People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 24

June 17, 2007



Pushing the Arms Race


N M Sundaram


THE United States has been working on this dangerously aggressive project, the ‘National Missile Defense System’ (NMD) for well over 50 years. But being defensive is certainly not a virtue that could be attributed to this new military contraption.


This obviously would cost enormously. But to the US imperialism with its single minded approach to militarise its economy ignoring all other priorities concerning its own people, this colossal expenditure is of no consequence. The objective is neither the national interest nor the imperative of defending itself against a powerful external enemy. The objective simply is to channel enormous resources into its military industrial complex (about which president Eisenhower cautioned) whether the threat perception to national security is real or not. The objective is to establish world hegemony whatever the consequences.


The National Missile Defense (NMD) system, it is being canvassed, would provide a sort of protective shield against a limited missile attack. In 1999, the US Congress finally decided and a bill was passed calling for the implementation of the NMD system to defend the United States from countries that were developing long-range missile technologies. This irrational decision was taken despite the fact that these countries feel themselves compelled to retain a modicum of deterrence. This compulsion they faced considering that the US was increasing its armaments and strike capacity including nuclear, by leaps and bounds and its fleets controlled all the oceans and its bases encircled the entire globe.


The US has not also hesitated to display its belligerence against an assortment of countries and declared its intent that its military capability must not be allowed to be surpassed, not even by all other countries combined together. The USA accounts for about 80 per cent of the increase in 2005 and is the principal determinant of the present escalation of military expenditure the world over, its share alone being almost half of the world total of a staggering $1 trillion plus.




The idea of a missile-defense shield is a rehash of the ‘Star Wars’ programme that the then president of the United States Ronald Reagan threatened to introduce two decades ago, christened as ‘Strategic Defense Initiative” (SDI). What was envisaged then was space based weapons system that would strike down Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) that might be directed against that country. In other words, what was intended was militarisation of space, with all the imponderable consequences, under the controlling trigger of the US.


The proposal would involve use of lasers and space craft. Hence it was that both its critics as well as the media called it by the more popular name of ‘Star Wars.’ Since then the Missile Defense System has remained on the agenda. Though it should have been consigned as a historical wild dream of the Cold War era, it is now being revived under the incumbent president George W Bush. It is this mad scheme of virtual militarisation of space and controlling the earth with deadly weapons combating in space that are being revived. There would certainly be adverse responses from other countries, excepting of course those, which have decided to play second fiddle to the war mongering and bullying tactics of American imperialism. This would mean reintroduction of the arms race, with all its dangerous and adverse consequences to peoples’ pressing needs for essentials of a decent life and what is more, to world security.




Even during the 2000 presidential campaign, George W Bush proclaimed that he would revive the missile defense system in some form, whatever the opposition from Russia or from any other quarter. Since then, the US administration under president Bush and his former defense secretary, have proceeded with the system which is estimated to cost $30.2 billion. However, it is a diluted version of what president Reagan envisaged in his programme of Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) with its lasers and high velocity projectile weapons. This would be a ground-based missile defense system that would counter a limited missile attack. The emphasis would therefore be on anticipation of attacks and appropriate response. The main components, which are of five parts, would be:


(Source: HowStuffWorks, Inc. Article “How Missile Defense Systems Will Work” by Kevin Bonsor)


Once a radar or any other more sophisticated tracking system has determined that an enemy ballistic missile has been launched targeting the United States, automatically one or more of the one-hundred interceptor missiles would launch into space to destroy that enemy missile before it reaches US airspace. The system works on the basis of providing a kind of a shield to protect against enemy attack. Besides, the idea is not to wait till the enemy missile reaches the US airspace but to destroy it well before. (Ibid)


The ‘Kill’ weapon is the bullet or the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) of the NMD system, which when released would reach a velocity of 15,000 mph (24,140 kmh). The collision at that speed is expected to destroy the enemy ballistic missile, not to speak of the adverse environmental consequences. (Ibid)


The entire process of pinpointing and aiming at an interceptor and then killing the target with the EKV is very complex. There are many components that have to be coordinated in a matter of minutes, and the entire procedure has to be completed in less than 30 minutes after the enemy missile is launched. Some critics have said that the system is too complex to work effectively. Tests so far have shown mixed results. This will be no easy task. In other words, no real protection can be ensured. (Ibid)


While no real protection could be ensured, the revival of the National Missile Defense System would be very expensive, besides being a serious provocation of the perceived enemy, making the world far less safe.




The Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty concluded between the US and the Soviet Union in 1972, was a big step forward in reaching the goal of ultimate disarmament. That treaty specifically banned any national missile defense systems being put in place. This was an attempt to avoid any provocative movement by either party in the name of defense and thereby to prevent any further escalation of the arms race. The ABM treaty however, permitted the US and the Soviet Union to limit missile-defense systems to two sites per country, with each site having more than 100 interceptors. Thereafter in 1974, the number of sites was reduced to one, but later closed it altogether in 1976. What is being done now is virtual negation of that treaty and turning the clock back, encouraged by the fact that the Soviet Union’s deterrence is no longer present.


The plan now is to station the so called missile defence shields in Europe. The attempt to station them in Britain in the existing American/RAF missile base at Fylingdales, has come in for serious public protest, despite Tony Blair’s government being in favour. But none of the other West European countries have accepted the proposal, with France and Germany leading the opposition. But not so strangely, Poland and the Czech Republic have accepted the proposal and negotiations are going on. The US is targeting other East European countries too. It may be remembered that Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, and the three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – joined NATO in 2004. Georgia and Ukraine have recently been actively seeking to join the alliance. That means NATO bases would be put up all around Russia.


The specious justification given is to protect America from long range missile attack from the so called ‘rogue states’ of Iran and North Korea, notwithstanding the protestations of the former that its nuclear programme was only for the peaceful purpose of producing energy and the latter having concluded agreement that it would confine its nuclear programme for peaceful purpose of meeting its energy requirements. Despite America’s intransigence, China successfully brokered the North Korean deal. And, with regard to Iran, the US is more intent on attacking that country despite its repeated assertions that its nuclear programme is only for peaceful purposes. Even the Russian proposal of enrichment of uranium for Iran at a neutral site outside Iran under IAEA supervision, was rejected by the US.


(To be continued)