Trump’s Space Force: Nuclear Lunacy

Yves here. I’m old enough to remember Reagan’s much-touted “Star Wars” program. In this Real News Network segment, Daniel Ellsberg explains why Trump’s effort to revive Reagan’s failed idea still won’t work. Not only is it another pork program, but it would actually increase the odds of nuclear war.

PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.

Behind me is a graphic from a soon-to-be coming to your TV set Netflix series called Space Force. It’s a parody of what Donald Trump has proposed, to have a special unit of the armed forces that will be in space and firing weapons, and sensors, and supposedly defend America from missile attacks. It would all be rather funny and deserves a parody, if it wasn’t such dangerous lunacy.

Ronald Reagan first proposed a space wars scheme in the 1980s. Here’s a clip from Reagan in 1983.

RONALD REAGAN: Let me share with you a vision of the future which offers hope. It is that we embark on a program to counter the awesome Soviet missile threat with measures that are defensive. What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant U.S. retaliation to deter a Soviet attack? That we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil, and that of our allies?

PAUL JAY: Well, Reagan’s version of Space Force, Star Wars, never actually took place. It cost way too much money. It was clearly not going to work. The technology wasn’t there to be effective. And it was also really the beginnings of an American posturing to create a first strike capability without the possibility of a retaliatory second strike, because if Soviet missiles were coming towards the United States, they’d be shot down before they ever reached the United States at all. Sounds very defensive. Really it was offensive, but it never worked, anyway.

Well, Donald Trump is now reviving the Reagan-esque vision of Star Wars, and on Wednesday at the Pentagon, here’s what Donald Trump said.

DONALD TRUMP: The U.S. will now adjust its posture to also defend against any missile strikes, including cruise and hypersonic missiles. And we are, by the way, very advanced also on hypersonic technology and missiles. Our review calls for 20 new ground-based interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska, and new radars and sensors to immediately detect foreign missiles launched against our great nation. We have some very bad players out there, and we’re a good player, but we can be far worse than anybody if need be. I’ve always known, and I’ve watched and I’ve seen, the stronger you are, the less you will need, whatever that strength may be.

PAUL JAY: I did a series of interviews with Lester Earnest. You can find it on our website. Lester worked with the SAGE radar system in the late 1950s at MIT. The SAGE system was supposed to be a system that could detect any Soviet bombing coming towards the United States, and direct other fighters and missiles, Bomarc missiles, to knock these airplanes out of the air before they could blow up the United States. The whole thing, according to Lester Earnest, was a scam. The SAGE radar system never worked. They didn’t have any ability to deal with the radar jamming devices that were on all the bombers. And everybody in the program knew it was a scam. And it went on for 25 years and cost, in today’s dollars, more than a trillion dollars.

And in an Air Force study that took place a few decades later—I’m sorry, I’m doing this by memory, but I believe it was in the 1970s—the Air Force concluded exactly what Lester Earnest said, that this whole system, SAGE radar system, it’s the kind of thing you see in the Dr. Strangelove movie, where you’ve got the big board, and you can see every plane coming in, and where everything is. The whole thing, even according to the Air Force commission study, was a system that never would have worked, and cost a fortune for nothing.

There’s a long history of the supposed defense systems that make a fortune for the arms manufacturers, and we can put this graphic up. When Donald Trump went on Wednesday to the Pentagon to announce his version of Star Wars, the Space Force, Raytheon stock went up almost three points, practically before his speech was over. This whole thing has been a moneymaking operation. And it would be worth a Netflix parody, and it would be a joke, if it wasn’t so dangerous, and such lunacy.

I did a recent interview with Daniel Ellsberg, and Daniel talks about exactly this idea, that there’s actually defense; that you could have nuclear war, and somehow the United States could be safe, which is what Trump is promising. And the whole thing is a simple, as far as I can make out, a complete con. And this is another way to spend tons of money to the Raytheons of this world, and give people the idea that somehow there’s a way to conduct nuclear war and still protect American lives.

You’ll see in this clip we’re going to play from the Ellsberg interview that not only is this thing nuts that you can stop ICBMs, missiles, from coming, and certainly you can’t stop hypersonic missiles from coming, but that most of the missiles that would really be effective are coming from submarines, anyway. And even Space Force, from what we know, is not going to be able to deal with submarine-based missiles.

So the whole thing’s a crock. But most importantly, it only takes a first strike, an American strike—or a Russian strike this way, but in most likelihood an American strike—to end life as we know it on earth because of nuclear winter. And Ellsberg talks about this in this clip.

