NMD/Pine Gap/Star Wars

Centre for English Teaching 14 August 2001

What is National Missile Defence

By Dr Hannah Middleton

The stated purpose of the US National Missile Defence system (NMD or also called "Star Wars") is to protect US territory from attack by a limited number of intercontinental-range ballistic missiles (ICBMs) armed with nuclear, biological, or chemical warheads. Such limited attacks, ranging from a few to a few tens of missiles, fall into three categories:

  • a small accidental or unauthorized launch from Russia;
  • a deliberate or unauthorized attack from China, which has some two dozen ICBMs with a range capable of reaching the United States;
  • a deliberate attack from a hostile emerging missile state that might acquire ICBMs.

It is this last threat -- focused on North Korea, Iran, and Iraq -- that has emerged as the primary argument by the US administration for NMD deployment.

Although the exact architecture of the proposed NMD system is not yet finalized, its general shape is clear.

The system will use ground-based interceptors topped with a Kill Vehicle that is designed to destroy the incoming warhead by colliding with it at high speed. This collision would take place above the atmosphere, when the warhead is in the mid-course of its trajectory.

The launch of an attacking missile would first be detected by US early warning satellites. The existing satellites, known as DSP (Defense Support Program) satellites, use infrared sensors to detect the hot plume of a missile booster in the early stage of its flight.

Beginning in 2004, the DSP satellites will be replaced by a new system of early warning satellites known as SBIRS-high (Space-Based Infrared System), which will also use infrared sensors to detect missile plumes but have improved capabilities.

The data from the early warning satellites would be fed to the NMD Battle Management Center, to be located at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado.

To increase its odds of success, the NMD system would probably fire several interceptors at each target. Current plans reportedly call for firing four interceptors at each target.


The United States is also developing several types of theater missile defense (TMD) systems.

The US Government says these systems are intended to protect US troops and allies abroad from shorter-range "theater" ballistic missiles armed with conventional explosives or weapons of mass destruction.

While NMD is designed to defend the entire United States, these theater systems are intended to defend smaller areas. They are designed to be mobile so that they can be deployed with troops or moved as needed to defend US allies - Japan and Taiwan have been mentioned.


The Pentagon claims that National Missile Defence is intended to counter threats from so-called "rogue states," or, as the US State Department now calls them, "states of concern".

The countries named have been North Korea, Iran and Iraq.

The threat is vastly overstated - perhaps not surprisingly, given the past record of the US intelligence community to greatly exaggerate or blatantly lie about the actual and potential military capabilities of the chosen enemy of the time.

Of the named "rogue" states, only North Korea could conceivably field an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the US, but it has not yet tested a missile-with-warhead that is capable of doing so and it currently does not have a missile capable of reaching the United States.

In addition, any country which launched a missile attack against the United States would know that it faced national suicide - not a highly popular policy choice.

Rear Admiral Eugene J. Carroll, Jr. (USN, ret.), vice president of the Center for Defense Information in Washington, says"

"Missile defense doesn't make any sense and everybody realizes that. 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."

John Holum, the US State Department's senior advisor on arms control and international security affairs in the Clinton administration, admitted that the so-called "rogue" states might be willing to scrap their weapons programs in return for aid.

"In our approaches to North Korea with regard to both issues of proliferation of nuclear and missile technologies, we have found that positive incentives can be effective," he wrote in a State Department paper.

Given this and the Bush administration's stated concern about a threat from North Korea, it is hard to understand why the current US Government is apparently sabotaging the possibility of détente with North Korea.

In February this year, President Bush said the North Korean Government and its leader, Kim Jong Il, could not be trusted. In June, the US Government implied that North Korea had cheated on its 1994 agreement with the United States to freeze its nuclear weapons program, even though American and international inspectors had found no evidence of such cheating.

The United States would not even let South Korea give Pyongyang desperately needed energy assistance that Seoul had promised.


The 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was the foundation of a series of agreements that banned atmospheric and underground nuclear tests and reduced the number of nuclear weapons in the world.

There were hopes that the strategic nuclear balance of the cold war era could be wound back with balanced disarmament agreements.

National Missile Defence will destroy the ABM treaty.

The consequence of this is likely to be the collapse of all existing arms control and nuclear disarmament treaties. The fragile foundation for recent progress in nuclear disarmament will come crashing down.

The ABM treaty enshrines the principle that missile defences are destabilising and a stimulus to the nuclear arms race.

The treaty obligates the USA and Russia not to build a nation-wide defence system against strategic ballistic missile attack and severely limits the development and deployment of permitted missile defences.

The United States has made it clear that it is quite prepared to destroy the ABM Treaty.

Republican Senator Jesse Helms, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, for example, has said:

". we will defeat the ABM Treaty, toss it into the dustbin of history and thereby clear the way to build a national missile defense."

Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated:

". the US proceeds to destroy the 1972 ABM Treaty . we can and will withdraw not only from the START II Treaty ... but from the whole system of treaty relations having to do with the limitation and control of strategic and conventional arms."

Director-General of arms control in the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Sha Zukang, told the Washington Post:

"Any amendment, or abolishing of the treaty, will lead to disastrous consequences. This will bring a halt to nuclear disarmament now between the Russians and Americans, and in the future will halt multilateral disarmament as well."


National Missile Defence makes nuclear war a strategic alternative, as it was in 1945 when only the US had the bomb.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that:

"instead of protecting itself and eliminating the proliferation of missiles and missile technology, the move will breed a real missile boom and shatter accords that limit and destroy weapons. In other words, world security will be undermined, and it will all be America's doing"

China's Sha Zukang commented that the US proposal would spark a global arms race and the "nightmare scenario" of weapons proliferation.

Even the CIA has warned that deployment of a national missile defence scheme could trigger a regional arms race by raising insecurity in the region.

Both Russia and China have repeatedly warned that US plans for a National Missile Defense will lead the world into a new nuclear arms race. Both countries have pledged to meet any US Star Wars scheme by building up their nuclear forces.

If China builds up its nuclear forces to counter Star Wars, India and then Pakistan, are likely to follow suit.

We are on the brink of a new, more dangerous nuclear arms race.


In 1967 President Lyndon Johnson proposed a defence system called Sentinel. Richard Nixon wanted one called Safeguard. Ronald Reagan's 1983 version was nicknamed Star Wars.

All were abandoned chiefly because they did not work and cost astronomical amounts of money.

Tests of the technology of the latest version, NMD, are also not encouraging so far.

In fact, since research on the kill weapons began in 1976, attempts to destroy mock warheads have failed more than 70 per cent of the time.

And in the real world, during the Gulf War, not one Patriot anti-ballistic missile missile managed to hit a Scud. The US record was so poor that it featured in an episode of the recent TV series Great Military Blunders.

The Pentagon has been loudly celebrating the success of its latest test on July 14, in which a kill vehicle launched from Vandenberg in the USA managed to destroy a missile fired from Kwajalein in the Pacific.

However, the test succeeded largely because a beacon on the target signaled its location during much of the flight, The kill weapon was guided to the speeding warhead by signals from an electronic beacon.

Phillip Coyle, who until last year oversaw testing of the missile-shield system and other military programs, said the beacon was ``like a pinger saying, 'Here I am'."

According to US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, NMD does not have to work. He said:

"A system of defence need not be perfect, but the American people must not be left completely defenceless."

However, allowing for any margin of error in the functioning of a multi-billion dollar system designed to stop a small number of missiles fired by a rogue state makes the whole system pointless.

Rumsfeld statement makes it clear that NMD is at least in part being developed for the consumption of American voters.


Very few people or countries support development of NMD. Indeed, there is world wide concern and opposition.

The basis of much of this international hostility is that NMD is seen not as a benign, defensive nuclear umbrella but as a battle system which would allow the US to attack other countries without fear of retaliation. NMD is concerned mainly with offense.

Many nations around the world are deeply concerned that if the USA achieves a successful missile defence (or believe that it had), it would have a strong incentive to launch a pre-emptive strike against its opponents before they too achieved such a defence.

Meetings of ASEAN, the G8 Foreign Ministers and the European Union, the United Nations Secretary General, leaders from Germany, France, Sweden, Russia, China and other countries, the Non-Aligned movement, and 50 US Nobel prize winners have all spoken out strongly against NMD.


There is widespread agreement among defence analysts that the target of the US National Missile Defence program is China.

Despite denials, it is clear that the US Government has a policy of containing China and that the Pentagon sees China as a potential future adversary.

There has been a shift in the US military away from its traditional focus on Europe. Cautiously but steadily, the Pentagon is looking at Asia as the most likely arena for future military conflict.

"The focus of great power competition is likely to shift from Europe to Asia," said Andrew Krepinevich, director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a small but influential Washington think tank.

This new orientation is reflected in several significant changes:

For example, just a few years ago, the Navy kept 60 percent of its attack boats in the Atlantic. Now it has shifted to a 50-50 split between the Atlantic and Pacific fleets, and before long the Pacific may get the majority.

The same shift lies behind the development of broader military contacts between the United States and Australia. The US put 10,000 troops into Queensland for the Tandem Thrust joint exercises. The US is also demanding the use of more military facilities in Australia and increased Australian military spending.

The U.S. military's favorite way of testing its assumptions and ideas is to run a war game. Increasingly, the major games played by the Pentagon take place in Asia. About two-thirds of the forward-looking games staged by the Pentagon over the last eight years have taken place partly or wholly in Asia.


The Pentagon claims that NMD is defensive, but the US Space Command is committed to space "control and domination". The U.S. military explicitly says it wants to "control" space to protect its economic interests and establish superiority over the world.

