The Pentagon's Trojan Horse
by Geov Parrish
In These Times magazine, July 2001
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
"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 11 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
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
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. Lowertier 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
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
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 (www.space4peace.org), the Union of Concerned Scientists
(www.ucsusa.org), the Council for a Livable World (www.clw.org)
and the Center for Defense Information (www.cdi.org).