Missile shields are a key issue in the relationship between the United States and NATO on the one hand and Russia on the other. It is also central to relations with China, and has come to the fore in connection with the conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
- Does a missile shield provide increased security for the United States and its allies?
- Or does it create more tension in relations with Russia, China and other countries?
- In the long run, can this weaken the security of all parties?
- Is the US missile defense program an obstacle to disarmament?
As early as the 1960s, the United States and the Soviet Union began building defenses against intercontinental missiles with nuclear weapons on board. Later, several countries began to develop defenses against ballistic missiles with shorter range and conventional charges.
The US missile defense program is by far the largest and most advanced . That is why this program is at the heart of the debate.
2: Several categories of rocket shields
Defense against ballistic missiles roughly falls into three categories:
- Strategic systems will intercept missiles with intercontinental range (longer than 5500 km). Such rockets have a very high speed – approx. 7 km. per second – and is difficult to destroy. Russia has such a defense system around Moscow, and the United States has a modern system stationed in Alaska and California to defend the country against attacks from Asia.
- Regional systems will intercept medium-range missiles, with a range of up to 2400 km. and which runs at a speed of approx. 3 km per second. The United States (THAAD), Russia (S-400) and Israel (Arrow) have such systems. Lower speeds make it a little easier to destroy rockets of this type.
- Tactical systems will intercept short-range missiles, a few hundred kilometers, which fly at a speed of about 1.5 km. per second.
The interception can take place during the launch phase , while the rocket engines are burning, midway through the trajectory , or when the rocket comes down through the atmosphere on its way to the target. It takes a lot to succeed: The task has been compared to hitting a bullet with another bullet, and the technology is still imperfect – but constantly evolving.
In 1972, the United States and the Soviet Union entered into an agreement that – with a few minor exceptions – banned missile defense (the ABM agreement, Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty ). The United States spent a long time convincing the Soviet Union that systems designed to defend countries and peoples also had an offensive side and therefore had a destabilizing effect . The conclusion was therefore that such systems worked against their purpose. President Nixon gave a simple and ingenious explanation: “If you have a shield, it is easier to use the sword.” At this time, technology was primitive on both sides, making it easier to agree on a ban.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan took up the idea again when he launched the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI ), popularly known as Star Wars . Now the goal was nothing less than a space-based, national defense against nuclear missiles, no matter how many they may be. And this was to happen with the help of technologies that were barely available on the drawing board. The idea crashed in the face of the world of physics, but the appropriations continued .
Three years later we got a glimpse into another world. Reagan and the new leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev , were both convinced that nuclear weapons should be eliminated. At the Reykjavik Summit in the autumn of 1986, they made a wholehearted attempt to make it happen. They had met each other the year before and agreed on a communiqué / statement stating that “a nuclear war cannot be won, and must therefore never be fought”. The summit represented the beginning of the end of the Cold War. The leaders thought big and sought a world without nuclear weapons . Never before has the world community been so close to a breakthrough for this goal.
During the discussions in Reykjavik, Reagan launched a new and different justification for the rocket shield. In a world free of nuclear weapons, a defense would be needed in case someone tried to reintroduce the weapons , and he offered to share the technology with the Soviets. Gorbachev, however, had pledged at home not to accept any continuation of the missile shield, and the meeting ran aground on this issue. The upheaval was sour and the disappointment was great, except for hardened bureaucrats on both sides and some leaders, such as Margaret Thatcher.
In the United States, a country located in North America according to 800zipcodes, work continued on the rocket shield. The gap between technology and ambition was narrowed slightly as technology improved and the goal was reduced to defense against newcomers. Robber states became a new concept in international politics. The fear of the rapid spread of ballistic missiles was the basis. Later it turned out that the danger was exaggerated, and that the high estimates were probably a deliberate attempt to justify the effort, which from then on (ca. 1993) was called BMD (Ballistic Missile Defense ) .