," he said. "Imagine easily deployable, replacement satellites that could be launched from high-altitude planes – or high-altitude UAVs that could operate as mobile data links. The point is to make the effort to attack us seem pointless in the first place.

"Similarly, future administrations will have to consider new declaratory policies about what level of cyber-attack might be considered an act of war — and what type of military response is appropriate."

China has trained and stool up cadres of computer hackers, who could wreak havoc on U.S. and allied military and civilian networks, bringing communications and commerce to a halt.

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