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Hegemony, Survival and Self-Deterrence

by Marko Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2003 at 10:56 PM

We are currently witnessing a major expansion in the US, hence Western, global military system.

We are currently witnessing a major expansion in the US, hence Western, global military system. This expansion manifests itself in many ways, for instance the establishment of new military footholds in Central Asia and the Middle East, assaults on arms control, the establishment of a new "norm" of preventative war (or actually we bomb when we feel like it, a long standing “norm” incidentally) and a dangerous build-up in strategic nuclear capabilities. I shall focus in this essay on one particular facet of this global expansion, namely the looming militarisation of space, the forces driving it and the threat to human survival that it poses. It would seem that the arms race in the 21st century will be an arms race in space and it is getting off the ground now.

The philosopher and anti war activist Bertrand Russell wrote, quite prophetically it turns out, that "when I read of plans to defile the heavens by the petty squabbles of the animated lumps that disgrace a certain planet, I cannot but feel that the men who make these plans are guilty of a kind of impiety."

It should be stressed that these developments should not be thought of as occurring in isolation; there is a growing link between strategic planning, military expansion and the militarisation of space. This all comes under the rubric of "full spectrum dominance" or "escalation dominance" which represents a natural military analogue to the pursuit of perpetual hegemony.

The impetus behind the militarisation of space is Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD). Planners recognised very quickly after the fall of the Soviet empire that the main deterrent to US interventionism had shifted from Moscow to the potential targets of attack themselves, most especially through the proliferation of ballistic missiles. Coupled with "weapons of mass destruction" these missiles may pose a credible deterrent to US interventionism in key regions. It is for this reason that one may detect a "deadly connection" between US foreign policy and global WMD proliferation.

As a result strategic planners fear that the US may become "self-deterred"; self-deterrence in the sense that the domestic political costs of interventionism become too high, it should be added. Self-deterrence is not on for a state that seeks to uphold its international dominance by the use of force whenever it takes its fancy. Hence the pursuit of Ballistic Missile Defence programmes which are meant to ensure that the world remains a safe stage for the employment of offensive military firepower.

Ballistic Missile Defence is also meant to shore up US hegemony in another important respect. The Bush administration's National Security Strategy of the United States as well as its Nuclear Posture Review state that US military dominance, including strategic nuclear dominance, is necessary in order to "dissuade" any major centre of world power from even thinking about asserting greater regional and global roles. The ultimate expression of this would be the attainment of a global first strike nuclear capability, most especially over China and Russia but also keeping a weary eye over a possible Euro deterrent. Such a capability would ensure that the US would not have a comparative advantage in the use of force but an absolute advantage.

Supercomputer simulations of the likely major attack options of the US nuclear war plan (Single Integrated Operational Plan or SIOP), the ones focused on Russia, indicate that after Russian capabilities have been degraded by about 90% diminishing returns rapidly set in. Hence the achievement of a first strike capability requires more than just an offence. A defence is needed in order to deal with any remaining weapons left after a first strike.

Ballistic Missile Defence, we may surmise, is an important part of providing a shield or shadow behind which the US may continue to use military force to uphold the system of world order, a necessary task given the fact that this system does not enjoy the support of the world's population.

One of the most important aspects of BMD is that it acts as a Trojan horse for the militarisation of space. The logic on this is quite obvious. Any space based missile defence systems will be highly vulnerable to counter-measures such as attack satellites. The Bush administrations National Security Presidential Directive 23 accordingly states, "the Defense Department plans to employ an evolutionary approach to the development and deployment of missile defenses to improve our defenses over time. The United States will not have a final, fixed missile defense architecture. Rather, we will deploy an initial set of capabilities that will evolve to meet the changing threat and to take advantage of technological developments." This is a clear indication that the architecture for the militarisation of space will be built around missile defence, using the “defence of the defence” as a rationale for placing offensive weapons in space.