So we’re going to play—for those that followed the Ellsberg series, this is Part 12 of 13, and I really encourage everyone to watch this series. Go find Ellsberg’s book. It’s called Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, which is what Ellsberg was. He was working for the Rand Corporation. And he was actually at the highest levels, planning the American nuclear strategy, which really, he came to understand, was a first strike capability. That’s really what it was always about. It was never defensive posturing. And mostly to be used to blackmail, threaten other countries. And making America great again means put a lot more money into the military-industrial complex, and to make the threat of first strike even more doable.

So here’s Episode 12 of my Reality Asserts Itself series interview with Daniel Ellsberg.

PAUL JAY: In his book Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, Daniel Ellsberg ends with some recommendations. Here’s what he writes. He proposes that the United States, first of all, commit to a no first use policy for nuclear weapons. Two, probing investigative hearings on our war plans, especially in the light of nuclear winter. Three, eliminating ICBMs, intercontinental—eliminating our intercontinental ballistic missiles. Next, forgoing delusions of preemptive damage limiting by our first strike forces. Giving up the profits, jobs, and alliance hegemony based on maintaining that pretense. Otherwise dismantling the American doomsday machine. Both parties, as currently constituted, oppose every one of these measures. This mortal predicament did not begin with Donald J. Trump, and it will not end with his departure. The obstacles to achieving these necessary changes are posed not so much by the majority of the American public, though many in recent years have shown dismaying manipulability, but by officials and elites in both parties and major institutions that consciously support militarism, American hegemony, and arms production and sales.

PAUL JAY: These proposals, let’s go through them sort of one by one. But I want to start with the issue of nuclear winter. You call for congressional hearings into the issue of nuclear winter. When you look at the Pentagon and what they’re planning, a new nuclear bomb called the B61-12, which is supposed to be like all kinds of different nuclear bombs all wrapped into one, from exploding on high to actually burrowing into the earth and exploding in the earth. Both Russia and the United States and China developing hypersonic weapons, airplanes that are supposed to be able to evade all forms of defense systems. Both the United States, Russia, and China for that matter, but particularly the United States, which apparently is going to spend what, a trillion dollars over the next 30 years, much of it in the next 10 years. They’re—all the major powers, and particularly the United States, are not acting like they believe nuclear winter is real. How controversial is it, and what makes you believe it is real? And why is there a need for congressional hearings?

DANIEL ELLSBERG: Their ignoring the reality of nuclear winter has nothing to do with raising doubts about it. Actually, none of these countries have actually presented studies or done studies that would even raise doubts about it. They just ignore it. And they do that because it’s in their interest, to the extent that it’s in their interest to build these weapons, which in the light of nuclear winter serve no military purpose or national security purpose, whatever. So they, there have in fact never been hearings on the actual effects, even aside from smoke, of our nuclear attack options, or the difference that any of them might make.

The big point about nuclear winter, by the way, is on the one hand that it kills nearly everyone, instead of nearly everyone in the Northern Hemisphere only. But is that a real moral difference? To initiate the hemispheric massacre raises all the same moral issues as killing nearly everybody. The difference that it makes is that it means that going first makes absolutely no difference whatever from going second. And yet all of these countries, in particular the U.S. and Russia, I should say, have built their systems on the presumption that it is, however bad it is to go first, they don’t have to, they don’t have to pretend that would be costless. But it’s better than going second. Actually, it isn’t. Plausible as that is. Yes, our ICBMs, for example, could destroy many or most of Soviet ICBMs; fixed, vulnerable missiles like that. Isn’t that good, to do away without those? No, because the Soviet submarines that we can’t target with our intercontinental ballistic missiles, even if we do diminish them through anti-submarine warfare, we’ll still have more than enough missiles on our cities to destroy our society and actually to cause nuclear winter.

So it doesn’t make any difference. All that’s involved is, as I say, the jobs, profits, donations—on both sides, by the way, political influence. And the pretense with our allies, our allies in particular, that we still stand as their protector against a more or less nonexistent threat from Russia now, or in the past the Soviet Union. But again, an illusory one in the sense that it depends on a promise, an assurance, and a readiness to initiate omnicide in the event that they are attacked.

PAUL JAY: And from an American’s point of view, even if there is no nuclear winter, the United States is gone, and the United States is in the Northern Hemisphere.

DANIEL ELLSBERG: Yes. That’s right. Doesn’t make that—it doesn’t actually make that difference to what happens in America. Although most of our weapons, like the B61-12 and so forth, are all directed toward, in principle, in theory, reducing the number of weapons they can send, and thus, in theory, reducing damage to the United States. It won’t. Even without smoke, the Soviet submarine missiles will destroy the United States.

PAUL JAY: And the doctrine previously, and hard to believe it isn’t still the doctrine, that if a war broke out with Russia, the United States also goes after China. There’s no way the Americans are going to let-

DANIEL ELLSBERG: I don’t know if that’s still necessarily the truth.

