July - August 2008

P.O. Box 190, Mount Holly, Virginia 2252
Volume 38, Number 4, Jerry Strope, Editor

“It is now entirely reasonable to conjecture that Tehran will have nuclear-armed missiles before the United States is able to install a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.”

                                    Reuel Marc Gerecht, Weekly Standard, August 11, 2008

In this Edition

No More Nuclear Diplomacy? 
Dues are due
Is the Cold War Back?
Troubles with Pyongyang
Satellites and Seriousness


No More Nuclear Diplomacy?  

  Over the years, the months of July and August have been dull times for news with most governments nearly shut down while officials are off on summer vacations but not this year. Quite aside from the seemingly endless political campaigns, there has been one crisis after another that involve nuclear threats or problems.

  Consider the Iranian situation, for example. Things started off more or less quietly, at least through the July 4th holiday. The European governments—Britain,France and Germany—with quiet help from the US and Russia, had been putting together another bundle of carrots to entice Iran into suspending its uranium enrichment program. On July 2, a nameless high-level advisor to the Iranian clerical leadership pronounced the proposed offer “acceptable in principle.”

  A week later, Iran started tests and exercises in the Persian Gulf in which at least nine missiles were launched. On July 11, Iran proposed to talk about the new offer in Switzerland on July 19. A few days later, Tehran suggested that the agenda for the July 19 meeting should be to schedule future negotiations. No mention was made of suspending the uranium enrichment program.

   A US representative would not attend the July 19 meeting because it has been longtime policy of the Bush Administration not to negotiate unless Iran suspends the uranium enrichment operation. Secretary of State Rice has been against this restriction and apparently got her way, for it was announced that Undersecretary William Burns would attend. The meeting occurred as scheduled and the offer of the West was rejected. There would be no suspension of the Iranian uranium enrichment activity.                  

   “It’s official. The hawks no longer rule the Bush administration,” said Philip Sherwell in the London Telegraph. “The US claims that it hasn’t backtracked because Burns was just there to observe, not talk, but the distinction is academic.”

  The inclusion of an American at the talks was a huge “success for European diplomacy,” said Pierre Rousselin in France’s Le Figaro. As long as the US was boycotting the discussions, Iran could plausibly claim that the negotiations weren”t really serious. But now that the Bush administration has made such “an about-face,” Iran has the space to make concessions without losing face itself.

  Not true, said Hoseyn Shariatmadari in Iran’s Keyhan. Why should Iran concede anything now? The contest between the US and Iran has been “like a game of chicken,” with two cars hurtling toward each other on a single-lane road. The US was the one to swerve. The proof is now in: “America is a toothless lion that can do nothing but roar.” And Iran has been “right all along to insist on keeping its lawful nuclear program.” 

  Back in the US, Reuel Marc Gerecht in the Weekly Standard saw it this way: On July 30, Ali Khamenei demolished what is left of George W. Bush’s Iran policy. Ten days earlier the Americans, British, French, Germans, Russians, and Chinese had gathered in Geneva hoping to convince Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment. True to form, Khamenei told them all to stick it. The Islamic Republic will not cease and desist: “Taking one step back against the arrogant powers will lead them to take one step forward.” According to Gerecht, Iran is saying to the West: Drop dead. His most shocking conclusion is this issue’s “quotable quote.”

Is the Cold War Back?

 We have been negotiating missile defense facilities in Europe to defend against Iranian missiles for several years now with the preferred locations being in eastern Europe among what were “captive nations” in what was the Soviet Union. These negotiations have infuriated the Russian leadership who regard these “near abroad” nations as properly within their sphere of influence. We, on the other hand, may have chosen to emphasize to the Russians that these are no longer captive nations but are independent democracies, many now members of NATO. The agreement to place a missile defense radar in Czechoslovakia was signed in early July. The agreement with Poland to install interceptors there was scheduled for August. Then Russia invaded neighboring Georgia.

  Who started it all is a subject of disagreement but the dominant fact was that Russia was violating the integrity of Georgia’s sovereign borders. There has been an international uproar. France’s president Nicolas Sarkozy worked out a cease-fire agreement signed by both sides that called for Russian troops to return to positions held before the onslaught but without deadlines or penalties. For weeks Russian tanks have been trashing the defenceless Georgian countryside with little that France or the US could do. Neither Georgia nor neighboring Ukraine are members of NATO. Is a NATO-Russian ground war a good idea? Hardly. And, there are all those nukes on both sides that make a return to the Cold War or a hot one very dicey. We tend to forget about the nukes these days but most of them are still in their silos ready to fly. Here’s the latest count.


Worldwide Nuclear Weapons


                                                Early 1990s                Present                       2012


United States                              9,680                           3,575                  1700-2200            


Russia                                        10,996                           3,340                 1700-2200


Britain                                            260                              <160                     Similar


France                                            538                                348                     <300


China                                         100-200                             ~200        Building more


India                                              none                               50-60          Building more


Pakistan                                          none                               30-50      Likely to match India


Israel                                             100-200                          100-200              Similar


Iran                                                   none                                2 to 10 yrs from one


North Korea                            Possibly 1 or 2                       Up to 10          Give them up?


