America, World War III, and Space-Based Missile Defense

The United States is staring down the barrel of another world war. Like previous world wars, the coming conflict will be fought using weapons and tactics with which we are currently unfamiliar—and it will require strategic thinking unlike the kind that dominated the previous century’s conflicts. 

Nuclear weapons, used with great effect in World War II to end that terrible conflict, will likely be used to initiate the next. The likeliest use of these terrible weapons will be by Russia in their unjust war against Ukraine. But, even if Ukraine is not where the atomic devastation occurs, China is very near the point of initiating an invasion against democratic Taiwan. And the mad mullahs of Iran appear on the brink of nuclear weapons breakout—as does the North Korean tinpot dictator, Kim Jong-un. 

It is a question of “when” rather than “if” the nuclear genie is loosed from its bottle.

Nuclear weapons have been with us for decades. We have perfected the murderous science behind these ghastly weapons to the point that great powers, like the United States, Russia, and China, all possess the ability to visit nuclear Armageddon upon each other (and the world). Despite having lived through the harrowing days of the Cold War, the United States never seriously invested in a reliable defense against nuclear weapons. In fact, most American leaders scorned the very concept of building reliable defenses against nuclear weapons as “destabilizing.”

After squandering precious time to develop a viable defense against nuclear weapons, Washington should immediately redirect as many resources as possible to the creation and deployment of space-based defenses as well as other ballistic missile defense systems. 

During the Cold War, the bureaucracy resisted Ronald Reagan’s calls for space-based missile defense on the grounds that the technology to create such a revolutionary system was not yet available (none other than legendary Hungarian-American Dr. Edward Teller, father of the neutron bomb, disagreed with the skeptics). Plus, the naysayers complained, deploying a defensive system into orbit to render nuclear arms obsolete would precipitate the very sort of nuclear attack the defensive system was designed to protect against. 

The Soviet Union—now the Russian Federation—was assumed incapable of competing with America’s high-tech innovation. Moscow, meanwhile, determined that only a large arsenal of nuclear weapons could withstand the American threat. Mutual assured destruction (MAD), or so the argument went, prevented either the Russians or the Americans from using nuclear weapons against one another in war. 

Deterrence Is Dead

Even if this interpretation of Cold War history and modern Russo-American nuclear weapons policies were accurate (and there’s plenty of evidence suggesting that even during the Cold War, Moscow believed it could win a nuclear war), the fact that Moscow today is threatening to use nuclear weapons in a “special military operation” in Ukraine indicates that the purported stabilizing aspect of MAD is dead.

Deterrence as we’ve understood the term is dead for the simple reason that America’s foes have cracked the code on how to use military force or even the threat of military action to deter the United States from deploying its own defensive measures against those aggressive actions. In Ukraine, where the Russians are clearly the aggressors, the United States understandably worries about escalation. We fear escalation because our leaders, while they may not admit this publicly, have rendered America vulnerable to nuclear blackmail and escalation. 

All of this could have been avoided—and can still be overcome today—with the right mixture of political will, massive infusion of tax dollars, and a belief in U.S. know-how to overcome the grave situation.

Today, America finally has the capabilities to build a space-based missile defense system. It will be costly; but nothing could be costlier than the lives lost and destruction wrought from a nuclear attack on the United States or its allies. 

Hypersonic Weapons Needed

Similarly, hypersonic weapons have been stuck in development hell for 20 years. Sadly, America’s enemies—both China and, to a lesser extent, Russia—have developed and are perfecting the technology. The United States has its own arsenal under construction. Here again, America is “leading from behind.” Russia has already attempted to deploy a hypersonic missile in Ukraine with mixed results. The mere deployment, even if unsuccessful, of such an experimental weapon in combat allows for Russia’s military scientists to make modifications and learn more about the potential of the weapon. 

China’s hypersonic program is much more sophisticated than Russia’s and is designed to directly threaten the continental United States. What’s more, the United States lacks the kind of early warning and air defense systems needed to detect and destroy hypersonic weapons that may be heading toward the American mainland.

Most defense experts believe that the United States government should invest in a layered network of sophisticated satellites that would be capable of tracking incoming hypersonic weapons and deploying effective countermeasures against those weapons as they approach their American targets. 

The United States is facing a potential world war that it might lose because it has failed to make investments into the systems it needs to protect itself. We are now beholden to the violent whims and irrational threats of our rivals when, given America’s high-tech capabilities, no country should have the means to threaten us as Russia and China—even Iran and North Korea—possess. 

America’s elite fear embracing new technology at the start of this new, possibly nuclear, world war for fear that they could upset whatever balance they believe still exists in the world. In order to catch up to reality, however, American leaders will have to fundamentally reorder their standard operating procedures. America needs to adapt to the demands of 21st-century warfare. After two failed wars in the Middle East, a little strategic innovation is just what history has ordered. 

Failure to adapt to the changing environment will lead to our country’s ruin, just as it destroyed the Austro-Hungary or Ottoman Empires in World War I. 

The crisis we now face is also an opportunity. It is the chance for us to completely end-run the nefarious plans of our enemies before they can engage in the horrific strikes that may precipitate another, devastating world war. The arrival of this revolutionary defensive technology would immediately restore deterrence and remove the risk of nuclear world war. American leaders should demand an immediate, robust program for space-based missile and hypersonic weapons defense before our enemies decide to exploit the weaknesses we’ve allowed to form in our national defense. 

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About Brandon J. Weichert

A 19FortyFive Senior Editor, Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life (May 16), and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy (July 23). Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.href="https://twitter.com/WeTheBrandon">@WeTheBrandon.

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