PAUL JAY: But isn’t it hard to imagine the United States-

DANIEL ELLSBERG: I think China has every reason to worry that we do not plan to leave them as the sole surviving superpower.

PAUL JAY: They’re not going to let China left standing, and Russia and the United States taking each other out.

DANIEL ELLSBERG: Yeah. Why not? Well … not. Just not. You could say won’t you need, won’t we need help? Well, really, they won’t be much help from anybody. What is the use of destroying everybody? What’s the use of destroying the Russian culture, ability to reconstruct, whatever? No use, but … maybe it’ll deter them.

PAUL JAY: We know there’s a very strong presence of evangelical Christianity in the armed forces. And in fact, we’ve done stories on this, that the evangelical movement is actually helped, nurtured, promoted at many levels of the senior military command. Is there a kind of taste for the apocalypse in some of this nuclear war planning?

DANIEL ELLSBERG: I can’t really judge that, but I have known for a long time that—for example, President Reagan was very influenced by evangelical thinking. Possibly—well, Jimmy Carter was a born again Baptist. Harry Truman, and I don’t think anyone has ever made the point, that the President Harry Truman, who on the prospect of nuclear weapons wrote in his diary, writing in 1945, this may be the fire prophesied in Ezekiel. And some historians, like my friend Peter Kuznick, have interpreted this to mean that he realized what an earth-shattering, horrific development this was. But remember, he talked about it at the same time, both in his diary and in public, this may be the most terrible or the most wonderful thing that ever happened. He thought it was very good that it was given to our hands.

But I think nobody looked back, from what we now know of the significance of the, not just all born again, but a major fraction of the fundamentalist evangelical thinking in this country which points toward Armageddon as a necessary prerequisite to the rule of the Messiah on earth for a thousand years. Is it possible that Harry Truman foresaw that as an inevitable, and perhaps desirable, event? That would seem absurd, except in the context of this, where the Left Behind series on the effects of the Rapture and the [Messiah] and so forth have actually sold more than 60 million copies. [In the world agree] many people believe that.

PAUL JAY: And the current-

DANIEL ELLSBERG: It’s not reassuring to know that many of our military leaders also may look on nuclear Armageddon, as prophesied in the Bible, as a terrible but necessary development toward messianic rule.

PAUL JAY: And the current vice president, Mike Pence, is apparently quite a serious evangelical.

DANIEL ELLSBERG: Pence is very likely, very likely in that-

PAUL JAY: And who knows, the way things are going in DC right now, might be a president before 2020.

DANIEL ELLSBERG: Yeah. But I must say, here we have an outlook that’s far out of my own experience, and I’m really speculating about it.

PAUL JAY: The issue of nuclear winter is controversial. There are some studies that have shown that it won’t be as serious as the people who say it will happen to say. But there’s never been a serious-

DANIEL ELLSBERG: You can’t really say ‘some.’ Very few. I’m told—and I believe this is true—by Alan Robock and Brian Toon now, who are major environmental scientists now, that there is now, as of the last ten years, not 30 years ago, virtually as much consensus about the effects of this soot in the stratosphere as there is about climate change. And the doubters of that are as few and far between.

My understanding, by the way, is the main uncertainty that does remain is how much of this soot that ends—smoke, and toxic—the black material that is generated by these firestorms will actually reach the stratosphere. My understanding is there’s very little controversy at all about the effects of the calculations of 150 million tons of smoke in the stratosphere that has been made. The question, in the absence, of course, of any adequate experimental verification of this, and hopefully there will remain an absence of adequate experimental verification, is how much of the smoke will reach the stratosphere. And there is some uncertainty about that.

PAUL JAY: The other one of your proposals, that the United States should declare it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons. Why does the United States not want to say that?

DANIEL ELLSBERG: On the one hand, we have allies who believe that—like Japan, and others—who believe that this adds to some extent to deterrence of any war, any armed conflict involving them with, for example, China. The assurance that the U.S. would defend our allies not only with conventional forces, in which we’re by far the preeminent force the world has ever seen, in fact, but with nuclear weapons as well; by initiating nuclear weapons, as we always promised to do with NATO.

Now, it may well add somewhat to their deterrence. But as I say, at the cost of rationalizing and supporting a structure that has a genuine risk of destroying most life on earth. Is that necessary, either to their defense or our national security? No. I would say not. That’s my opinion. But that hasn’t really been addressed very strongly as to whether they really need that, as opposed to whether it serves current structures of power, and alliance, and hegemony, and so forth.

