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How The US’s Best Defense Against North Korean Nukes Could Spark A Nuclear War With Russia
The U.S. has spent at least $40 billion on a missile defense system intended to knock down or deter intercontinental ballistic missiles fired by North Korea, but actually using the system could lead to an accidental nuclear war with Russia, according to an expert.
Jeffrey Lewis, the founding publisher of Arms Control Wonk, took to Twitter to detail how the U.S. could find itself exchanging nuclear salvos with Russia if it ever tried to shoot down an incoming North Korean ballistic missile.
The U.S.'s Missile Defense Agency, which operates the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) missile shield, told Business Insider in May that in the event of a real incoming threat, they would launch several interceptors to increase the chances of knocking out the missile.
Lewis pegs this figure at about four or five interceptors.
But only one interceptor missile could hit the threat. The others would continue streaking through the high atmosphere towards Russia and China.
The problem is that, in that moment, while U.S. missile defense forces are praying their interceptor hits North Korea's nuclear missile, they're also relying on Russia to be able to tell that the other interceptor missiles aren't a salvo of US nukes.
There's plenty of reason to believe Russia can't do that.
While North Korea, the U.S., Japan, South Korea, and much of the world agree that North Korea's Hwasong-14 missile flew for about 37 minutes to a high point of about 1,800 miles, Russian intelligence assesses that the missile flew for just 14 minutes and reached a height of only 332 miles.
It is possible that Russia's public estimation was so different because it wanted to block UN condemnations and further sanctions on North Korea, by objecting to the consensus that the missile was an ICBM, as it already has.
It is also possible Russia legitimately thinks the missile was far short of an ICBM because their early warning system "stinks" as Lewis put it on Twitter.
For years, Russia has come out with assessments of North Korea's missile launches that wildly diverge from the global consensus. Unlike the U.S., which uses a mix of satellites and ground-based radars, Russia only uses radars to detect incoming launches.
The U.S.'s monitoring system provides the U.S. as much as 20-30 minutes to detect missile activity and to determine a response. Russia's system, meanwhile, provides only a few minutes for determining whether the streaks across its radar screens constitute unarmed interceptors or nuclear-armed ICBMs.
Russia's missile detection difficulties are well-documented. M. Elaine Bunn, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy, wrote in 2004 that the US needed to consider how to notify Russia of interceptor missiles launches during a crisis given "the possibility for Russian misidentification of a GMD or Aegis interceptor launch."
However, since Bunn's suggestion in 2004, U.S. and Russian lines of communication and deconfliction have only suffered.
With little communication or cooperation between the U.S. and Russia about missile launches, Lewis warns that an attempt at intercepting a North Korean nuclear attack could spook the Russians so bad that they respond with a full-on nuclear attack that would leave much of the U.S. reduced to ashes.
More from Business Insider:
- A tiny detail from North Korea's missile launch points to an even more dangerous threat
- Here are all the missile tests conducted by North Korea since 1984
- Rex Tillerson still has a skeleton crew at the State Department to deal with North Korea
- The Navy just laid the keel for its latest attack submarine
- Coast Guard officials say they're struggling to keep up with the drugs flowing to the U.S.
New trailer for 'Bloodshot' gives us Vin Diesel as a super soldier who can literally get shot in the face and just walk it off
(Reuters) - In the summer of 2004, U.S. soldier Greg Walker drove to a checkpoint just outside of Baghdad's Green Zone with his Kurdish bodyguard, Azaz. When he stepped out of his SUV, three Iraqi guards turned him around at gunpoint.
As he walked back to the vehicle, he heard an AK-47 being racked and a hail of cursing in Arabic and Kurdish. He turned to see Azaz facing off with the Iraqis.
"Let us through or I'll kill you all," Walker recalled his Kurdish bodyguard telling the Iraqi soldiers, who he described as "terrified."
He thought to himself: "This is the kind of ally and friend I want."
The US military quietly pulled 2,000 troops out of Afghanistan over the past year without a peace deal
The U.S. military has pulled about 2,000 troops from Afghanistan over the past year, the top U.S. and coalition military commander said Monday.
"As we work in Afghanistan with our partners, we're always looking to optimize the force," Army Gen. Austin Miller said at a news conference in Kabul. "Unbeknownst to the public, as part of our optimization … we reduced our authorized strength by 2,000 here."
"I'm confident that we have the right capabilities to: 1. Reach our objectives as well as continue train, advise, and assist throughout the country," Miller continued.
The New York Times was first to report that the U.S. military had reduced its troop strength in Afghanistan even though peace talks with the Taliban are on hiatus. The number of troops in the country has gone from about 15,000 to 13,000, a U.S. official told Task & Purpose on condition of anonymity.
Separately, the U.S. military is considering drawing down further to 8,600 troops in Afghanistan as part of a broader political agreement, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters on Oct. 19.
"We've always said, that it'll be conditions based, but we're confident that we can go down to 8,600 without affecting our [counterterrorism] operations, if you will," Esper said while enroute to Afghanistan.
So far, no order has been given to draw down to 8,600 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the U.S. official said.
After President Donald Trump cancelled peace talks with the Taliban, which had been expected to take place at Camp David around the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the U.S. military has increased both air and ground attacks.
In September, U.S. military aircraft dropped more ordnance in Afghanistan than they have since October 2010, according to Air Force statistics.
However, the president has also repeatedly vowed to bring U.S. troops home from the post 9/11 wars. Most recently, he approved withdrawing most U.S. troops from Syria.
On Monday, Esper said the situations in Syria and Afghanistan are very different, so the Afghans and other U.S. allies "should not misinterpret our actions in the recent week or so with regard to Syria."