In a report on space written under the leadership of Donald Rumsfeld it is stated that, "in the coming period the US will conduct operations to, from, in and through space" which includes "power projection in, from and through space". Currently power projection "through space" refers to nuclear armed ICBMs but in future one can envisage the deployment of conventional kinetic energy weapons as well through space ("conventional counter-force",a serious issue, for it will lower the threshold of nuclear war). Power projection "from space" refers to using the "high ground" of space to attack targets anywhere on the globe without worrying about nervous allies and their populations. Power projection "in space" refers to the use of offensive, stealthy, attack satellites to be used against the space based assets of other states, such as early warning satellites.

Why, then, is the militarisation of space so dangerous? Firstly, one must appreciate that in order to attain a global first strike capability, as a part of “full spectrum” or “escalation” dominance, warfighters must be able to strike against a set of strategic nuclear targets before the targeted state is able to launch its missiles upon confirmation of warning. It is for this reason that the world’s nuclear forces are on hair trigger alert, ready to be launched upon warning. A key facet in the early warning systems of Russia and, increasingly, China would be space based early warning satellites. These satellites are based in specialised orbits in order to provide real time imagery of US missile launch sites on land and likely missile launch areas at sea. Now, if Russia or China's early warning system accidentally indicates that a US attack is underway national command authorities would have very little time (say 10 minutes in the case of Russia) to receive a confirmation of warning and fire its retaliatory strike.

A false alarm can be ascertained by the use of early warning satellites. If the alarm is raised but real time satellite imagery demonstrates to commanders that there has been no launch catastrophe is thereby avoided. This is not a hypothetical scenario. This happened in 1995 when the Russian strategic alarm system indicated that the US was launching a nuclear first strike. Calamity was averted, by a few minutes at the most, because early warning satellites would have been able to demonstrate to Russian commanders that the alarm was a false one. Militarising space presents the world with a new ball game, because these early warning satellites will become targets.

This is most likely because the militarisation of space is intimately linked with US strategic nuclear forces, for the previous command covering space, known as Space Command, has merged with the command responsible for nuclear forces, Strategic Command. Upon merger, the commander of Strategic Command stated, "United States Strategic Command provides a single war fighting combatant command with a global perspective, focused on exploiting the strong and growing synergy between the domain of space and strategic capabilities." The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff added, "this new command is going to have all the responsibilities of its predecessors, but an entirely new mission focus, greatly expanded forces and you might even say several infinite areas of responsibility." To attack the early warning satellites of Russia or China is to fire the first shot in a nuclear first strike, as Moscow and Beijing would be well aware.

Of course, astronauts will not man any offensive space weapons. They will be controlled remotely from the ground. This represents the addition of a dangerous impersonal, and critical, link in the whole chain of strategic nuclear causation. If US attack satellites were to destroy Russia and China's early warning satellites inadvertently then Moscow and Beijing would most likely take this as the first shot in a US first strike, especially if they have little confidence in their ground based radar systems.

Paul Bracken, an expert on strategic command and control, recognises that accidental nuclear war may occur because of random technical failure, "in the world in which people live, power grids fail, trains derail, bridges and dams fall down, DC-10 engines fall off, and nuclear power plants come close to meltdown. These things don't happen often, but they do occur". Writing in 1988 he goes on, "a 1965 power failure in the American Northeast was traced to a single inexpensive switch. It was said repeatedly after 1965 that such a cascading power blackout could never occur again, since the freak accident had been carefully considered in new designs based on the lessons of 1965. But it did happen again, in 1977, in New York". A sobering thought.

Hence, the tight coupling between nuclear command and control systems results in a system "in which a perturbation in one part can, in short order, be amplified throughout the entire system". If such a "perturbation" were to occur in space then the margin of comfort provided by early warning satellites disappears. Recall that the militarisation of space is being driven by BMD. The use of BMD as a tool to enhance global interventionism and as a possible threat to Moscow and Beijing's deterrents means that it effectively creates pressures for both vertical (the building of more warheads by existing nuclear powers in order to overwhelm the system) and horizontal proliferation amongst the most likely potential targets of the world's leading rogue state. Remember that NSPD 23 states that BMD will "evolve" to "meet the changing threat". So, more proliferation designed to beat the system will result in a more robust BMD apparatus that will then lead to a more robust weapons in space system to defend the expanded BMD system.