Unless it’s necessary, it’s wrong. It’s terribly wrong. And it hasn’t ever really been necessary. Was it necessary to build a doomsday machine, or let’s just say a hemisphere-destroying system? No. That was never necessary. But it was useful, profitable, helped the Air Force, helped R&D.

Let me make a general point that applies to all of these preparations. President Reagan said, and got President Gorbachev easily to agree, he did agree, nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. What he didn’t say was it has never been threatened—or I should put it differently. What he didn’t say was it must not be threatened, or prepared for, or risked. In fact, at the very moment that he said that, and throughout his term, was in the largest buildup, the only one comparable being that under John F. Kennedy, actually, when I was still working as a consultant. But President Reagan’s buildup was then the largest. We’re now in the midst of a third huge buildup. And he continued that, despite saying that the war must never be fought. He was preparing to fight it.

The reason for that, I think, is that each president has wanted to be able to threaten nuclear war, however mad it might be to carry out the threat. He did not think it was mad to make the threat. It was useful to us in a number of ways, or he thought it might be. And even if he didn’t personally think it was useful, he thought it would be politically damaging for him to give that up; to say we would not initiate. It would have made him vulnerable to a domestic rival, to complaints with allies. And that’s still true. President Obama wanted, as early as 2010 and then in reviews in 2016, and then in his–‘13, and then in his last year in office, 2016, he pressed quite strongly for the Defense Department to be willing to enunciate no first use. Sole use is to deter a nuclear attack. We will not initiate or threaten to initiate nuclear war under any circumstances.

He received kickback from the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy, which makes the weapons, and the Department of State, Kerry, who responded to some allies, we don’t have time in our last year to bring them around, realize that they don’t need this, and it’s better for the world not to have it. So we gave that up, along with giving up ICBMs.

Now, ICBMs have been essentially obsolete for over half a century. Since submarine-launched weapons became available on both sides, which can’t be targeted by the other side’s ICBMs, and which can, in fact, destroy entire target systems, entire societies by themselves, the ICBMs have been nothing other than a hair trigger, a lightning rod for attack if the other side fears that war is coming. Getting rid of them has always been the right thing to do, for 50 years. Secretary of Defense Perry, under Clinton, recommended, or wanted, to get rid of ICBMs. I should say he now is being very public as an ex-defense secretary that we should get rid of our ICBMs. So has General Cartwright, the former commander of Strategic Command, the successor to Strategic Air Command, SAC.

Cartwright and Perry have both called for no first use. So the idea that these aren’t sound military ideas is unfounded, and yet they persist. I come back to my earlier point. No president has really wanted—I didn’t say this, but I’ll say it. No president has really wanted a nuclear war. There have been a few individuals that thought that was a good solution to the contest with communism. No president has thought that. But every president wanted to threaten it and prepare for it. And the preparation, in part, is not only to support the threats, although it is in part that. And not only for alliance reasons. The preparation is very profitable. And that means that campaign donations flow to the candidate who is for spending such weapons as now, and more significantly, flow away from him if he should depart from it. He or she should depart from that.

So really no president, and no candidate, including Hillary Clinton, for example, has really proposed conversion, in a large sense. George McGovern, actually, fatefully did call for let’s come home, America. Let’s declare peace somehow. As radical a notion as having a peace treaty with North Korea; after over 50 years, and we don’t have a peace treaty. Let’s come home and declare peace on the world, and devote these resources—not totally disarm, but simply stop trying to pretend to run the world, or trying to run the world, and convert those resources that we now spend, our largest industry if you look at the Defense Department and Energy altogether, to peaceful uses of various kinds. Health, education, infrastructure, solar energy, renewable energy, the various kinds.

Boeing and Lockheed, if we could find a way to convert them, would perhaps change their political influence on this—I think that may be what’s required. But just to say that is to show how difficult the job is.

PAUL JAY: Please join us for the next part of our series with Daniel Ellsberg on Reality Asserts Itself.

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    Its interesting that in that great article linked yesterday by Seymour Hersh in the London Review of Books it strongly suggested that the original Star Wars project under Reagan was never serious – it was largely a ruse designed to flush out Soviet sleeper agents (something apparently Reagan was unaware of, but Bush knew). It does make sense (and I think its probably true that a lot of major military projects have that intention).

    But it would be ironic if the idea then takes on a life of its own and becomes a real life very dangerous self licking ice-cream under Trump. The Industrial Military Intelligence Complex really has become that insane.

    1. BillC

      MIC insanity indeed!

      At the beginning of my IT career in the early ’70s, I worked for a few years on the Safeguard ABM system, which was eventually bargained away in SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks). We were a small California-based technology consultancy who got a DOD contract for V&V (verification and validation) of the tactical software written by Bell Labs that would run ABM engagements. Despite being produced by arguably the best-qualified large software development organization then existing, we found errors that would have seriously compromised the effectiveness of Safeguard’s claimed defensive shield. We surely did not find all the errors, nor could we have done so had the project continued to full deployment.

