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Russia, China Join Against US 'Star Wars'

China has repeatedly made clear that it would vastly increase the size of its intercontinental ballistic missile force, building hundreds more nuclear armed ICBMs if necessary to swamp America's new ABM defenses.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Jun 20, 2005
Russia and China have joined forces in a major U.N. forum to oppose U.S. plans to develop new space weapons. And the move could herald a far more wide-ranging strategic cooperation between the two nations.

Russia and China have joined forces to urge the U.N. Conference on Disarmament to launch a new round of international negotiations to prevent the increased militarization of space.

On June 9, the two countries issued a joint working paper calling for the reactivation of the moribund Committee on Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space that was discontinued in 1994. The appeal was delivered to the Disarmament Conference in Geneva.

Hu Xiaodi, China's veteran top negotiator, and one of its most influential policymakers on space weapons systems, told the conference, "The recent developments concerning outer space are worrisome and require more urgent efforts to start work on preventing an arms race in outer space... China and Russia stand for the negotiation, at the Disarmament Conference, of an international legal instrument prohibiting the deployment of weapons in outer space and use of force against outer space objects."

Analyst Sergei Blatov writing for the Eurasia Daily Monitor of the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation called the Sino-Russian initiative "an apparent strategic partnership" and added that it was "understood to be anti-Washington, due to known joint Russo-Chinese opposition to the planned U.S. National Missile Defense (NMD) program."

The initiative is not likely to get anywhere.

Efforts through the U.N. Disarmament Conference to update international space disarmament agreements have deadlocked. The United States has said it sees no need for any new space arms control agreements.

Also, President George W. Bush has appointed a neo-conservative super-hawk, Robert G. Joseph, to replace John Bolton as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs.

Joseph has been a leading advocate of countering Chinese and other potentially threatening ballistic missile build ups not with arms control agreements but with the unilateral U.S. deployment of high tech active, as well as passive weapons systems.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov used the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the famous Baikonur cosmodrome, still operated by Russia but now in independent Kazakhstan, on June 2 to warn that his country was prepared to deploy counter weapons to any new ones the United States launched into the heavens.

"If some state harbors plans to deploy weapons in space or starts doing this, we will certainly take measures in response to this," he said.

Some U.S. and Russian experts have pooh-poohed both the signals from the Bush administration that it intends to boldly develop new strategic capabilities in space and the ability of nations like Russia and China to block them.

However, U.S. experts have warned that Chinese military scientists have been seriously exploring forms of asymmetrical warfare with which they could cost-effectively disable America's space domination.

The easiest way to paralyze the entire U.S. space satellite system in so-called Low Earth Orbit, or LEO, they warn, is by detonating a nuclear weapon above the Earth to produce a radiation belt at the altitude where the satellites orbit.

Satellites built to function for 10 years will then all die a slow death over just a few weeks as they pass through the most irradiated areas.

"Given the inherent vulnerability of space-based weapons systems (such as space-based interceptors or space-based lasers) to more cost-effective anti-satellite, or ASAT, attacks, China could resort to ASAT weapons as an asymmetrical (defense) measure," Hui Zhang, an expert on space weaponization and China's nuclear policy at the John F, Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University told United Press International in a recent interview.

Also, if China, Russia or even North Korea were to detonate a single nuclear weapon in the upper atmosphere it would produce an electric magnetic pulse, or EMP. One nuclear weapon detonated in near space would therefore melt down the entire electronic communications network of the United States. That could ruin the U.S. economy and utterly disrupt society

China has repeatedly made clear that it would vastly increase the size of its intercontinental ballistic missile force, building hundreds more nuclear armed ICBMs if necessary to swamp America's new ABM defenses.

That could include producing as many as 14 or 15 times as many ICBMs with a range of more than 7,800 miles that are able to threaten the United States, Zhang said.

Currently, China has about 20 liquid-fueled, silo-based ICBMs with single warheads. But if the United States deployed a Ground-Based Missile Defense system with 100 to 250 ground-based interceptor rockets, China would probably be willing to build and deploy anything from 100 to almost 300 more warheads and the missiles necessary to carry them, Zhang said.

Even if the new Alaska-California system of ABM interceptors eventually works as planned to prevent individual or small numbers of ICBM launches by so-called "rogue" nations like North Korea or Iran, it was never designed to protect the United States against any attack by Russia's still huge Strategic Rocket Forces, with their 2,500 nuclear weapons - more than 10 times as many as are needed to obliterate every city in the northern hemisphere or every U.S. town and city with a population greater than 50,000.

Neither the West Coast-Alaska ABM system nor any of the visionary "Star Wars" type programs currently being developed at astronomical cost by the Air Force and, to a far lesser extent, by the Army, show any possibility of defending America against the Multiple Independently Targeted Reentry Vehicle, or MIRV, capabilities of the Strategic Rocket Forces.

So far Russia, apart from the United States, is the only other country in the world with a MIRV capability. And China, despite all its astonishing industrial and technological progress, is still believed to be decades away from developing a MIRV capability of its own.

Up to now, Russia has jealously guarded its MIRV technology and refused to sell or share it with China. But there is no doubt that Russian-Chinese strategic cooperation is developing rapidly. And no one truly knows how far it will ultimately go.

This fall, Russia and China are going to hold massive war games that Blagov described as "unprecedented."

"The war games are expected to involve Russia's strategic Tu-95MS bombers firing cruise missiles, presumably an exercise on how to overcome missile defense," he wrote.

Many experts like respected U.S. space analysts Dwayne Day and James Oberg, and Russian Maj. Gen. Vladimir Dworkin have expressed skepticism that most if not all of the projected new U.S. wonder weapons will ever be deployed at all, given the enormous engineering and technological costs and problems involved

But the very fear that they might be could be enough, others warn, to propel Russia and China to level of strategic and technical cooperation they might never otherwise have contemplated against what may only be a "phantom menace."

All rights reserved. � 2005 United Press International. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by United Press International.. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of United Press International.

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Mere military exploration of space hardware doesn't mean the next Star Wars is at hand. In fact, misinformation in such matters is quite dangerous in this world.

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