As such, there exists a "deadly connection" between aggressive US foreign policy, global nuclear proliferation and the militarisation of space that most probably will lead to a nuclear arms race on Earth and an arms race in space that would be very intimately connected. The systems of command and control both on the ground and in space will grow in complexity and so with it the chances of a "perturbation" that would do us in because of the tight coupling between strategic command and control systems in a world characterised by vertical and horizontal proliferation. This would represent a serious challenge to planners because in this case we are talking about the need to deal with multiple, overlapping, interactions between command and control systems; this is more complicated than the two-way linear interaction between the United States and the Soviet Union during the cold war, which was dangerous enough.

What about the sources behind BMD and the militrisation of space? At first we are presented with a paradox. The United States is easily able to deal with the "threat", such as it is, to its commercial space assets and to its other space assets which are essential for "waging modern war" by simply accepting moves in the United Nations for a robust arms control regime in space. Washington has rejected these moves.

This reminds one of some curious events during the cold war. For instance, the greatest threat to US security was Soviet ICBMs but in the early days of the arms race, when the US had a huge lead, it could have sought an arms control regime banning ICBMs, thereby dealing with this threat. Washington choose to ignore this path, instead the US ICBM force sharply increased, on the back of a fraudulent "missile gap", which lead to the Soviets embarking on the same course, increasing US insecurity. The same thing happened again not long after with the development of MIRV (multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles) technology, which basically meant that one could place several warheads on a single missile each with a different target within a designated footprint. Again, the US could have sought an arms control regime banning MIRVs given its lead, but instead decided to build up its strategic forces prompting over time the Soviets to do the same. The official, partially, de-classified history of the MIRV project demonstrates that planners were well aware of this probable consequence of their actions. As a result of MIRVs vertical proliferation reached ludicrous proportions and only prompted another fraudulent Reaganite scare about the "window of vulnerability" which was used to further fuel the arms race.

We see the same dynamic again; as a result we must conclude that, as during the cold war, "security" is not the issue. In fact the militarisation of space provides us with good demonstration of this because this is now occurring more than ten years after the red flag was lowered from the Kremlin. What lies behind this?

To gain understanding we must dig a little bit deeper, essentially into the nature of the US political economy. The reason for this should be clear, for to understand the strategic and foreign policy of any state, the United States included, one must inquire into the interests and concerns of those segments within the state that are able to mobilise the resources and power needed to control the affairs of state. Writing of the system of world order constructed after World War II, the senior historian of the CIA, Gerald Heines, stated that the US "assumed out of self-interest, responsibility for the welfare of the world capitalist system" (words very similar to NSC 68). Now the term "self-interest" or the "national interest" refers of course to the special interests that wield state power. The wielding of state power became a particular concern for the corporation, the dominant institution in society, after the market failures of the 1890s and 1930s.

After the Great Depression, and during World War Two, planners realised that continued economic growth required massive state intervention in the economy. The purpose of the state is to socialise risk and costs whilst handing over private profits to the corporations and the ruling classes that own and operate them. In the US this is achieved by massive military spending that has little to do with security and defence. It is in this way that the modern information economy was constructed, for instance the internet owes its origins in the attempt to "control escalation" during nuclear war.

