The Pentagon's Trojan Horse - It's Theatre Missile Defense

July 23rd 2001

By Geov Parrish, In These Times

For months the Pentagon's space warriors and the White House's space cadets have publicly fantasized about scrapping the world's arms control structure and hurtling forward with National Missile Defense (NMD): a costly, perhaps technically impossible system intended to protect the United States from attack by a long-range missile threat that--with the exception of about 20 warheads in China--doesn't exist.

"Missile defense doesn't make any sense, and everybody realizes that," says retired Rear Adm. Eugene J. Carroll of the Center for Defense Information. "The least likely threat we face is some third-rate nation developing an ICBM and launching it at the United States knowing they will get back 50 times what they send. There are all kinds of ways that are cheaper and more reliable -- smuggling in a suitcase bomb, for example--to inflict harm and not be subject to instantaneous retaliation."

The idea of hitting incoming missiles with outgoing missiles as some sort of "shield" has been around as a Pentagon concept for at least four decades. And Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr., Bill Clinton and Congress, under both parties, have steadily funded--at least $60 billion since the budget-busting "Star Wars" delusions of the '80s--the often futile research. Now, George II and his merry band of Strangelovian pranksters are pushing funding for the next generation of research (and, eventually, at least another $200 billion) by citing the missile threat of "rogue states" like North Korea or Iran and trying to develop China as a new Cold War enemy. The Bush administration is likely to get at least some of what they want. Activists have followed the noise, bracing themselves for a looming congressional battle.

But on another, perhaps more dangerous front, there's almost no vocal opposition. Theater Missile Defense (TMD) is the quiet sibling of NMD. In last year's budget, Pentagon funding for the two was about equally divided. The Clinton administration already cut a deal with Russia to create exceptions to the ABM treaty to accommodate TMD, so research is further along. And leading Democrats who have expressed reservations about NMD, like new Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden (D-Delaware), want to proceed full speed ahead on TMD.

TMD is more politically achievable and technically feasible, and, because it is to be deployed on land, sea, air and space around the world, much more immediately threatening to allies and potential enemies alike. When Europe, China, Russia and the rest of the world have sent up howls about the Bush administration's ballistic missile plans, TMD is what frightens them the most.

Defining the difference between NMD and TMD systems has been bugging military and arms control planners for years because while the stated intent differs, technically there isn't much difference at all. Essentially, while NMD is designed to protect the U.S. mainland from long-range missile attack, TMD is designed to protect U.S. troop deployments, bases and allies against short- and medium-range missile attacks--the kind of missiles that rogue states already have and can deploy. A 1997 ABM protocol agreement between Clinton and Boris Yeltsin defined the differences, for the purposes of arms control treaties, in two ways: by limiting a TMD system's geographic size, and by limiting the height, trajectory and speed with which missile interceptors can travel (and hence, the distance it can cover).

Like NMD, the Pentagon plans to deploy TMD facilities from as many platforms as possible: fixed sites, trucks, ships, submarines, planes and satellites. But TMD is far more flexible. If the NMD, for example, is designed to counter the North Korean threat of a long-range missile, it can't respond to a similar threat from a different country, or a different threat from the same country. Even if NMD can be made to work, it's as inflexible as it is expensive; this is why, as French President Jacques Chirac recently noted, the sword always defeats the shield. Chirac, unlike Dubya, remembers the Maginot Line.

TMD has a number of components; together, they could be deployed in Japan, for example, to protect U.S. bases from North Korea; or they could be deployed more provocatively to encircle China with platforms in Japan, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, Australia and at sea. But no single system can perform multiple duties. That's why the natural evolution for TMD systems--especially if the United States ignores the ABM treaty--is to bundle them.

The 1997 Clinton-Yeltsin agreement prohibited this, but China, Russia and Europe reason that if the Bushites intend to develop NMD anyway, they could just as easily develop TMD as a global system, intended to attack the types of cheaper, more plentiful missiles that most countries rely upon. If TMD systems around the globe are managed using a shared tracking and coordination system, the Pentagon suddenly would have a global system designed not just to protect the U.S. mainland, but as a forward, much more immediate network that could impose American will anywhere on the planet.

TMD relies upon a number of different weapons systems, one of which is already in operation (the Patriot PAC-2, a successor to the missiles deployed with such famous inaccuracy during the Gulf War). The rest are under development. They can be divided into two types: those that target
missiles in the early "boost phase," and those that target missiles in later stages.

The later-stage systems also have two types of components, lower-tier and upper-tier. These are meant to be a layered approach to defend in the lower or upper atmosphere, and vary in their trajectory, speed and potential distance. Lower-tier TMD systems include the truck-mounted, short-range (600 km) Patriot PAC-2; the PAC-3, with a longer range (1,500 km) and wider area under its "shield" (40 to 50 km); the MEADS (Medium-range Extended Air Defense System); and the Navy Area Defense, a chance for another service to get in on the funding with a short-range, ship-based system capable of shielding 50 to 100 km.