      Bottom line: an extremely rewarding credentialed-class welfare program that still pays off 45 years later thanks to strong stock appreciation and ongoing dividends of the descendant companies of my then-employer that have become, inter alia, two large, well-entrenched MIC beltway bandits … but Safeguard would never have come close to delivering its objective: highly-reliable destruction of large numbers of enemy nuclear warheads.

      I see no reason to believe that a new ABM system, with all the limitations noted in this interview — not to mention the improbability of correct operation of complex software that would run only once in a “production” environment likely to differ significantly from any simulation we might dream up — would yield a different result.

      1. RepubAnon

        I recall a Cold War story a friend told me: a scheduled commercial flight was detected by the US defensive radar network – but the military didn’t know it was a commercial flight, and ID’d it as an incoming Russian bomber. They tried to get the West Coast NIKE missile systems armed to shoot down the aircraft and launch a counterstrike. However, the general in charge had gone off to a conference, and so his admin left a note on his desk … and so, disaster was averted.

        There seem to be lots of these “Hollywood may show the system as highly effective, but in real life there were lots of glitches and system failure” stories on all sides. Perhaps we should encourage more real-world thinking by our decision-makers…

        1. Cat Burglar

          During the Kennedy administration my Dad worked as the lawyer for the big interstate truckline, PIE. At one point, PIE had a contract to ship every NIKE missile in the country back to the factory for repair, then back to the launch sites — for a time, none of them worked.

        2. Won't post, probably

          few dozen similar near misses all documented in Sagan’s “The Limits Of Safety” by Princeton Press.

  2. The Rev Kev

    You do have to hand it to Trump. Whatever else happens, he will always be remembered as the creator of the United States Space Force. That the TV series will be created before the real Space Force is besides the point. The fact that the TV series is being created by the people behind “The Office” I do find appropriate though. I’m not sure if this Force will be in space itself though. Where are they going to go? The International Space Station? That is an international project and is not subject to appropriation. Maybe they can build a second one for military purposes. They may have to buy more Russian rocket engines first.
    Personally I blame that American Exceptionalism that Obama was hyping up. I think that to some, the idea that the US can obliterate the world but cannot stop itself being obliterated is just too much too tolerate. More so to see another power supplant the US. I heard a rumour that was not only the US going to target China if it got into a nuclear war with Russia, that it was also going to target the countries of the southern hemisphere as well. The reasoning was that they did not want the southern hemisphere to become ascendant before the northern hemisphere had a chance to rebuild itself. This was a very long time before anybody realized that a nuclear war was Game Over for humanity. Real Dr. Strangelove territory here.
    Of course we are only one Kessler syndrome away from having the whole thing be only theoretical, especially with all the equipment that this Space Force would have to have orbiting the planet. One of J.M. Greer’s books, “Retrotopia”, features this happening and the lead character asks about the consequences for the use of space again. He is told that the low orbits will be usable again in two to four hundred years or so. The mid-range orbits in probably over twelve hundred years with a standard deviation of three hundred and eighty years. And for the high geosynchronous orbits? Probably not within the lifetime of our species. Aliens will not have to quarantine our planet if this comes true. We will create our own.

    1. albert

      Well, of course Trump didn’t initiate the “Space Force”. The idea has been bouncing around in the DOD for years. What’s new is the reorganization of the command structure, that is, a Space Command, separate from the other branches. Satellites that can launch so called ‘kinetic weapons’ are being researched. That the President will have control of the Space Command branch is somewhat worrying.

      Slightly OT: The Russians are considering submarines with nuclear-tipped torpedoes, and remote controlled submarines* that are mostly warhead, to attack coastal cities. The US has much more exposure than the Russians in that regard. This is clever. Never take Russia for granted. Imagine having to spend billions more for an underwater defense system.

      * Kind of like underwater ICBMs
      . .. . .. — ….

    1. The Rev Kev

      I know that that video is 1980s graphics but where are the Pew! Pew! Pew! sounds? It can’t be a space battle without the Pew! Pew! Pew! sounds.

  3. Laura H. Chapman

    My nephew, Gary Chapman, co-edited ” Computers in Battle, Will They Work, with essays from techies who were eager to tell why the ” Star Wars” project was a dangerous fantasy. Gary was the first executive director of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, writer on tech for the LA Times, and called a computer ethicist in his NY Times obituary. The was a judge for the Turning award. He was not a computer scientist. His formal studies were in the humanities and political science (Stanford). He was also a Green Beret. At the time of his death he was teaching at the LBJ Scool of Public Policy, University of Texas. He died while on a kayaking adventure in Guatemala.

