For the first time in decades, the United States is staring down the prospect of a nuclear war with our old rivals, the Russians. As Russia continues with its illegal invasion of Ukraine, Moscow is throwing every element of their military into the ongoing fight. As this occurs, the Americans and their NATO allies continue arming and giving support to the embattled Ukrainian resistance—which Moscow increasingly says is an escalatory move by the Western alliance that will not go unanswered.
While Russia’s war in Ukraine grinds on, the rapidly nuclear-arming rogue states of Iran and North Korea continue making threats against the United States and our allies as well. Recently, Iran tested what they are claiming was a satellite (but that most experts understand was likely a backdoor test for an intercontinental ballistic missile) and lobbed missiles near the U.S. consulate in Erbil, northern Iraq. North Korea has engaged in similar missile launches. What’s more, North Korea may have tested a rudimentary hypersonic weapon in January of this year (which prompted the FAA to briefly shut down all air traffic along the west coast of the United States).
China, meanwhile, continues to pour money into its own growing war machine. Last summer, for example, Western analysts were shocked by the discovery of a massive arsenal of nuclear missile silos in the Chinese desert. That discovery was followed on by the even more stunning display of China’s advanced hypersonic missile technology—a weapon system against which America has little defense. Russia, too, has its own arsenal of hypersonic weapons as well as a nuclear arsenal that is both larger than that of the United States, and which may (at least in the non-strategic nuclear weapons category) be more advanced than that of the United States.
Therefore, the strategy of deterrence upon which Washington has relied for many decades to ensure America’s continued security is rapidly disappearing. Deterrence has long been predicated on the assumption that no country possessing nuclear weapons would be insane enough to court direct conflict with another nuclear weapons state because there could be no victor in such a conflict. Both nations that dared to wage a nuclear war would be destroyed. Yet, as the words of America’s own enemies have shown, it appears to be an exclusively American assumption that nuclear war is unwinnable.
Despite these American assumptions about the unwinnable nature of nuclear warfare, U.S. rivals are not only developing many more nuclear weapons than the Americans possess, but these rivals are building new technologies, such as hypersonic weapons, that will outpace American defensive capabilities. If these trends persist, then, America’s deterrence will be dead—and the United States will be left in the weaker position, inviting greater attack from these foes.
In fact, America’s enemies—notably Moscow—have for years accurately assessed that the United States defeated the Japanese Empire in World War II precisely because of their use of limited nuclear warfare. Russian military leaders have never shared the apocalyptic view of nuclear warfare that American leaders historically havbelieved.
Restoring deterrence, therefore, will not come from the United States simply matching the number and sophistication of either the growing nuclear weapons arsenals of Russia and/or China. And given how much difficulty America has had in creating its own hypersonic weapons, hoping for America to match the capabilities of either China or Russia is an insufficient policy in the near-term.
A better solution is for the United States to pull ahead of our enemies while we still can. America enjoys the greatest technology and innovation base of any country in the world (though that lead is steadily eroding). If America’s enemies no longer fear the country’s nuclear deterrent, if those rivals insist upon investing in technologies designed to circumvent America’s military dominance, then the United States must attempt to end-run its enemies in its own unconventional way.
Space-based missile defenses are America’s only hope for overcoming the offensive capabilities of its enemies. To defend against nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles, space-based capabilities are key for intercepting these ghastly weapons of destruction before they can reach American airspace.
What’s needed is a coterie of new space-based sensors to detect and track incoming hypersonic weapons and interceptors in orbit that can, as the name suggests, launch immediately upon detecting enemy hypersonic weapons and knock them from their course. Similarly, with nuclear weapons, America must have space-based ballistic missile defenses always circling the globe to prevent any incoming nuclear weapon from getting too close to the mainland United States.
America’s failure to create next-generation defenses, such as reliable space-based missile defenses, within the next decade will lead to catastrophe. Presently, the world is teetering on the brink of a nuclear war—however limited—with Russia. Those who say it cannot happen are wrong. Clearly, Moscow (and likely Beijing) assume that they are nearing the tipping point where the correlation of forces favors them and not the Americans. At which point, an all-out strike against the United States is conceivable, if not probable, should tensions boil over.
All of America’s leaders must stand together and demand that the United States Space Force begin an immediate program for expanding America’s ailing national defenses to the cosmos before America’s advancing rivals believe that America’s deterrence is obsolete, and they can achieve a modicum of victory in war with the United States rather than peaceful coexistence. Only by securing America’s place in the strategic high ground of space can the country defend itself on the Earth below.