America Needs Space Weapons—Now

The United States today exists in an increasingly unstable, multipolar world of competing states. Since the start of the Global War on Terror in 2001, the United States abandoned larger strategic concerns to mollify the scourge of Islamic extremism effectively. However important this fight may have been and may continue to be, the fact remains it also distracted us while opening a strategic opportunity that America’s rivals, including China and Russia, have been more than happy to exploit.

Today, China’s nuclear arsenal is expanding at breakneck speed and Russia’s nuclear force is entirely modernized, posing a serious threat to the United States and its allies. A recent study by Globsec, a Slovakia-based NGO affiliated with NATO, concluded that if the United States and Russia ever went to war, the Russians would not only use nuclear arms in a limited fashion, they also would likely defeat the United States in such a conflict.

The solution is not merely to match either the Chinese or Russians warhead-for-warhead, in the manner of Cold War-era deterrence. Such an endeavor would be far too costly today. And given the opaque nature of the Russian and Chinese systems, we’d never know for sure if we were ahead of these rivals, or if we were on the losing side of a “missile gap.”

Focusing too much on matching a rival’s nuclear arsenal could also prevent the United States from pursuing a much more vital mission: improving domestic tranquility by expanding our economy. Further, a missile build-up would all but ensure the start of a new Cold War. Given the multipolar world America exists in today, nuclear deterrence based on mutual assured destruction will not work in the same way that it did in the past.

What Ronald Reagan Knew
Today, deterrence requires methods much less straightforward, if only because the number of nuclear actors has increased to such levels that real “balance” is impossible. Also, a country that possesses even a handful of nuclear weapons inherently will possess outsized influence on the world stage.

In that context, it is almost irrelevant how many nuclear weapons the United States has at its disposal (or how advanced they are). Rogue states like North Korea don’t have to pose an existential threat to the United States with hundreds or thousands of warheads. A handful of rudimentary nuclear weapons is threat enough. Pyongyang can threaten us on the cheap much the same as a rival power like Russia can with an advanced arsenal.

The only solution to these kinds threats, then, is to look at what President Reagan did to combat the Soviet nuclear threat.

Reagan fundamentally believed that nuclear weapons needed to be abolished and that the Soviet Union was the paragon of evil at the time. He was right on both counts. Obviously, eliminating nuclear arms in the face of the Soviet threat was a nonstarter. So Reagan set about expanding America’s nuclear arsenal (and the military overall); loudly denouncing the Soviet Union; covertly supporting anti-Communist movements throughout the world; and insisting that the world would be better when Communism was dead.

Yet Reagan couldn’t shake his conviction that nuclear weapons were the most terrible things devised by man. In his first term, Reagan realized that the United States could render nuclear arms obsolete while waging a (winnable) Cold War against the Soviets. He sought to deploy a space-based missile defense system—dubbed “Star Wars” by its opponents—to protect America and its allies against the threat of Soviet nukes. With such a system in orbit, the Soviet nuclear risk would have been erased, and the need for nuclear arms would have been removed, with no actual war required.

Deterrence, Now More Than Ever
Back in the 1980s, numerous technological barriers stood in the way of deploying a credible space-based missile defense. Today, however, the United States has the technological, financial, and strategic abilities to build and launch such defensive systems. Nuclear weapons have been with the world since the 1940s. Nuclear weapons are relatively easy to develop today. A backward state like North Korea can easily build a reliable nuclear arsenal, just as the Chinese can. So, the idea of resting America’s ultimate defense on these powerful-but-outdated weapons is bizarre.

No matter how many nuclear weapons the United States could build in a short time, or how modern the United States could make its aging force, little could repair the damage that 30 years of post-Cold War cuts and political neglect have imposed on America’s nuclear force. Not in a timely fashion, anyway.

Besides, U.S. leaders have never been comfortable with the destructive effects of nuclear weapons. In many respects, nuclear weapons are more trouble than they’re worth. Unilaterally abandoning nuclear weapons would be folly, as that would open America to attack.

It is in the strategic domain of space where the United States can still deter its adversaries without relying (at least exclusively) on its nuclear arsenal. Reagan understood this. As President Trump faces down rogue states such as Iran and North Korea—not to mention rivals Russia and China—he will need fundamentally to upend our enemies’ strategic calculations.

By placing a reliable missile defense system in orbit; by potentially placing non-nuclear offensive weapons in orbit, American deterrence would be assured, and our competitors would be put on their heels. A missile defense system in space would neuter the threat that nuclear weapons pose, and offensive strategic weapons in orbit would hold our rivals hostage, in much the same way that nuclear weapons held the world hostage in the Cold War—minus the risks to our people.

Russia and China undoubtedly would attempt to deploy their own space-based weapons systems, but the United States would have a considerable lead. America could also limit or deny outright either Russia or China’s entry into the strategic domain of space. Plus, the United States would dominate critical orbits above Earth, making it costlier for either Russia or China to catch up.

This is what deterrence will look like going forward. It will not be about how many nuclear bombs we can build to match our enemies. It will be predicated on moving beyond nuclear weapons entirely—and leaving our competitors earthbound.