The above data is to be found in the March 29th edition of The Economist and is based on a variety of international sources. It can be seen that the US and Russia have been dutifully reducing their nuclear arsenals over the years as agreed upon by treaty but each still have over 3,000 warheads operational. It seems wise not to arouse these sleeping giants. None the less, the West cannot let Russia’s treatment of Georgia go unpunished. The day after the Russian tanks rolled, Poland and the US signed the missile defense treaty and leaders of the former captive nations as well as Secretary of State Rice showed up at the Georgian capital to demonstrate solidarity. The Georgian president, Mikhail Saakashvili, was distressed with the lack of more military support from the West. But NATO tanks versus Russian tanks was not to be. Punishment proposals ranged from kicking Russia off the G-8 financial summit to rolling back Russia’s application to join the World Trade Organization. There has been very little military bluster: just an obvious hardening of intent to deploy the missile defense system. Comments from Moscow also were subdued, In an interview, security expert Alexsei Arbatov said the reason the Foreign Ministry made vague threats was to send a message that if the US ever tries to expand the missile defense system and make it big enough to really threaten Russia’s deterrent capability, Russia will respond decisively. Maybe so but one would think we would understand this without messages.

Troubles with Pyongyang

  The road to denuclearization of the Korean peninsula seems to get bumpier as we approach the apparent end. The road really began back in 2006 after the North’s attempt to test a nuclear weapon. Prior to that time, the Bush administration had insisted on talking to the North only in the presence of the representatives of five nations. Changing course, American representatives began a series of secret one-to-one talks with the North. By February, 2007, the two sides had agreed on a step-by-step road map in which each would give up something in return for concessions from the other. The plan was taken to the 6-nation talks and agreed to.

  To date, one could argue that the balance of concessions was running in favor of Pyongyang.   The US  lifted financial sanctions, provided shipments of fuel oil, and dropped its objection to China and South Korea offering aid and assistance to the North. For its part, Pyongyang is in the process of disabling and destroying the Yongbyon reactor and associated facilities. At the end of June this year, they blew up the reactor cooling tower before TV cameras. They also have provided a figure for the quantity of plutonium said to have been produced in the reactor and a set of documents in support of this claim. However, having pledged to provide a complete and correct account of all its nuclear activities, the North refuses to account for its likely uranium enrichment program nor for its proliferation activities, such as its work on the Syrian reactor destroyed last September by the Israelis.

  On the first of July, China announced that it was planning a meeting of the six-nation talks, the first in nearly nine months. A dispatch from Beijing on July 8 confirmed July 10 as the meeting date. The agenda was to work out the procedures or protocol for verification of North Korea’s denuclearization actions. By July 14 particulars of the protocol were available. North korea agreed to allow inspection of their nuclear facilities, make available all documents and permit interviews of all involved personnel. When this was satisfactorily accomplished, the US would take the North off the list of supporters of terrorism. Pyongyang was eager to have this done as it would relieve it of many sanctions. There were media reports that Bush had approved the removal from the list but this was tied to the protocol, which Pyongyang had not yet signed. On August 12 the State Department confirmed that the North was still on the list of supporters of terrorism and would remain there until verification was accomplished. Pyongyang is furiously threatening to rebuild the half-gone reactor as we reach the Labor Day weekend. Who knows what comes next.      


Satellites and Seriousness

By Angelo M. Codevilla

Reprinted by permission from The American Spectator, April 2007

  Reactions to China’s January 11 test of a direct ascent anti-satellite weapon have not been commensurate with the prospect that the US military will have to fight the next war without assurance that its satellites will work. It is impossible to overstate our military’s dependence on satellites, or how little technology is required to destroy them. Acquiring our own anti-satellite weapons , while good in itself, can do precisely nothing to protect our own satellites. While defending satellites is more challenging than destroying them, the technology for doing it is very much in hand. Our foreign policy and defense establishment’s failure to take seriously the defense of our satellites is yet more evidence of its unseriousness.

  The New York Times and the left took China’s test as another occasion to call on the US to lead the way to a treaty banning all anti-satellite weapons. Such a treaty would be a narcotic that would render us insensible to two realities.

  First, it is impossible to define what an anti-satellite weapon is, because so many things can destroy satellites. The technology for the job was first proved in 1960, almost a half century ago, when the US performed the first orbital rendezvous. That means that any time anyone launches any satellite into orbit, he can put a bomb on it and program it to end up right next to any other satellite. That so-called “co-orbital ASAT” was a staple of the Soviet arsenal and continues in the Russian. Any of the dozen space-faring nations can prepare co-orbital attacks without being detected. “Direct ascent,” meaning sending a bomb-tipped missile to meet a satellite at some point in its orbit, requires a little more precision. But not much. The US did ASAT in the 1980s by launching “direct ascent” rockets from F-15 fighters. That was a wastefully hard way to do a simple job. Then there are ground-based lasers, which can place just enough energy on satellites passing overhead to overload their sensitive instruments. Such weapons have to wait until the earth’s rotation and the satellites’ orbit, and clear weather coincide. But they are easy to build. Even Saddam Hussein had one.

