Monday, March 12, 2007

THE NEXT WAR, AND THE NEXT, The futuristic battlefield By Jack A Smith

"We will export death and violence to the four corners of the Earth in defense of our great nation."
- President George W Bush in Bob Woodward's book Plan of Attack

While most Americans are concentrating on extricating the US government from the debacle in Iraq, and most peace activists are simultaneously concerned that the Bush administration will launch a war against Iran, the leaders of the Pentagon are planning how to win wars 10, 20, and 50 years from now.

Washington is preparing for every contingency, from rooting out a handful of suspected terrorists halfway around the world to possible wars with Russia and China.

The Defense Department's drawing boards are groaning under the weight of blueprints for sustaining total military dominance of land, sea, air and outer space throughout this century. The costs of supporting the US government's martial propensities will be astronomical in terms of the social programs and benefits denied American working people, not to mention the consequences of living in a state of permanent warfare.

The recent decision to escalate the Iraq war with a "surge" of 21,000 more troops, the plan to increase the armed forces by another 92,000 troops, and President George W Bush's request for US$716 billion to meet the Pentagon's warmaking needs in fiscal year 2008 are a harbinger of what's coming next - new technologies for fighting future wars on the ground, improvements in the nuclear stockpile and delivery systems, and the militarization of outer space, among other military goals.

The Pentagon's futuristic war plans and the 2008 war budget leave no doubt that the US has discarded president George Washington's warning in 1796 to avoid "overgrown military establishments", or president Dwight D Eisenhower's advice in 1961 to "guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence by the military-industrial complex".

The 2008 war budget not only exceeds the combined military budgets of the rest of the world's nations, but means the cost of Bush's "war on terrorism" (including Iraq and Afghanistan) amounts to more in inflation-adjusted dollars than the cost of the Korean or Vietnam wars.

Washington's ever-expanding forces of war, combined with more than 750 major military bases around the world to secure America's economic and political empire, mean that the United States, despite the absence of helmeted brutes in hobnailed boots parading on cobblestone streets, is a militaristic society that is a danger to world peace.

"Today, as never before in their history," writes Andrew J Bacevich in his stunning book The New American Militarism, [1] "Americans are enthralled with military power. The global supremacy that the US presently enjoys - and is bent on perpetuating - has become central to our national identify. Americans in our own time have fallen prey to militarism, manifesting itself in a romanticized view of soldiers, a tendency to see military power as the truest measure of national greatness, [and] have come to define the nation's strength and well-being in terms of military preparedness [and] military action."

Unless militarism is curtailed, Chalmers Johnson predicts in The Sorrows of Empire, four things will happen: "First, there will be a perpetual state of war, leading to more terrorism against Americans wherever they may be. Second, there will be a loss of democracy and constitutional rights. Third, an already well-shredded principle of truthfulness will increasingly be replaced by a system of propaganda, disinformation, and glorification of war, power and the military legions. Lastly, there will be [national] bankruptcy."

Let's look at some of those Pentagon blueprints for the next war, and the next, and the next, focusing first on America's high-tech plans for ground wars (Future Combat Systems), then nuclear wars (Complex 2030), and, following directly, space wars (the new National Space Policy).

A whole new battlefield
Future Combat Systems (FCS) is the Pentagon's name for an effort to "build an entirely new army, reconfigured to perform the global policing mission", according to the Office of Management and Budget. This is a system of modern warfighting based on dominating any possible adversary through the use of nearly 50 new technologies. The objective is to improve strategic agility, increase battlefield lethality, and kill more of the "enemy" while reducing American casualties even further.

The New York Times has described FCS as "a seamless web of 18 different sets of networked weapons and military robots. The program is at the heart of [a Defense Department] plan to transform the army into a faster, lighter force in which stripped-down tanks could be put on a transport plane and flown into battle, and information systems could protect soldiers of the future as heavy armor has protected them in the past. Combat soldiers, weapons and robots are to be linked by a $25 billion web [known as] Joint Tactical Radio Systems. The network would transmit the battlefield information intended to protect soldiers."

The February 2007 issue of Harper's magazine contains a revealing article on FCS titled "The coming robot army" by Steve Featherstone, who writes:

The practice of warfare has changed dramatically in the past 60 years. Since Vietnam, the American military machine has been governed by two parallel and complementary trends: an aversion to casualties and a heavy reliance on technology. The Gulf War reinforced the belief that technology can replace human soldiers on the battlefield and the Black Hawk Down incident in Somalia made this belief an article of faith. Today, any new weapon worth its procurement contract is customarily referred to as a "force multiplier", which can be translated as doing more damage with fewer people. Weaponized robots are the ultimate force multiplier, and every branch of the military has increased spending on new unmanned systems.

