Dr. Zafar N. Jaspal |
Since his election, President Trump has been signaling to solidify United States military muscle.
He has exhibited leaning towards the new addition of nuclear weapons to the arsenal and also expressed the desire to operationalize missile shield. He seems lesser inclined to substantial cuts in American nuclear arsenal. The vertical proliferation of nuclear weapons may have a lesser impact on the global strategic environment, but the introduction of Missile Shield definitely multiplies the complexities and ambiguities in the global strategic environment.
The United States possesses 36 ground-based interceptors buried at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg and would deploy 44 interceptors by the end of 2017.
The Missile Shield certainly unleashes a devastating new round of an arms race between/among the strategic competitors. It is because the Missile Shield dents the credibility of the counterstrike capability of the deterring state. Therefore, for the sake of deterrence stability, the deterring states would contemplate about multiple striking options including attaching decoys technology with the ballistic missile, developing multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRV), and advance cruise missiles to enhance the credibility of counterstrike capability.
The United States conducted a successful test of ballistic missile interceptor on May 30, 2016. It was reported that the US military fired a test intercontinental ballistic missile from the Reagan Test Site in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific towards the Alaskan coast and launched an interceptor missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The interceptor missile successfully destroyed the intercontinental ballistic missile. It was a first-of-its-kind test, i.e. Ground-based Midcourse Defence (GMD) system. It is like to hit a bullet with another bullet. The GMD system uses globally deployed sensors to detect and track offensive intercontinental ballistic missile.
The American Missile Shield Establishment seems very confident after the GMD system accomplishment. Because the test marks the first time GMD system has gone up against an ICBM-class target. Vice Admiral Jim Syring, director of the US Missile Defense Agency stated: “This system is vitally important to the defense of our homeland, and this test demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat.” He added: “The intercept of a complex, threat-representative ICBM target is an incredible accomplishment for the GMD system and a critical milestone for this program.” It was reported that the United States possesses 36 ground-based interceptors buried at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg and would deploy 44 interceptors by the end of 2017. Perhaps, it’s a viable missile shield against the states having lesser number of ballistic missiles such as North Korea and Iran.
Impacts of GMD global politics
The successful test of the GMD system is to ensure the people of the United States and its allies that they are not vulnerable to the advancing long-range ballistic missile capability of the North Korea and Iran. But it is equally destabilizing.
North Korea’s nuclear weapon program is not acceptable to the United States. Despite the international community’s condemnation, Pyongyang’s missile capabilities are in on the positive trajectory. Recently, North Korea conducted various ranges ballistic missile tests, i.e. an intermediate-range missile (3000-5500km), two medium-range (1000-3000km), eight short-range or medium-range (1000 km). The 11/12 ballistic missile tests of various ranges undoubtedly intensify the security dilemma of the North East Asian nations. It obliges Washington to act immediately to sustain the credibility of its extended deterrence or nuclear umbrella to regional allies. The United States already deployed theater missile systems in South Korea to counter the threat of North Korea’s ballistic missile to Seoul.
Deployment of a missile shield in South Korea alarms the other regional actors. For instance, China expressed its serious concerns over the deployment. Zhou Chenming, a Chinese military expert, said: “This move was most directly targeting North Korea, but surely it also targeted Russia and China.” President Trump also warned Iran over its recent missile tests. He stated: Iran “was playing with fire.” Notably, Trump Administration already expressed its dissatisfaction with Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—the Iran Deal, and thereby it announced to withdraw from the Deal.
The successful test of GMD system not only undermines the arms race stability between/among the Great Powers, but also dynamic to destabilize the prevalent deterrence stability between/among the nuclear weapon states.
Admittedly, the successful test of the GMD system is to ensure the people of the United States and its allies that they are not vulnerable to the advancing long-range ballistic missile capability of the North Korea and Iran. But it is equally destabilizing. Theoretically speaking, the missile shield increases the investments in the MIRV technology, etc. It obliges other powers to improve their counterforce targeting capability. For instance, China conducted the test of its the Dongfeng-5C, an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying 10 independently targetable nuclear warheads in January 2017. In May 2017, President Vladimir Putin announced: “The Strategic Missile Force is smoothly switching over to Yars (ICBMs carrying at least four warheads) mobile and silo-based systems… Such modern systems already account for 62% of the armament of the Strategic Missile Force and their share will rise to 72% by the end of the year.”
To conclude, the successful test of GMD system opens a Pandora box. It not only undermines the arms race stability between/among the Great Powers, but also dynamic to destabilize the prevalent deterrence stability between/among the nuclear weapon states. The subversion of deterrence stability certainly increases the risks of nuclear war. Thus, GMD system is perilous for the international strategic stability.
Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. He is also an advisor on Non-Proliferation to SASSI, London and a course coordinator at Foreign Services Academy for the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This piece was first published in Pakistan Observer. It has been reprinted with permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.