Saturday, April 23, 2016

Love My Pretty Little Weapons

Lots of European countries, the United States, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea and perhaps even Iran have nuclear weapons capacity. Nasty stuff foments worry in the Middle East and in the Korean Peninsula with fear of “technology seepage” from Pakistan, home of the “Islamic bomb.” Iran and North Korea have benefitted from Pakistan’s largesse to date, but terrorists are salivating at the potential of getting a nuke or more. We tend to lose focus on the nuclear race at the top for fear of proliferation among what we feel are less responsible parties.
But as the old Cold War, what we thought was dead and buried after the fall of the Soviet empire, awakens and moves from a chilly breeze to the makings of a Polar Vortex, perhaps it is time to refocus on the big three nuclear powers: China, Russia and the United States. Russia was the major prime mover in updating and replacing its nuclear arsenal and led the race to modernization in that sector. China joined the nuclear club later than the Soviets and Americans. She generated massive economic power only relatively recently, so her efforts to implement her nuclear capacity have occurred primarily in more recent years, resulting in a very modern (and growing) overall weapons capacity.
With China’s movements in the South China Sea and Russia’s proclivity to prod and test U.S. resolve globally, opposing American policies almost as a knee-jerk response, it merits looking at the state of new weapon systems in each of these global powers… and to ask the bigger question that permeates an increasing number of global multinational summits: why aren’t we negotiating a nuclear (and more) disarmament pact to replace the expired treaties of old. One-upmanship is not a viable policy for any nuclear power.
“American officials largely blame the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, saying his intransigence has stymied efforts to build on a 2010 arms control treaty and further shrink the arsenals of the two largest nuclear powers. Some blame the Chinese, who are looking for a technological edge to keep the United States at bay. And some blame the United States itself for speeding ahead with a nuclear “modernization” that, in the name of improving safety and reliability, risks throwing fuel on the fire.
“President Obama acknowledged that danger at the end of the Nuclear Security Summit meeting in Washington early this month. He warned of the potential for ‘ramping up new and more deadly and more effective systems that end up leading to a whole new escalation of the arms race.’
“For a president who came to office more than seven years ago talking about eventually ridding the world of nuclear weapons, it was an admission that an American policy intended to reduce the centrality of atomic arms might contribute to a second nuclear age.” New York Times, April 16th. Even if you believe that these three superpowers are unlikely to use a nuke or spread nukes to other countries, the sheer cost to taxpayers in each nation is a very significant burden.
The updating of our systems carries with it an emphasis on tactical weapons, more targeted and less massively impactful. The bad news is that a narrowly cast weapon is more likely to be deployed than a nuke that would take out an entire city. The deterrent factor is significantly less. Given the various enhanced delivery systems, the nature of some of these new weapons is more about getting the destructive force delivered to its target without the risk of being destroyed before impact. And that does not always require that the payload carry a nuclear explosive.
Both China and the United States are developing a rocket-delivered, hypersonic glide vehicle, an ultrahigh-speed warhead that can travel up to 17,000 miles per hour. The payload (pictured above) would be moving so quickly towards its intended target as to defy current defensive technologies. Even without any explosive material in the warhead, the mere speed of the payload would create a massive amount of damage anyway. China’s military has already tested prototypes of this weaponry.
“The Obama administration is hardly in a position to complain. It is flight-testing its own hypersonic weapon, but an experiment in 2014 ended in a spectacular fireball. Flight tests are set to resume next year. As part of the modernization process, it is also planning five classes of improved nuclear arms and associated delivery vehicles that, as a family, are shifting the American arsenal in the direction of small, stealthy and precise.
“‘We are witnessing the opening salvos of an arms race,’ James M. Acton, a senior analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, last year told a congressional commission that assesses China’s power.
“One fear about the new weapons is that they could undercut the grim logic of ‘mutual assured destruction,’ the Cold War doctrine that any attack would result in massive retaliation and ultimately the annihilation of all combatants. While much debated and often mocked — in classics like the movie ‘Dr. Strangelove’ — MAD, as it was known, worked. Now, the concern is that the precision and less-destructive nature of these new weapons raises the temptation to use them.
“A key question that Mr. Obama addressed is whether America’s planned upgrades are helping drive this competition. Or are Russia and China simply using the American push as an excuse to perfect weapons they would build anyway?
“Moscow and Beijing, analysts say, are testing space weapons that could knock out American military satellites at the beginning of a nuclear war. In response, Washington is launching space observation satellites meant to deter and help defeat such attacks.” NY Times. Where does this lead? How expensive will playing in this yard cost each and every one of us, in hard taxpayer dollars and risk of life? Can any nation afford to continue at this road, but if no one is willing to negotiate a reduction in weapons capacity, who cannot afford to play? And is this about nukes or weapon systems in general?
I’m Peter Dekom, and there’s much to be gained to the extent we all start talking and negotiating.

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