At $145 billion [not including the cost of the radio network mentioned above], the army's Future Combat Systems is the costliest weapons program in history, and in some ways the most visionary as well. The individual soldier is still central to the FCS concept, but he has been reconfigured as a sort of plug-and-play warrior, a node in what is envisioned as a sprawling network of robots, manned [and unmanned] vehicles, ground sensors, satellites, and command centers. In theory, each node will exchange real-time information with the network, allowing the entire system to accommodate sudden changes in the "battle space". The fog of war would become a relic of the past, like the musket, swept away by crystalline streams of encrypted data. The enemy would not be killed so much as deleted.
According to a report last June by the congressional Committee on Appropriations, the cost of FCS could reach an extraordinary $200 billion to become fully operational by the projected date of 2025. Even then, all this money will be able to equip only 15 out of 70 combat brigade teams with the full array of FCS technology. The original cost was supposed to be $100 billion, and some sources are predicting the price may go up to $300 billion before its finished.

The US Navy is modernizing, as well. According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), "The navy in 2006

introduced a new ship force structure plan that calls for achieving and maintaining a 313-ship fleet," including another three aircraft carriers to join the existing dozen already in service.

US Air Force modernization includes obtaining 60 F-22A Raptors (out of 183 on order, each costing more than $100 million (but $300 million each when research and development expenses are added to production costs) and F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, which the CRS describes as the largest aviation program in terms of estimated cost ($276 billion) and numbers (2,458 aircraft). In addition, contracts are out for building 180 C-17 Globemaster strategic airlifters, a sure sign the Pentagon anticipates quickly flying a great deal of military tonnage to distant countries.

Upgrading the nuclear force
According to Article VI of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the existing nuclear powers - primarily the US and Russia - are obligated to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control".

Washington and Moscow did in fact reduce the number of nuclear warheads in the 15 years since the end of the Cold War, but there have been absolutely no steps toward general and complete nuclear disarmament - the only way to end nuclear proliferation and to prevent nuclear war. Russia (including when it was the USSR) affirms a willingness to rid the world of nuclear weapons but insists that all states, including the US, must be willing to do so as well before Moscow destroys its stockpiles. Washington will not agree.

At this stage, the US has about 6,000 strategic warheads compared with Russia's 5,000, down from the 1990 total of about 14,000 and 11,000 respectively. (A "strategic" nuclear weapon can produce thousands of kilotons of explosive force. One kiloton equals 1,000 tons of TNT. The largest ever tested was 50,000 kilotons in 1961. A "tactical" nuclear weapon possesses the explosive power of a fraction of a kiloton. The small 12-kiloton atomic bomb with which the United States decimated Hiroshima in 1945 killed more than 150,000 people immediately or in its aftermath.)

According to the terms of the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), the US and Russia must reduce the number of their deployed strategic warheads to 2,200 by 2012 when the treaty expires - a size that can still destroy the entire population of our planet many, many times over. The key word here is "deployed", meaning mounted and ready to be fired in minutes. SORT does not call for the remaining strategic warheads to be destroyed, which means the weapons will be put in storage, along with thousands of tactical weapons. The treaty does not cover tactical weapons.

The latest plan for increasing US nuclear power was made public on October 20 under the title Complex 2030, the number standing for the year of its supposed completion. The cost at minimum will be $150 billion, but it will end up with a much higher price tag. This program, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, will "entail upgrading the entire US nuclear-weapons complex while designing and producing a series of new nuclear warheads".

These new weapons, produced through the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) Program, would ultimately replace the entire US nuclear arsenal. Under Complex 2030, "the US nuclear weapons laboratories would return to the Cold War cycle of nuclear weapon design, development, and production. This initiative would risk a return to underground nuclear testing and would undercut US efforts to limit the development of new nuclear weapons by other countries."

The Bush administration's proposed new budget calls for spending $89 million in 2008 on research and development of the new warheads, double the amount for fiscal 2007. Incidentally, the Pentagon's existing stockpile of nuclear weapons is expected to remain viable for another 50 years, but the new warheads evidently will be more technically proficient.

The Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Agency, which is in charge of the warheads, claims Complex 2030 will not entail nuclear-weapons testing, but this could change. The US signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996, but it has not been ratified by the Senate. Under the terms of the NPT, the US was supposed to have ratified the treaty years ago.

War hawks in and around the Bush administration are worried about reducing the strategic arsenal to 2,200 warheads at the ready, even when enhanced by Complex 2030. A subcommittee of the Defense Science Board, an important advisory group to the Defense Department, reported in December that the new program does "not provide for a nuclear-weapons enterprise capable of meeting the nation's future needs".