It is generally believed that the Bush administration's space military program is essentially about "missile defense." But, in fact, "missile defense" is part of a broader program to make space a new arena of war.

Vision for 2020, a 1996 report of the U.S. Space Command, opens with:

U.S. Space Command -- dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect U.S. interests and investment.... [A century ago] Nations built navies to protect and enhance their commercial interests" by ruling the seas. Now it is time to rule space.

Comparing U.S. effort to "control space" and "dominate" the Earth below to how centuries ago "nations built navies to protect and enhance their commercial interests", the report suggests that the globalisation of the world economy will also continue, with a widening between 'haves' and 'have-nots.

In the January 2001 report of the "Space Commission" (the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization) chaired by the US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, "Power projection in, from and through space" is advocated.

"In the coming period," the report states, "the U.S. will conduct operations to, from, in and through space in support of its national interests both on the earth and in space."

It urges the U.S. president to "have the option to deploy weapons in space." It states that it is "possible to project power through and from space in response to events anywhere in the world. Unlike weapons from aircraft, land forces or ships, space missions initiated from earth or space could be carried out with little transit, information or weather delay."

U.S. Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire, in a TV interview, boasted:

"It is our manifest destiny. 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."

Retired Admiral Carroll from the Center for Defense Information in Washington commented: "Space is seen as a new place to wage war. Already, we are underwater, over-water, on-the-land, in-the-air - and now we want to go to another dimension: space."

"You have to realize that they are thinking in terms of militarizing space, of space warfare."



Pine Gap, officially known as the Joint Defence Space Research Facility, is one of the largest and most important US satellite ground control stations in the world. Established in 1968 as a CIA intelligence base, Pine Gap is situated in Central Australia, 19 kms south-west of Alice Springs,

For National Missile Defence, the US plans to build new facilities in Alaska and elsewhere in the northern hemisphere. They will be used to launch the weapons which are supposed to destroy incoming missiles targeted on the USA.

To alert these facilities, the US will also need to use its network of ground stations, including Pine Gap in Australia and Menwith Hill in England and at Bad Aibling in Germany. These bases will receive from satellites and forward to the US early warning of missile launches. They will also provide information on the launch site, missile type, velocity, and what kind of warhead the missile may carry.

This information is essential if there is to be any possibility of blowing these missiles out of the sky before they reach their targets.

New radomes built recently at Pine Gap are connected to a new early warning system called the Space Based Infra-Red System (SBIRS), which is due to be operational in 2004.

The SBIRS satellites monitored by Pine Gap have a footprint that covers the most important area of US strategic interest - China. Pine Gap is also an essential element in providing early warning and for tracking any missile launches from Iran or Iraq.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has said:

"If the US were to have the capacity to shoot down or destroy a hostile missile, they would have to know that the missile had been launched, and where it was. Pine Gap can transmit that sort of information to the US. The government has said we would not cut off the transmission of that information to the US."

The Australian Government supports the use of Pine Gap for the US National Missile Defence system. Australia is in fact the only country in the world offering the US public support for NMD.

However, the Australian Government does not know exactly what it is supporting.

On 16 July 2000, US Vice President William Cohen (then US Defence Secretary) said in Australia that Pine Gap had been "very much" involved in NMD since October 1999.

Yet two days later on 18 July, Alexander Downer said the Australian Government did not know if Pine Gap had been involved in national missile Defence tests - an astonishing statement by the Foreign Minister of an ostensibly sovereign state.

The parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Treaties said in 1999 that MPs were kept in the dark about information that was given to the US Congress or was publicly available. Members complained that although US Congress officials had visited Pine Gap and received classified briefings about its functions, the Treaties Committee was "entrusted with less information than can be found in a public library".

The Labor Party has been critical of NMD and supported a Senate resolution introduced by the Democrats on June 29, which calls on the US not to deploy NMD.

However, ALP opposition is clearly cautious and qualified.

NMD has the potential to trigger a new nuclear arms race in the Asia-Pacific region and seriously undermine global disarmament and non-proliferation agreements. Australia's security will not be advanced by such developments.

Apart from Russia, China is the only country in the world with intercontinental missiles that can and might be targetted on Pine Gap. A Chinese official recently mentioned that one of Beijing's possible responses to NMD would be for it to target the system's communications points.


Aware of the U.S. space warfare program, other nations of the world voted in the United Nations General Assembly on November 20, 2000 to reaffirm the fundamental international law on space, the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, and, specifically, its provision that space be reserved for "peaceful purposes."

Some 163 nations supported the resolution titled "Prevention of An Arms Race In Outer Space." It recognised "the common interest of all mankind in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes" and reiterated that the use of space "shall be for peaceful purpose . . . carried out for the benefit and in the interest of all countries