I see in an article in The Economist that Russia is, once again, pushing the boundaries of internationally acceptable strategic conduct. The issue is that on 25 November 2019 Russia launched a satellite, Kosmos 2542. Then “Eleven days after its launch it disgorged another satellite, labelled Kosmos 2543 … [and, later] … On July 15th, as it swung high over northern Europe, Kosmos 2543 itself spat out another object, which sped away at over 140 metres per second … [that’s over 300 miles per hour ~ while it is slower than. a jet fighter it is plenty fast enough to be an effective satellite killer] … Russia says that it was merely a “small space vehicle” to inspect other satellites. Nonsense, says America; it was a projectile. “What they’re doing is signalling to the world that they are able to destroy satellites in orbit with other satellites,” complained Christopher Ford, the State Department’s top arms-control official, on July 24th. “That is a very disturbing, provocative, dangerous and ill-advised thing for them to be doing.”“
The Economist points out, quite correctly, that “America has done its share of muscle-flexing in space. During the cold war, America and the Soviet Union developed a dizzying number of ways to blow up, ram, dazzle and even nuke enemy satellites. They conducted two-dozen anti-satellite tests between them, ten of which were kinetic—physically striking their targets—according to data collected by the Secure World Foundation (SWF), a non-profit group … [but] … That competition faded in the 1990s … as satellites became vital to civilian life and military operations … [and some other countries have tested kinetic energy space weapons while] … Several countries have also practised manoeuvering their satellites close to others, sometimes provocatively so. Lasers (which have also been tested) and cyber-attacks (for which it is hard to get information) allow cheaper and simpler means of disruption.“
Satellites and other space-based systems are absolutely key to successful strategic ballistic missile defence, which I continue to maintain is the gold-standard of national defence and, possibly, the only really critical strategic issue facing the Trudeau regime today.
If Russia can disable America’s strategic defence, the strategic equivalent of Ghengis Khan breaching the Great Wall of China 800 years ago, then everyone, including North Korea is a major threat to America’s power, in fact to its very survival.
But why is it OK if America, China and India test anti-satellite weapons but it’s not OK when Russia does it?
It was OK back in Cold War 1.0 because it was an important element of MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) and it was OK, too, when China and India, then “new” space-faring powers demonstrated that they, too, had anti-satellite capabilities. It is unnecessary in Cold War 2.0 because both America and China understand each other’s military capabilities and limitations. Both are testing operational and tactical capabilities in other domains ~ social, economic, even cultural and so on ~ because neither is interested in what each likely sees as a “lose-lose” or, at least a “no-win” hot war.
So why is Russia doing it?
- First, I think, to try to exercise what (limited) hard power it still has to be a disruptor: to try to keep various pots boiling while Putin looks for some slight advantage here or there which might be an opportunity for some Russian military adventure: perhaps Belarus is next in line for the Ukraine treatment; and
- Second, I suspect that Russia wants to enable North Korea to threaten all of East Asia and America and, in the process, drive some sort of wedge between China and North Korea ~ once again, Putin looking for an opportunity for some sort of operational level (sub-strategic) adventure.
And, in my opinion, those reasons make it dangerous. The Economist worries that “little by way of law or custom to check a space arms race. President Donald Trump said America would pursue “dominance in space” when he directed the Pentagon to establish a new military branch, the Space Force, two years ago. Other powers have made no such boast, but their actions speak for themselves … [and] … The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 bans weapons, bases and “military manoeuvres” on the moon (or other celestial bodies), and nukes in orbit, but not much else. Russia and China have long sought a new treaty that would ban all weapons in space. Both countries see it as an opportunity to prevent America from deploying space-based anti-missile systems which might threaten their own nuclear forces. America and its allies pooh-pooh this idea. They argue that a treaty would be impossible to verify—and therefore ripe for cheating—in part because, as Mr Ford puts it, “anything that can manoeuvre in space at all can function quite effectively as a ‘space weapon’.”“
I, personally, have little faith in treaties … we’ve seen, too often, how they are treated by autocrats. Both Hitler and Stalin gave us enough evidence of that. There is no reason to think that 21st-century autocrats are any different. President Trump, also, has little faith in the power of treaties and he wants to tear up any which, he feels, given even a momentary advantage to anyone except the USA.
The correct response to this latest bit of Russian adventurous opportunism is for the West (that part which accepts US leadership and those parts which don’t) including Australia, Britain, Canada, Europe ~ NATO and some EU members, too ~ India, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and so on, to join ~ actively and wholeheartedly ~ in both theatre (Europe is a “theatre” so is South-East Asia) and continental strategic missile defence projects. The aim is to show e.g. Iran, North Korea, Pakistan and Russia (and others) that a first-strike attack will fail and that it will be followed by a counter-attack which will obliterate nations and peoples.
Strategic defence is just that: defence; it is defence against a devastating, potentially crippling surprise attack. A sound strategic defence threatens no one … but it promises that a surprise first-strike attack will fail and it leaves would-be aggressors to ponder what the response might be.
Canada should be leading the Western charge to join in comprehensive strategic defence projects. It is the only smart thing to do … that means Canada, like the USA, needs a new government.