    1. crittermom

      Whoa. It appears you failed to read the article.
      It certainly opened my eyes regarding what a large part religion has in our military decisions.

      From the article:
      DANIEL ELLSBERG: It’s not reassuring to know that many of our military leaders also may look on nuclear Armageddon, as prophesied in the Bible, as a terrible but necessary development toward messianic rule.

      PAUL JAY: And the current vice president, Mike Pence, is apparently quite a serious evangelical.

      May I suggest you read the entire article before commenting?

      1. Synoia

        One would have to believe in miracles to support these programs, believe one could survive a nuclear exchange, or in life hereafter.

  4. Peter

    Corporate welfare is endless

    Since we are talking about a corporate state where the interest of the corporations is congruent with interest of the state it is called investment or channelling of funds.

    1. shinola

      Considering that the 1st thing Trump “accomplished” as prez. is a tax break for himself, his family & others in his economic bracket and the fact that everything he does seems designed to inflate his net worth and/or ego, my 1st thought about this Space Farce thing was:

      I wonder how much of Trump’s portfolio is invested in the MIC?

      (Also, check out the link provided by Pookah Harvey below at 11:11 am)

  5. Sushi

    Star Wars also served to demonstrate the effects of pressure on the USSR economy. Defense cost ramp-up stressed that system and exposed it, helping lead to the eventual collapse and reformation as Russia and those neighboring other former SSRs. Americans paid an ongoing price or tax of MIC support, as selling threats real or imagined around the world is a business that has many participants. Defense policy can have a few layers.

    Space Force may be the updated Star Wars in another sense. China may be the primary target, in addition to those S400 and other Russian weapons. Evangelical or similar rationales may be distractions from that, as they appear to have been a generation ago.

  6. David

    As Ellsberg notes about halfway through, he’s mostly being asked questions on subjects – like nuclear winter – where he doesn’t claim to be an expert. As I recall, before Vietnam he was involved in strategic nuclear planning at RAND, but that was in the 1950s, and things have moved on a bit.
    Wired magazine has a pretty balanced coverage of the announcement, in spite of its usually very anti-Trump line. As the story notes, what Trump announced is essentially a minor expansion of Obama’s policy: an increase from 44 to 60 missiles deployed in Alaska against a putative threat from North Korea. Oddly, Obama himself wasn’t criticised when he followed and expanded Bush’s BMD policy. I’ve never been able to understand why. The rest of Trump’s speech, and the Report itself are really no more than a listing of possible technologies which could conceivably, one day, provide a genuine BMD capability. But the essential problem remains that the question is asymmetrical. Against a NK threat of one or two missiles, interceptors with a fairly low kill probability might be enough, at least as a deterrent. But against thousands of warheads from Russia, even a 99% success rate, which is not conceivable anyway, would be inadequate. In the end, it’s always easier to find new penetration aids and to swamp defences than it is to make the system foolproof. This is why the Russian ABM system around Moscow is configured as it is. It was developed by the Soviets simply to absorb a first strike on the capital, and give the Politburo time to send the launch codes before the second wave of missiles arrived. So far as I know that’s still the plan today. Like most Russian military projects, and unlike the persistent dream of Star Wars, it’s rugged and relatively reliable.

    1. JTMcPhee

      And what good are any of these notions when sub-launched missiles are on their depressed trajectories toward US cities and all the other “targets?”

      What the Fokkers are saying and thinking, about how to defend the Homeland, all US forces anywhere, all “allies” and such, against all possible threats of any kind of missiles anywhere in the world:

      And the selfie statement of the “Missile Defense Agency:”

      1. David

        Depends which notions you mean. Modern Russian SLBMs have ranges of 8-12000 km, which is greater than the distance from New York to Moscow, and apparently have a flight time of about 30 minutes (any faster and they go orbital). That’s not very different from the published range of land-based ICBMs, so I imagine the trajectory and flight path are not very different, but you’d need an expert to confirm that. The Bush-Obama-Trump program has its own problems, but isn’t aimed that such threats, but at the “potential regional adversaries” (code for N Korea and Iran) mentioned on the MDA site.
        For the rest, as I say, most experts are convinced that plans to defend everything everywhere against all threats will remain fantasy no matter how much money gets poured into them. Indeed, it’s the kind of programme that could swallow all the money you throw at it and still not work, because what you are trying to do is impossible. The figure of a trillion dollars, by the way, is not for Trump’s programme, but a by and large estimate from somebody at the Union of Concerned Scientists for what such a complete programme would cost if it was ever undertaken. Since, as I say, it’s doubtful whether infinite amounts of money could actually make the programme work, you could say it’s as good an estimate as any.