Wade Boese, writing in Arms Control Today (January-February 2007), says the task force wants the reduction to be "reversible in case relations sour with China or Russia". The Defense Science Board is evidently contemplating World War III, and it is clearly not alone.

According to the authoritative magazine Foreign Affairs (March/April 2006), "Today, for the first time in almost 50 years, the United States stands on the verge of attaining nuclear primacy. It will probably soon be possible for the United States to destroy the long-range nuclear arsenals of Russia or China with a first strike.

"This dramatic shift in the nuclear balance of power stems from a series of improvements in the United States' nuclear systems, the precipitous decline of Russia's arsenal, and the glacial pace of modernization of China's nuclear forces. Unless Washington's policies change or Moscow and Beijing take steps to increase the size and readiness of their forces, Russia and China - and the rest of the world - will live in the shadow of US nuclear primacy for many years to come."

To ensure its ability to deliver a knockout blow with a first strike, the Bush administration is moving ahead with a so-called "defensive" anti-missile system intended to destroy any possible retaliatory blow from the few possible nuclear weapons that were not destroyed in the initial US attack.

During the Cold War the US and USSR avoided a nuclear war through the policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD). The nuclear equivalency of the time meant that a first strike would not be able to destroy all the other side's retaliatory strike force, assuring that any attack would be met with a counterattack, killing hundreds of millions on both sides - so there was no nuclear war. Now, with the US moving swiftly toward first-strike supremacy and an anti-ballistic-missile system under construction, a catastrophic nuclear exchange in the decades ahead cannot be ruled out.

As an indication of the present world danger, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in January moved the hands of its Doomsday Clock two minutes ahead to 11:55pm - five minutes to annihilation midnight.

Much to Russia's and the world's disappointment, the Bush administration withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2002 to develop an ABM system to eliminate the chance that a nuclear-wounded "enemy" might be able to launch its few remaining nuclear warheads toward the United States. In addition, despite pleas to do so from Moscow, Washington has no intention of renewing - or even discussing renewing - the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) when it expires in 2009.

According to an article about the end of START in the January Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (online) by Pavel Podvig of the Center for International Security and Cooperation, the US "plans to keep the capability to maintain an arsenal of thousands of nuclear warheads for decades to come".

There is not much hope that the current political climate will produce proposals that could change the substance of nuclear-policy discussions. Instead, we see the growing acceptance of the idea that nuclear forces should be preserved (more or less) in their current form, even if no one can clearly formulate missions for these forces.

At the very least, the START process has kept some pressure on the United States and Russia (and indirectly on other countries) to think about nuclear-arms reductions and has provided the framework for implementing these reductions. Now that this process is ending, there is nothing to replace it.

Not only Russia but other countries will strengthen or create their own atomic strike force as a result of America's quest for nuclear domination. For instance, the fear of a US nuclear attack was certainly a motive for North Korea to develop a rudimentary nuclear weapon. In this connection, Russia long ago agreed to a no-first-strike pledge, but the US still refuses to follow suit, maintaining that such a pledge would reduce its options. Washington even maintains it has the right to use nuclear weapons preemptively against non-nuclear states.

Both Russia and China are acutely aware that they are potential targets of a US attack, not least because of their strenuous objections to the concept of a unipolar world with Washington at its epicenter. This was one of the reasons Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered an exceptionally strong critique of US foreign-military policy on February 10 during the Munich Conference on Security Policy. Obviously exercising Russia's new sense of having restored itself to great-power status in recent years, the Russian leader declared:
Unilateral and frequently illegitimate actions have not resolved any problems. Moreover, they have caused new human tragedies and created new centers of tension. Judge for yourselves: wars as well as local and regional conflicts have not diminished. Today we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper-use of force - military force - in international relations, force that is plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts. As a result, we do not have sufficient strength to find a comprehensive solution to any one of these conflicts. Finding a political settlement also becomes impossible.

We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law. And independent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly closer to one state's legal system. One state, the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations. Well, who likes this? Who is happy about this? And of course this is extremely dangerous. It results in the fact that no one feels safe. I want to emphasize this - no one feels safe!

1. Jim Lobe reviews The New American Militarism along with Anatol Lieven's America Right or Wrong in The specter of two 'isms', Asia Times Online, July 9, 2005.

Part 2: The militarization of outer space

Jack A Smith is former editor of the (US) Guardian Newsweekly and editor of the Hudson Valley (New York) Activist Newsletter.


“If the world is upside down the way it is now, wouldn’t we have to turn it over to get it to stand up straight?” - Eduardo Galeano