Consider the observations of the strategic analyst, Fred Kaplan, who states "Here are the stark numbers. The original defense budget for fiscal year 2004 was 0 billion. Bush's supplemental request for Iraq and Afghanistan, which he announced last Sunday on television, is billion, for a total of 7 billion. Let's be conservative and deduct the billion of the supplemental that's earmarked for civil reconstruction (even though the Defense Department is running the reconstruction). That leaves 6 billion. By comparison, in constant 2004 dollars (adjusted for inflation), the U.S. defense budget in 1985, the peak of the Cold War and Ronald Reagan's rearmament, totaled 3 billion. That was billion to billion less than this year's budget (depending on whether you count reconstruction). In 1968, at the peak of the Vietnam War, the budget amounted to 8 billion. That's billion to billion below Bush's request for this year. You have to go back more than 50 years, when 50,000 Americans were dying in the big muddy of Korea, to find a president spending more money on the military—and even that year's budget, 7 billion in constant dollars, wasn't a lot more than what Bush is asking today." Indeed if one counts much of NASA spending as a part of military spending, then the military budget may exceed NSC 68 levels in constant dollars. This is why there exists a correlation between US defence spending and the business cycle. One cannot understand the end of the cold war if one does not understand this fundamental point, but more especially one cannot understand the threats to survival that confront us without appreciating this source of the drive toward militarism.

We can see how this system, what Chomsky refers to as "the Pentagon system", functions precisely by taking the militarisation of space as a case example. To do so we need only look into the Final Report of the Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry. It states, "The federal government plays a key role in promoting the health of the U.S. aerospace industry. Maintaining global aerospace leadership to ensure America’s military preeminence, guarantee homeland security, and assure economic growth and a superior quality of life for our citizens in the 21st century requires government activism." It goes on, "The federal government has called on the aerospace industry in time of crisis in the past. The aerospace industry has always responded when called. Today, the U.S. aerospace industry is in jeopardy and is looking to the federal government to respond."

This is because, "The health of the aerospace industry, today and in the future, is inextricably linked to the leadership of the federal government." So, the US aerospace industry "is in jeopardy" and the health of this industry "is inextricably linked to the leadership of the federal government". An intriguing nexus, which is certainly worth exploring.

How precisely does the future of the aerospace industry depend upon Government leadership? Luckily for us, the commission is rather helpful on this score. It states, "the direct link between the U.S. government and the nation’s aerospace industry is the federal procurement system through which federal agencies purchase air, missiles and space systems and their related infrastructure from the private sector companies that comprise the aerospace industry." Therefore, the US aerospace industry relies upon the Pentagon system for its health and vigour. Now the commission goes further, stating that, "between FY 1993 and FY 2001, federal procurement spending dropped 35 percent on air systems, 50 percent on missile systems, and 46 percent on space systems in absolute dollars. At the same time that the U.S. government was buying fewer and fewer aerospace systems, federal departments and agencies were also investing fewer dollars in R&D efforts of private industry to advance and improve existing aerospace systems."

Furthermore, the problem faced by the aerospace industry is compounded by class war for the commission informs us that, "the U.S. Air Force, NASA and FAA are the three lead agencies for aerospace. Figure 5-6 shows that during the same years in which federal support to the aerospace industry was declining, U.S. Air Force, NASA and FAA spending on their own internal workforces (i.e., personnel) increased by 25 percent in absolute dollars even though overall federal support to the industry was declining. This suggests, that in the past decade, the operating costs of those three organizations began to 'encroach upon' activities in other areas (i.e.,procurement and R&D)."

Thus to restore health to the US aerospace industry, that is to say to increase profitability, more "procurement" is needed. Enter Ballistic Missile Defence and the militarisation of space. The Noble Prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg, in the New York Review of Books, writes that, "there is no question about the enormous cost of missile defense. We are currently spending about nine billion dollars a year just for research and development, and a deployed system covering the entire United States would surely cost several hundred billion dollars, all to ineffectively counter a highly implausible threat." Indeed, it is almost daily that one reads about the successful winning of Government contracts for missile defence by key Pentagon system corporations which is occurring alongside a system of mergers and acquisitions as aerospace corporations maneuver themselves for the great boon of the century. It is precisely with BMD and the militarisation of space that the Pentagon system's procurement problem will be solved.