        1. JTMcPhee

          Too bad so many “scientists” are not only not “concerned,” they are actively using the tools of science to figure out ever more compendious ways to “kill everything that moves.” Ditto for engineers. And what a nice feature of “markets,” that in order to have a nice paycheck coming in, the system is set up so that all the incentives and drivers point in the direction of global destruction.

          How in hell did it come to this? Are humans, or more than enough of us, really that stupid? This guy thinks so: “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity,” Or having seen what we collectively are, what we do and have done and are capable of, maybe some residual ‘moral” sense imparts a death-wish-driven motive to our motions and actions? We, the species, are not just “running with scissors,” but swinging razor-edged katanas and blasting off “Pew Pew” laser beams and broadcasting sick code and even sicker modified organisms of disease and disruption in all directions.

          Maybe in some part it’s the Armageddish influence of Judeo-Xtianity? But then the Hindus and Muslims of IndoPak, the Chinese, and lots of others with aspirations to field a “Mouse that Roared” Nuclear football, are all in the World Ending Game of RISK ™ too. The notion of “Ragnarok” is found in a whole lot of the fables of disparate groups of humans…

  7. David(1)

    Isn’t this what a jobs guarantee program looks like?

    Spending government money on efforts that may not produce quantifiable material returns.

    1. BillC

      The last US jobs guarantee program (WPA, CCC) produced a lot of quantifiable material returns all over the country: parks large and small, reforestation of denuded mountain ranges, public electric power to remote and impoverished areas (TVA), beautifully designed and constructed Post Offices and Court Houses, literature, graphic art, and … a sense of community. Broad and long-lasting societal benefits, still going strong until the neolibs finally manage to sell the last of ’em off. A much better example of Federal spending than than the credentialed class and MIC welfare that an otherwise useless ABM program generates. One would think the electorate might notice the difference even if their prostituted representatives work hard at ignoring it.

  8. BoyDownTheLane

    I do not know much, but I read voraciously… and I am mid-way through Cixin Liu’s hard science fiction trilogy entiled, variably, “The Three Body Problem”. You all should pick up a copy somewhere and we can have a discussion about it in two or thtree months.

  9. BoyDownTheLane


    Kirkus Reviews described the book [“The Three Body Problem”] as “remarkable, revelatory and not to be missed.”[15] Former U.S. President Barack Obama said, “the scope of it was immense. So that was fun to read, partly because my day-to-day problems with Congress seem fairly petty”.[16]

    Are we as individuals Wallfacers or Wallbreakers?

  10. Disturbed Voter

    X-37B – USAF … space force has been active for decades now. But it isn’t Starship Troopers.

  11. Cal2

    How would Americans feel about a North Korean satellite armed with hydrogen bombs passing over their house every couple of hours?

    That’s the logical conclusion of the nuclearization of space.

    Besides war, the reentry of a nuke burning up after a launch accident or orbital decay would vaporize the uranium or plutonium and could give every air breathing creature on earth lung cancer. That’s already scientific fact with plutonium powered satellites like the Cassini Probe that fortunately had no accidents.

    Would making all defense spending non-profit lesson the chances of war?

    I recall the people of Britain getting a chance to vote to make all defense spending non-profit before WWII.

    They voted it down, so it was for profit. Nice detail from the high quality Netflix series The Long Shadow, about the effects of The War to End All Wars on Europe.

    1. The Rev Kev

      That idea of orbital nuclear bombs was in one of Robert Heinlein’s early books ‘(1948) called “Space Cadet”. The main character in the book was part of an organization that oversaw these nuclear orbital weapons that went around Earth in a north to south polar orbit.
      He would, as part of his duties, jet over to one, service it and them help place it in the orbit where it should be in but had through different factors slightly wandered away from. So yes, in that novel you could look up into thew night sky and see a nuclear weapon orbiting where you live for the whole planet regular as clockwork.
      Just in passing, it is worth mentioning that we all of us have nuclear radiation within us. All those above ground nuclear tests in the 20th century? We all have traces of those nuclear tests within us as all that radioactivity released never really went away.

  12. RBHoughton

    We have infrequent experience of weather like nuclear winter. One such event was the eruption of Tambora in 1815 which had global effects. Fortunately it ended after two years in which growing seasons shrank to three or four months but it provides a foretaste of the after-effects of a nuclear exchange.

    There should be a slight delay in irradiating the population of the southern continents in view of the way the global weather system works. This assumes the generals setting the attack in motion focus their targets in Europe, Asia and North America. I think those countries that are threatened should publish their targeting so the residents of cities to be expunged from existence in North America, Europe and Asia can be aware if the Generals get their way.

