Missiles for the new ice age

Posted in Defence Defense by Deputy city editor on June 5, 2007

Saskatchewan antimissile system – does Bush’s work better?

Laurent Zecchini, defence correspondent of Le Monde on special assignment, produces an extraordinary report June 5. (Le Monde is available by subscription so sadly this link will soon expire.)

Reporting from Alaska and Washington, he has teased out some intriguing nuances on the state of American missile defence and the role that Europe is expected to play (and pay) in it.

As a scene setter for a new cold war, Zecchini’s piece is chilling enough, starting in the silos at Fort Greely, Alaska, a community of some 1,200 souls which by 2009 will house some 40 “hit to kill” missiles manufactured by Boeing, designed according to the official line to shoot down and deter the threat of missiles fired from rogue states (Iran and North Korea being in the forefront of American minds – although Pakistan may now not be far behind, if it is at all).

After smelling the metal in Alaska, Zecchini lands an intriguing interview in Washington with the “patron” of the Missile Defense Agency, General Henry Obering.

What follows is my own translation of one of many beefy passages in Zecchini’s story, when Obering first recites the official mantra that the sites in the Czech Republic and Poland are needed to intercept potential Iranian missles but then becomes more nuanced.

“Technically, it’s true we could destroy these Iranian missiles with our interceptors in Alaska, in the middle of the north Atlantic. But what we couldn’t do is protect our troops based in Europe, or those of our allies and European friends.”

So the Americans do not need missiles in Europe to protect themselves from the Mullahs. Their hit and kill missiles in Aaska would be just as good.

What we are being told is: these missiles are for European defence. Which raises an interesting question. Who is expected to pay for them? European taxpayers, obviously. What we have here, though nobody dares say it, is a giant defence procurement boondoggle, to feed the insatiable maw of the defence contractors. European missile defence is going to be big bucks for somebody.

Le Monde’s man posits that what is evolving here is a global antimissile network with sites in Alaska (Fort Greely), Colorado (the “Mountain,” headquarters of North American Air Defence Command), Poland, the Czech Republic, Norway (Vardo), Greenland (Thule) and the United Kingdom (Fylingdales). This would be integrated with the Aegis, already supplied to Japan for its own defence against North Korea (and possibly China though one must not say so) plus of course all the early warning systems such as the satellites with the launch detectors and the computer networks that are supposed to produce the famous hit to kill, when the time comes.General Obering, says Zecchini, denies this although without much enthusiam. (One might expect Israel with its own antimissile systems to be involved in this somehow, too.)

“It’s not a project to defend the entire world, we couldn’t afford that. The missile defence is just one element of deterrence. It is not a global pax Americana but simply a network of countries concerned by the proliferation of ballistic missiles.”

It can be understand why Putin is annoyed and why this project would appear provocative. How is he to know how far this network would grow? If it becomes large enough it could potentially degrade the capabilities of Russia’s existing missile systems, which under any level-headed analysis is a loss of deterrance for the Russians. Nobody should be surprised that they are prickly and threatening to deploy new theatre nuclear weapons.

In the end, though, I think the question is a matter of business more than global strategy, which is merely the figleaf to cover an orgy of spending that will keep rogue corporations fat and happy for ever – or at least until one of their costly toys goes wrong and blows up the world.

At Boeing and the other contractors and subcontractors, antimissile defence is like Christmas every day. As Werner von Braun might have said: “Who cares whether the missiles shoot down other missiles or not. Send money quick.”


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