Of course, we have recognised that all this leads to greater insecurity, "security" is simply not an issue. Indeed consider the words of Weinberg again; "Even those for whom national defense is the one clearly legitimate reason for government spending ought to consider whether the enormous sums required for missile defense would not be better spent on defense of other sorts. There are many ways to attack the United States with nuclear or biological weapons that, unlike ballistic missiles, do not immediately reveal the source of the attack. Over the past year or so I have served on two panels of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Hart-Rudman Independent Task Force on Homeland Security Imperatives and the Rudman Independent Task Force on Emergency Responders. It has been painful to learn how much the lack of funds has limited our ability to defend the country from terrorists. For instance, the cost of adequate physical security at our commercial seaports would be about billion, but only .3 million in federal grants has been authorized and approved. The US may be spending one third of what is required to adequately provide for those who would have to respond to emergencies. American cities have fewer policemen and firemen now than they did before September 11, 2001. Last October the Hart-Rudman panel concluded that ‘a year after September 11, 2001, America remains dangerously unprepared to prevent and respond to a catastrophic attack on US soil.’ This remains true”.

So, this whole charade will not only greatly increase insecurity, in fact poses a threat to human survival as discussed, but also totally ignores the other real threats to US security. But that is beside the point. The issue here is to create short-term profits, focusing on such matters as long term survival is simply irrational as far the Pentagon system and the system of state-corporate mercantilism is concerned. Of course there are other issues involved that lie behind the militarisation of space. These surround the problems of US hegemony, the “Grand Area” and Eurasia for which "full spectrum" or "escalation" dominance is the perceived remedy. To delve into this interesting issue requires an essay in itself.

I would like to conclude with one of these issues however, namely by re-visiting "self-deterrence". "Full spectrum" or "escalation" dominance is considered to be an important remedy for this problem, but there are also others such as propaganda. Consider for instance the words of General Wesley Clark, who in Waging Modern War states of the invasion of South Vietnam that, "in military terms compellence seemed to translate into a certain implicit or explicit bargaining through the graduated use of force, inflicting ever increasing punishment to convince an opponent to change his behaviour. It was to be applicable against the smaller non nuclear states". Clark continues, "many of us in the United States and the Armed Forces had seen early on the fallacies of gradualism. It was clear that the US effort to halt North Vietnamese support of the fighting in South Vietnam by 'signaling' US resolve through carefully constrained, politically designed bombing, which avoided decisive military impact, had been a failure".

For Clark this lead to a number of conclusions. "I realized, the force applied must be much greater than we had been willing to commit at the time, must be intensified more rapidly, and must be directed at achieving significant military ends". However, Clark does not end there. This attitude towards the use of military force has a problem, as Clark notes. "But apparently this was quite difficult, as I reflected on such operations, because modern democracies, the political leaders were usually too hesitant, imposing tough constraints on military actions, and military leaders were not bold enough in pushing for the real military muscle required to achieve significant military objectives. The results, I thought, were extended campaigns that could leave democratic governments vulnerable to the their own public opinion...once fighting had begun, you had to escalate rapidly and achieve ‘escalation dominance’ over an adversary, if you were to succeed".

The authors of the strategy of "shock and awe", the military doctrine of the neo-conservatives as well as Wesley Clark, refer this to as "rapid dominance". They see the same problem and the same solution. So in the key text on "rapid dominance" we see that "in assessing the future utility and applicability of Rapid Dominance, it is crucial to consider the political context in which force is likely to be employed. As we enter the next century, the probability is low that an overriding, massive, direct threat posed by a peer-competitor to the U.S. will emerge in the near term. Without compelling reasons, public tolerance toward American sacrifice abroad will remain low and may even decrease. This reluctance on the part of Americans to tolerate pain is directly correlated to perceptions of threat to U.S. interests. Without a clear and present danger, the definition of national interest may remain narrow."