    On the subject of biblical prophesy which shapes policy amongst the war hawks, I wish to refer to Michael Hudson’s huge research project that is available for study in his book “…. and forgive them their debts.” It turns out that a study of the cuneiform records of the Assyrians and Babylonians shows that the bible prior to about 450BC was made up like one of Homer Simpson’s insurance claims. The real flavour of biblical history is about getting along with each other and debt forgiveness. It was successive Popes who pushed for taxation and advantages for creditors over debtors who found a sympathetic ear in the Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine and have since influenced the policies of the British and now American empires.

  13. Tom Stone

    I betcha the uniforms are going to be really spiffy!
    They could probably find some of the uniforms Dick Nixon designed for the SS in the White House basement…

  14. philnc

    I can think of at least two structural changes to the US military establishment that would make a real difference: eliminate the Air Force entirely and break up the DoD back up into the constitutional Navy and War Departments, with the former running peacetime operations and the latter primarily involved in planning Army mobilization from a small administrative core in case of a declared war. The existing US SLBM conventional and nuclear capability alone is sufficient to deter any attack on US territory by nation states, and the Marine Corps could continue to provide an adequate rapid deployment ground force when really needed. Advances in technology and over a half century of experience with modern manufacturing and logistics would make quickly raising and arming additional forces on demand much more practical than it was in the mid-twentieth century. The only things that would be needed to make it work would be a renunciation of empire and a return to reliance on a wartime draft (the latter acting as an important brake on the former). Of course it would also depend on the leadership in both the military and industry actually doing their jobs competently and diligently, and the authorities over them holding everyone to account. Given the long history of waste, fraud, abuse and failure to perform especially among the leadership class it is truly amazing that our prisons aren’t filled with their ilk.

  15. Norm

    While it’s always gratifying to shake one’s head and exclaim how nuts Trump and the Republicans are, we really ought to be saying (again) where the f are the Democrats and how come there is no serious noise about putting an end to this. The last I heard, the Democrats controlled the House, and they could, if they wanted to, march Ms. Pelosi up to a microphone to announce that there will not even be any discussion of this next star wars pipe dream cause it won’t be funded. Of course this is a fantasy on par with the dreams of a space force, as the Democrats have no more stomach or desire to take on the MIC than do the despised Republicans.

  16. TG

    Actually, if you consider the alternatives, “Space Force” might not be that bad.

    I mean, compared to spending trillions on endless pointless winless wars in third-world wastelands, “Space Force” has many advantages:

    – Space Force won’t get us involved in intractable foreign conflicts that are none of our business.
    – Space Force won’t make it look like we are responsible for all those refugee flows (it’s overpopulation that is responsible for that, but our idiotic foreign policy masks that important fact).
    – Space Force will employ a lot of middle-class Americans in the United States! (Well, hopefully. We might outsource it all to China and Pakistan but with luck even our elites are not that corrupt. Maybe).
    – Space Force will perhaps help rebuild some cutting-edge industrial infrastructure here.

    What, you say that we could get all the advantages of “Space Force” and more with a targeted program of domestic investment? In your dreams!! With luck, “Space Force” will compete with the traditional military pork and bring some of that back home. The perfect is the enemy of the good!

    1. philnc

      The main problem with a Space Force/Command is that it perpetuates the legitimization of military involvement in Earth orbit and beyond. By this time in history we should have developed a firm consensus for the total de-militarization of space. While it might have won votes during the Cold War, having the military to conduct space operations makes us less, not more, safe. There’s no reason that US intelligence satellites couldn’t be launched and operated by NASA, with the intelligence agencies as its customers. The one thing we really really need to avoid at all costs is providing an excuse for putting any kind of weapon in orbit. Once you go there things could spin wildly out of control. If anyone thought the neutron bomb debate in the late 70’s/early 80’s (with its talk of how cities could be cleaned of resistance without damage to property) was the height of moral depravity hasn’t considered the awful potential of orbiting kinetic weapons that could level whole cities (use enough of them, of course, and you’d get the same kind of civilization-ending “winter” as a result of all the dirt and dust thrown up into the atmosphere). Military Keynesianism was a solution designed to serve the best interests of career warriors and incumbent war industrialists, it was always an inadequate and shortsighted strategy for postwar economic development — something both the Germans and Japanese proved, despite their eventually allowing themselves to become more dependent on military production than made sense for their societies as a whole.

  17. Quantum Future

    A lot of insightful comments regarding space tech for defense.

    The other argument is commercial use. Man can now harvest asteroids with rare minerals.

    It is a dual use play. Plus planting a colony on Mars may bring mankind together as has international space station, moon landing etc. Something to bring ouselves back to being one species after decades of narrative bull*hit could be valuable indeed.

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