With missile defense being in the news last week , I thought my e-interview with Professor Stephen J. Cimbala, author of Shield of Dreams: Missile Defense and U.S.-Russian Nuclear Strategy, might be of interest. Please note this e-interview was conducted prior to the recent U.S. decision on missile defense for both Poland and the Czech Republic.
You begin Shield of Dreams by laying out the strategic framework of the Russian-US nuclear relationship. What are the overarching foreign policy goals of both the United States and Russia?
The Obama administration has said that it wants to “reboot” the U.S. relationship with Russia. This will be easier said than done. Russia has a list of discontents with U.S. policy that carry forward from disagreements between the two states under George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin. These points of contention include NATO enlargement, U.S. missile defenses in Europe, U.S. departure from the ABM Treaty, the war in Iraq, and, most recently in 2008, Russia’s war with Georgia. On the other hand, the Obama and Medvedev administrations have some potential areas of cooperation and convergent, if not identical, interest: defeating the Taliban and containing jihadism in Afghanistan and Pakistan; achieving a new strategic nuclear arms reduction agreeement to replace START I; and, managing the problem of nuclear nonproliferation in Iran and North Korea by use of diplomacy instead of force.
Who should read Shield of Dreams?
Shield of Dreams is an attempt to return to the “tradition” of national security policy studies that laid the foundation for arguments about deterrence and arms control during the early years of the Cold War. In those studies, policy analysis was combined with strategic theory and empirical measurement to create insights about the rationale for choice among competing national security objectives, weapons technologies, arms control proposals, and so forth. RAND was the first of a number of public policy related think tanks that developed out of this activity, and it also spread into government decision making during and after the 1960s. In turn, this work laid the foundation for Pentagon advances in state of the art thinking about strategy and the art of war: for example, in the creation of the Office of Net Assessment and the widespread respect for its long standing director, Dr. Andrew Marshall, and in the creation of the Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for seeding futuristic research into technology. I call this self conscious trellis of national security studies in and out of the government the “Wohlstetter system” after famed RAND consultant and analyst Albert Wohlstetter. After the end of the Cold War, however, interest in deterrence and nuclear weapons declined except for the professional arms control community, and the U.S. prompt victory in the Gulf war of 1991 was thought to have ushered in an era of U.S. supremacy in smart, advanced technology, conventional weapons that would leave nuclear weapons in the dustbin of history. History now has its revenge: fears of nuclear proliferation and of the possible spread of nuclear weapons to terrorists are reminders of the fact that nuclear danger has not gone away, and in some ways, is worse. As President Obama said in Prague on April 5: although the threat of global nuclear war has receded, the threat of nuclear use has actually increased.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Within the missile defense technology community, future controversy will involve mission priorities and the question of versatility and “requisite variety” among candidate technologies. Some will argue, for example, that the U.S. should focus on protecting its allies from theater or shorter range missiles by using portable and rapidly deployable antimissile defenses – instead of the current emphasis on protecting the U.S. homeland from rogue attacks or accidental launches. For the former mission, protecting of allies against imminent land or sea based missile attacks, smarter defenses might use UAVs that loiter over certain areas of interest, detect imminent threats, and fire hit to kill kinetic weapons or more advanced weapons to disable attackers. For the latter mission, protection of the U.S. or allied homelands, cost effectiveness does not favor the current mainstay of the U.S. global missile defense system: the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. It is easily overwhelmed by attack strategies designed to confuse the defense or by larger numbers of attackers. In addition, it has a mixed record of success in tests thus far.
The U.S. Air Force and Space Command want to redefine the entire context for military planning by establishing U.S. aerospace dominance as a primary national security objective. This would deny to potential enemies the use of space for hostile purposes, including ASAT attacks on U.S. satellites that support communications, navigation, reconnaissance and surveillance and other C4ISTAR missions. U.S. space supremacy in the 21st century is, according to some airpower theorists, the “high ground” for future success in war and deterrence. If the U.S. were to adopt this perspective on the aerospace medium, it could reconceptualize the role of missile defenses within a larger framework of aerospace denial (to enemies) and maximum aerospace exploitation (for the U.S. and its allies). Air and space based missile defenses would have priority compared to ground and sea based systems, and the United States might move from the “military use” of space for supporting missions to actual deployment of weapons in space and the carrying out of combat missions in space. These missions could include antimissile defenses based on non-nuclear principles and located on satellites or other space based platforms, with capabilities for interspace or space-to-earth strikes. The U.S. arms control community and some members of Congress will almost certainly object to plans for such a robust military use of space, however.
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