Then there are the upper-tier, high-altitude TMD systems. THAAD (Theater High Altitude Area Defense), whose spectacular test failures predated those of NMD last year, is ground-based but transportable by aircraft. It includes short and medium-range missiles with a range of up to 3,500 km, and an umbrella of a few hundred kilometers. The ship-based equivalent, with a similar range but larger shield, is the Navy Theater Wide: It can only intercept very high missiles, at an altitude above 80 to 100 km. A second generation, Navy Theater Wide Block II, is planned for after 2010. Each upper-tier system would have a larger defended area if a satellite-based missile tracking system now being developed is deployed. Unlike THAAD, which was exempted in the Clinton/Yeltsin agreement, Navy Theater Wide is being developed in violation of the ABM treaty.

All of these systems propose to use technology similar to NMD. But TMD, with its more immediate global reach, gets the Pentagon closer to where it really wants to go: space.

The U.S. Space Command's "Vision for 2020" pulls no punches about the intent or purpose of what the Pentagon is developing: "Dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect U.S. interests and investment." The Airborne Laser (ABL) system, a "boost phase" component of TMD, is envisioned as a high-altitude laser. Its technology dovetails with another project approved last December by the Department of Defense: the Space-Based Laser. Both eventually will be able not only to intercept missiles, but to attack fixed targets anywhere. A second space-based laser, the Alpha High-Energy Laser, is already under development and in testing.

These are the highest expressions of Theater Missile Defense, and their clear intent is to control the world. As Sen. Bob Smith (R-New Hampshire) says: "It is our manifest destiny [to control space]. You know we went from the East Coast to the West Coast of the United States of America settling the continent and they call that manifest destiny, and the next continent, if you will, the next frontier, is space and it goes on forever."

The Pentagon's focus is not on the vision sold to the public of protecting the country with NMD from attack by weapons that don't exist, from dictators who won't live long enough or ever have enough money to develop them. Instead, its goal is to enforce American preferences and provide military protection for the U.S. economic regime (i.e., to "protect U.S. interests and investment"). Institutions like the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund and World Bank, as well as pacts like NAFTA and the FTAA, are intended to enforce transnational corporate desires for economic and political policies; the Pentagon is planning to ensure that nobody, anywhere, steps out of line.

Beyond the ABM treaty, the United States plans, with much less domestic opposition, to run roughshod over another, even more basic pact: the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, the fundamental international agreement on the use of space. On November 20, 2000, the U.N. General Assembly, in a resolution titled "Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space," reiterated that 1967
pact; 163 countries supported the resolution, and only three--the United States, Israel and Micronesia--abstained. "Our affiliates in Japan, South Korea and the Middle East understand the implications [of TMD], because that's where the United States wants to deploy it first," says Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space. "Developing NMD is a Trojan horse for the real Star Wars that's coming down the road."

Gagnon sees TMD, not NMD, as the route to this apocalyptic long-term vision. "[Support of TMD] seems to be endemic within the Democratic Party," he adds. "They're against NMD deployment, but they think [TMD] deployment is the way to go to protect our troops and ships, when in fact it's very much part of the U.S. first-strike policy in places like the Pacific."

And because Democrats like Biden enthusiastically support TMD under the guise of protecting U.S. troops aboard, Gagnon charges, even peace groups like Project Abolition, Peace Action and the Council for a Livable World--all of which oppose Bush on NMD--are refusing to take a stand against TMD or the R&D efforts that Gagnon predicts eventually will make some sort of space-based system inevitable.

At the conclusion of George W. Bush's tense trip to Europe in June, the United States was handed a completely predictable threat from Russian President Vladimir Putin: If the United States persists in planning to violate international ballistic missile agreements, so will Russia. One of the biggest criticisms leveled at NMD is that it will trigger a new, global arms race. That criticism has had an impact on congressional consideration of NMD, as has the price tag and the succession of favorably rigged but still disastrous test results.

Yet none of those problems seem to be slowing down the funding for research, development and deployment of TMD. In an interview after Bush's Europe trip, Biden was explicit on this point: "No one is saying don't spend the money on the research. No one is saying don't continue down this road."

Would any of it work? Who knows? TMD might not intercept missiles very well, but it will unquestionably succeed in enraging the world and enriching military contractors. The smoke you smell is a combination of your tax dollars being burned, and the torches of 6 billion angry people marching up the hill toward our castle.

For more information on Theater Missile Defense, visit the Web sites of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space (, the Union of Concerned Scientists (, the Council for a Livable World ( and the Center for Defense Information (


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