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About Brandon J. Weichert

Brandon J. Weichert is a geopolitical analyst who manages The Weichert Report. He is a contributing editor at American Greatness and a contributor at Asia Times . He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers). His second book, The Shadow War: Iran's Quest for Supremacy (Republic Book Publishers) is due in Fall of 2022. Weichert is an educator who travels the country speaking to military and business audiences about space, geopolitics, technology, and the future of war. He can be followed via Twitter: @WeTheBrandon.

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5 responses to “America Needs Space Weapons—Now”

  1. Brandon you seem to have a love affair with govt spending. Seems you should be writing for the Atlantic rather than AG.
    Yes military spending is important and necessary, fascism (government / corporate merger) is not a conservative principle and is dangerous.
    Like your insistence on the taxpayer subsidizing Uber, because you know we “need the technology)…
    Your a tax and spend liberal, not a fiscal conservative!
    Stick to writing about things your good at… Trump!

    • Vinny,

      Thanks for reading the piece. But, I’ve never argued that we should be subsidizing Uber. Uber is an app and does little for actually bettering American lives. I want an investment in REAL things. Not toys, like apps. EV tech, nuclear fusion research, new space tech, these are things that will truly move the ball forward for the country. It’s putting America First. And I do not have a love affair with government spending. I would recommend you take the time to scroll through my growing amount of articles on AG (specifically an article entitled “Deficits Do Matter” from earlier this year) for proof of this. What I’m talking about in this piece goes under the rubric of important military spending. In fact, in many ways, it’s really the MOST important. The idea that government has no role in R&D is exactly why I wrote that previous article on Musk. Before the 2000s, the USG did play a role in helping to fund critical R&D. Just look up Bell Labs. But, I’ve already made my case in the article. You are clearly unconvinced. That is your right. Everything I said in that article was fair and pertained to specific industries. I wrote of limited subsidies and tax breaks for those industries and for specific projects, since they could very well be the next big thing. And, since the USG has significantly reduced its investment in R&D at precisely the same time that our strategic rival, China, has doubled-down on their own R&D spending (with predictable results, just look into China’s great leap forward in quantum computing tech), the USG needs to do something fast to keep apace. Since many Americans share your view on not wanting tax dollars (better to have those funds spent on agricultural subsidies, I suppose) to fund the next great innovation, I argued in that piece that limited subsidies and tax breaks for certain firms doing the R&D is an acceptable alternative.

      Also, many of my relatives were slaughtered by Fascists. I hope that I’m misreading your fascist comments. For the record (and it should go without saying being among friends on AG): I am NOT a fascist in the slightest. I’ve also never argued in favor increased taxes (though I didn’t mind Steve Bannon’s idea of raising marginal tax rates on individuals earning $5 million or more from 39% to 44%, in order to help pay down our oversized debt). On the contrary, I’ve written several pieces calling for not only tax cuts but actual tax reform as well.

      I was an early and avowed supporter of Donald Trump. In fact, I can attest to having several career opportunities taken away from me out here in D.C. specifically because I was a vocal proponent of Trump. I only bring this up because I understand what Trump stood for since the beginning. Even some of his fiercest supporters, in my estimation, miss what Trump campaigned on. Trump NEVER ran as a total fiscal conservative. In fact, as I argued in another recent piece here, Trump is totally non-ideological. That’s what makes him so awesome. Like me, he supports fiscal conservativism as a concept generally. But, in specific instances, as evidenced, for instance, by Trump’s embrace of the ethanol subsidy (one of the stupidest subsidies in the world) during the Iowa caucus; or Trump’s understandable refusal to take the Paul Ryan/Ayn Rand political suicide approach to (not) winning elections by promising to gut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. We all know those three Entitlements as they are currently structured are unsustainable. But how can anyone on the Right expect someone nearing retirement, who likely paid into the system their entire working lives (with the understanding that they would have some form of safety net waiting for them when they ultimately retired) to jump with glee at a political candidate who is promising to fundamentally weaken those programs–especially when Baby Boomers make up the bulk of the voting public today? Trump also opted to have Elon Musk on his business council for the expressed purpose that he recognized there are some good things to what Musk is doing. The idea that Trump is some classical, hard-a** fiscal conservative is absolutely incorrect. Trump is fine with government having a role in our lives as am I…so long as that role serves the majority of the American people.

      Like Trump, I do not support government subsidies or tax breaks categorically. But, in specific cases, I most certainly do. I jumped with joy this last summer when Trump voiced his support for Peter Navarro’s plan to give $123 billion in tax breaks to construction firms to generate $1.2 trillion in private sector spending to meet the demand of Trump’s soon-to-be-announced infrastructure plan. Not because I’m a “tax-and-spend liberal.” I supported it because it WOULD BE a HUUUUGGGEE boost to the economy. I really don’t care how we get to 4% GDP growth per year. Neither does Trump. That’s the target and that’s what Trump is working toward. But he’s going to do it in a way that benefits the MAJORITY of American voters rather than just an entrenched elite. Although that doesn’t mean he’s going to eat the rich. Trump is the definition of a pragmatist and it’s a beautiful thing to see.

      I appreciate your continued readership and if we disagree, well, that’s politics. However, casting aspersions on me simply because you don’t like something I said (about policy; I never attacked anyone personally) is just rude.


      Merry Christmas.

    • That’s all I want. Throw me a frickin’ bone here.