After what many are describing as Trump’s attempted channeling of Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ program with Thursday’s unveiling of a missile defense strategy heavily focused on space as “the next war-fighting domain”, Moscow has issued a predictably harsh rebuke, calling the newly published US Missile Defense Review (MDR) “openly confrontational” and a danger to global stability and peace.
Warning that Washington’s missile defense strategy could restart the Cold War-era arms race, the Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday accused the White House of seeking to weaponize space while removing any limitations to development. Indeed President Trump did appear to reaffirm his controversial decision to pull out of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia during his remarks at the Pentagon Thursday affirming, “We are committed to establishing a missile defense program that can shield every city in the United States and we will never negotiate away our right to do this.”
In response, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced, “We would like to note that the very same logic served as the foundation of the widespread nuclear missile race that brought the world to the brink of disaster multiple times.” The statement added that US defense planners “apparently decided to step on the same rake, with predictable consequences,” in reference to 20th century nuclear brinkmanship.
Trump and the MDR itself called for investment into “new technologies” focused on space such as space-based launch detection sensors that would coordinate anti-air missiles on the ground in places like Alaska, in order to “shield every American city”. The president said the US must “recognize that space is a new warfighting domain, with the Space Force leading the way.” He further promised it will be a “very, very big part” of America’s future defense:
My upcoming budget will invest in a space-based missile defense layer. It’s new technology. It’s ultimately going to be a very, very big part of our defense and obviously of our offence.
We will ensure that enemy missiles find no sanctuary on Earth or in the skies above. This is the direction that I’m heading.
But Moscow fired back that the plan “practically gives the green light to deploying elements with strike capability in space,” which will “inevitably lead to an arms race in space, which would have the worst kind of consequences for international security and stability,” according to the Foreign Ministry statement.
The statement further urged Washington to “come to its senses” and abandon any restart of a new ‘Star Wars’ program, first proposed under the Reagan administration. It described that the opposite of global stability and peace would be the outcome, as any weaponization of space would result in a “heavy blow to international stability, which is already falling apart thanks to irresponsible actions by Washington.” The statement concluded, “Obviously, no one wins in this scenario.”
Moscow partly appears to be reacting to the fact that the Pentagon’s review of the nation’s missile defenses (the first since 2010) specifically names Russia as among bad actors and potential threats. For example, the concluding section to the newly published Missile Defense Review identifies Russian cruise and hypersonic missile capabilities as a rising threat:
As rogue state missile arsenals develop, space will play a particularly important role in support of missile defense.
Russia and China are developing advanced cruise missiles and hypersonic missile capabilities that can travel at exceptional speeds with unpredictable flight paths that challenge existing defensive systems.
The exploitation of space provides a missile defense posture that is more effective, resilient and adaptable to known and unanticipated threats… DoD will undertake a new and near-term examination of the concepts and technology for space-based defenses to assess the technological and operational potential of space-basing in the evolving security environment.
It will be interesting to see the extent to which the Kremlin responds with a “gloves off” approach, as it has increasingly and very publicly hyped its own advanced weapons programs over the past year while talk of finally abandoning the INF comes out of Washington, and as Trump urges greater defense spending among European NATO allies.
Meanwhile one former high level Russian defense official has told RT “militarization of space is inevitable” — perhaps signalling that Moscow is ready and willing to answer Trump’s call (above its own skies) to protect the homeland “anywhere, anytime, anyplace”.