In the strategic literature this is referred to as "self-deterrence"; the population, which might get silly ideas about not wanting to wage war for the benefit of state and corporate managers. The people may end up calling off the show if they begin to perceive the risks that US strategic policy makers take in order to secure their own interests and the interests of the privileged sectors of society that they serve. For instance consider the key threat posed by nuclear proliferation to US security, according to the critical Gilpatric report on the topic delivered to President Johnson (this is the key founding planning document on the issue), the report stated, “as additional nations obtained nuclear weapons, our diplomatic and military influence would wane, and strong pressures would arise to retreat to isolation to avoid the risk of involvement in nuclear war”. This is quite similar to the so-called "war against terrorism" in that the terrorist threat to the homeland, placing the north under threat from the south for the first time in the bloody period of European conquest, is meant to assure the population that all is well and business can proceed as per usual. "The war against terrorism" also has the effect of keeping the masses in their proper places, that is to say, in hibernation. However, the population has become aroused and propaganda, such as the Iraqi threat, is increasingly becoming more transparent. It is at this point that propaganda may begin to lose its effects, leading to an overt reliance upon fear.

So, given that "without compelling reasons, public tolerance toward American sacrifice abroad will remain low and may even decrease" we see the problem of self-deterrence in its most stark form; the domestic population cannot be allowed to be aroused by the threat of calamity, leading to a re-writing of policy, i.e. calling of the game of hegemony, preponderance or "unipolarity" and its underlying sources in the political economy. The strategic analyst, Andrew Butfoy, writes “there is an underlying contradiction in the current situation. US nuclear doctrine is said to have functional utility for world order, but it also seems to have a deleterious impact on the legitimacy of the non-proliferation regime”. How do planners makers seek to deal with this contradiction between short-term gains and long-term effects?

Without seeking to change course, because it so profitable for narrow sectors, the obvious solution is clear, namely obtain "full spectrum" dominance thus reassuring the population that all is well, keeping this dangerous beast, hopefully, asleep. This continues to the present day for the Bush administration's Nuclear Posture Review states, “nuclear capabilities also assure the US public that the United States will not be subject to coercion based on a false perception of U.S. weakness among potential adversaries.” As far as the ruling class is concerned the greatest threat we face is not nuclear war, it is popular democracy.

Self-deterrence goes deeper as well. If, as a result of "full spectrum" or "escalation" dominance the world's leading rogue state is undeterrable then only one deterrent to hegemony can possible exist, namely "self-deterrence". Consider for instance the writings of the "realist" International Relations scholar William Wohlforth who states, “the main criticism of the Pax Americana, however, is not that Washington is too interventionist. A state cannot be blamed for responding to systemic incentives. The problem is U.S. reluctance to pay up. Constrained by a domestic welfare role and consumer culture that the weaker British hegemon never faced, Washington tends to shrink from accepting the financial, military, and especially the domestic political burdens of sole pole status”. Of course this comment has an air of mindlessness, according to the mythology “realist” thinkers represent the rational end of the International Relations spectrum. So a consistent “realist” will see that Nazi Germany’s drive for “unipolarity” was no doubt a “systemic incentive” in which case Hitler “cannot be blamed for responding to systemic incentives”. The Nuremberg trials should have acquitted senior Nazi leaders of the crime of aggression, we may surmise. The author goes on, “if the analysis here is right, then the live-for-today nature of U.S. domestic institutions may be the chief threat to unipolar stability”.

Precisely. The greatest threat to hegemony is greater democracy; because democracy is a defective system for when the people construct policy as actual participants they will be concerned with, say, "a domestic welfare role". This leads to the odd notion that public concern should be directed at such measures as health, education and social security, not to providing a boon for high tech industry through the militrisation of space and "full spectrum dominance" which serves to increase the threats to survival and whose only use is to line up the pockets of the rich at public expense. Essentially we are seeing massive transfer payments, basically a form of taxation, from the population right into the hands of corporate and state managers under the pretext of "security". "Mutual obligation" surely dictates that this dangerous form of welfare must be ended. This all of course requires massive propaganda and fraud such as "missile gaps" and the like. The "manufacture of consent", including the academic study called “International Relations theory” and “strategic studies”, is a key component of the system.

Self-deterrence, so understood, interestingly is perhaps one of the least analysed aspects of strategic planning even by the peace movement. This is of very serious concern because planners in Washington fear "self-deterrence" for they recognise that this is the greatest threat posed not only to the system of world order constructed for the benefit of corporate and state managers but to the whole system of political economy that has a nexus between the state and the corporation right at its core.

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