   So the first reality is that anyone who wants one can have an ASAT while calling it something else. The second, of course, is that even if a treaty could be written intelligently and detection and detection of violations were certain, the US establishment is as allergic as ever to the challenge posed by Fred Ikle’s 1961 Foreign Affairs article, “After Detection, What?” Its historic answer has been, “Sign another treaty.” Were we to follow the left’s advice, the next time America went to war with a space-faring nation our Armed Forces would find themselves without the service of the satellites on which they have come to rely.

  Let there be no doubt: For the US Armed Forces, satellites are not just nice to have. Nor do they just make the difference between victory and defeat. No. They make the difference between being able to operate and not being able to operate. Take one example. Only a short generation ago (when yours truly was in uniform), all naval officers and some enlisted men were trained to fix ships’ positions by the sun and the stars, and to plot courses with parallel rulers  and slide rules. Nowadays, they do these essential tasks ever so much better with the help of Global Positioning satellites. But they would not know what to do with the old tools, if they had them. Take away GPS, and they are up the proverbial creek.

   Almost the same goes for ground and air forces. Nowadays, their instruments, fed by satellite data, allow them to hit their targets by shooting just a few rounds or missiles. Once upon a time, before satellite data made everything accurate, many more planes and tanks would have had to shoot much more than that. But today’s forces are not as numerous as yesterday’s and don’t have as much ammunition as yesterday’s. Take away the satellites, and their weapons and tactics make no sense. That is why anyone who cares for the lives of Americans in uniform, never mind their success, has no choice but to care a lot about our satellites.

  Rightly but insufficiently, the Wall Street Journal and the right reacted to China’s reminder of the reality of ASAT weapons by insisting that America get its own. Sure, because China among others has its own network of orbital eyes and ears, which its military would rather not lose, there is every reason for the US to shut them down in case of war. But because America is more dependent on satellites than any other country, any enemy is sure to gain far more from destroying our satellites than we are from destroying his. That is why any serious enemy will attack our satellites and why any serious American must want to defend them.

  In the past, such defense of satellites as we have had has been wholly passive. Because satellites are inherently fragile, we have toughened their skins a bit, secured their electronic links, and in some cases provided things analogous to circuit breakers to guard against weak ground-based lasers. Because orbital locations are predictable, we have made a few of our satellites more difficult to detect through stealth technology. But we can no more make them invisible than we can make tanks out of them. Hence defense must be active: Something has to shoot down whatever is shot at them.

  Theoretically, there are two ways of doing this. But providing each satellite with an armed escort (or endowing each with the capacity to shoot at whatever comes too close) is impractical. The sole practical way of enforcing “keep out zones” around satellites analogous to the safety zones that warships secure for themselves is to place the equivalent of guard stations into the several orbital planes that our satellites occupy, in sufficient numbers and with sufficient range, to control access to the satellites in those orbits.

   Fortunately, we do not have to invent such things. The pieces have existed for some two decades, and a working system that embodies them (though configured for a different purpose) exists at White Sands proving ground, New Mexico. It is called Theater High Energy Laser (THEL), being reworked and renamed SKYGUARD for deployment in Israel to shoot down Katyusha rockets. The laser shines megawatts of infra-red light through a rapidly retargetable beam director. It’s quite a sight. What you would not know, unless you asked, is that this ground-based device is really an adaptation of a much simpler one originally designed for use in orbital space. Indeed, THEL’s biggest part, the laser’s vacuum exhaust, is there to simulate the outer space conditions for which it was designed and in which it works best. Originally designed in the early 1980s and perfected in the 1990s, this device was intended to shoot down ballistic missiles just as they are rising out of the atmosphere. Only after politics thwarted using it for this purpose did the Space Based Laser (SBL) add the complexities that made it into THEL, able to operate on the ground. Hence reconfiguring a version of THEL for use in space is not a technical challenge.

     Arguments about how effective the SBL would be against missiles revolved around how tough, how resistant, the missiles might or might not be. But there was never any argument about what a megawatt-class laser firing from space, through space, would do to a satellite target, or to the terminal guidance system of anything aiming for a satellite. In short, it was and is beyond dispute that the SBL is the gold standard of weapons for controlling outer space. Simply, there is no alternative to the SBL for safeguarding US satellites.

  Satellites are widely separated in certain orbital planes. But their relationship with one another is entirely predictable. Hence it is possible to know precisely which satellites will be in any sector of space at any given time. Knowing how much power our SBLs generate, it becomes straightforward to calculate how large a sector of space any one of them could control, and to program into each what object it may be in charge of guarding at any given time. Enforcing “keep out zones” around things that belong to us is not a problem in international law. It is worth noting, however, that SBLs would also give any country that possessed them the option of allowing or disallowing any country’s launch of any given object into space 

  Any other possible uses of SBLs notwithstanding, the fact remains that active defense of satellites is a touchstone of military seriousness. Any claimant to seriousness who might oppose building SBLs for satellite defense had better come up with a good alternative. Quick.

Reprinted by permission from The American Spectator, April 2007

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