Shared Space Shield (S3)
The current status of the U.S.-Russia relations is reminiscent of the historical turning point of thirty years ago. Unfortunately, that turn never happened, and, humanity missed an opportunity that could have fundamentally redefined the world. Is this opportunity irrevocably lost?
Not yet. A new turn of events in international affairs, together with the current technological revolution, provides U.S. and Russia once again with a unique opportunity to engineer global changes in response to the challenges confronting our civilization.
In 1980, when Reagan won the presidential election, many of his opponents voiced concerns about his qualifications given his acting career, his age (69) and inadequacy. Soviet newspapers proclaimed that Reagan was bringing in the harshest reactionary forces of “American Imperialism”. However, these concerns never materialized. Reagan, in fact, eventually became one of the most prominent U.S. leaders.
In 1983, Reagan made two important announcements. First, he labeled the Soviet Union an “Empire of Evil” - a Star War movie catchphrase, effectively bringing the Soviet and U.S. views of the world to perfect symmetry. For more than seventy years, Soviet ideology had rested on the assumption that capitalism would eventually come to an end, represented as a fundamental scientific fact established by Marx. Since the Western world was still seen as “capitalist” from the Soviet perspective, Nikita Khrushchev unwittingly brought this insight to its logical end when he said “We will bury you”. Reagan’s labeling of the Soviet Union was a reciprocal response.
For decades, nuclear parity implying mutually assured destruction was a fact. However, early on Reagan received an intellectual gift, in the form of a Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), conceived under the auspices of the Heritage Foundation. The initial idea was to place military platforms equipped with powerful lasers in orbit, capable of taking down any ballistic missile once it exited Earth’s dense atmospheric layers. The technical realization SDI turned out to be more complex than originally thought, and various alternatives were considered, yet the main goal remained the same. Addressing Congress on March 23, 1983, Reagan announced that U.S. would build a space shield to protect the nation from any nuclear threat, “to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.”
SDI was not about destroying the USSR through military might. The threat posed by the “Evil Empire” would be removed through technical means, by constructing a high-tech space umbrella, first covering the skies of the United States, and then its allies at a later stage. SDI was a promise to fence off the West from the “Evil Empire” using a space shield, functionally analogous to the Great Mexican Wall promised by candidate Donald Trump. Going forward, the U.S. would win politically and economically by virtue of its better standard of living. Indeed, it was an estimable position of a superpower and its president.
As a citizen of the “Evil Empire” I remember public sentiment at the time towards the U.S.- it was one of respect, and even liking, though the U.S. was never viewed as a “Citadel of Goodness.” By the time Gorbachev rose to power, we had been toying with the idea that we could peacefully prove the superiority of our way through economic competition, showing higher economic productivity, if only we could be relieved of the burden of the arms race. In a nutshell, although we had been branded the “Evil Empire,” we bore no evil feelings towards the United States.
To be fair, Reagan initially spoke of his intention to eventually share Space Shield technology not only with U.S. allies, but also with its prospective antagonists. In her memoirs, Margaret Thatcher noted that, at the 1984 Camp David summit, Reagan mentioned this possibility.
Meanwhile, the first tentative signs of a willingness to change began to emerge in the Soviet Union. This promising political spring, however, soon turned into the last autumn of empire. In-between, two summits took place – one in Geneva, November, 1985, and the other one in Reykjavik, October, 1986. With these summits a brave new world could have blossomed into the bright, post-nuclear future, but the flower’s stem never broke ground.
The outline of events is well known. I will recall only what is essential for my message.
In Geneva, Reagan and Gorbachev met for the first time. In absentia, both considered each other as hardcore, non-negotiable reactionaries. After the meeting, Reagan dropped a phrase “you could almost get to like the guy,” and the feeling was reciprocal. They left the meeting with the feeling that decent co-existence could be within reach. However, Reagan remained a fanatical proponent of SDI, while Gorbachev insisted from the outset that this project could not go forward, positions of diametrical opposition
At this point Reagan offered to share the Space Shield technology, but Gorbachev brushed off the idea as a propagandistic gesture. At one critical point, there was nothing bridging the divide except a vague feeling of mutual liking. But still, rather than abandoning the effort, they agreed to arrange two more meetings. The first summit in the U.S. was scheduled for the beginning of 1987. This would be an important date for my story.
By the summer of 1986, however, the initial Geneva magic of personal trust faded and Reagan went back to his “Evil Empire” rhetoric and his plans for the Space Shield. The Russian military and intelligence agencies also went haywire, as the implementation of the SDI would have reformatted their entire nuclear strategy. Impulsively, Gorbachev sent an impromptu letter to Reagan, asking him to meet on neutral territory. Reagan agreed, and the meeting was scheduled for Reykjavik, to the surprise of staff on both sides.
The leaders arrived with different agendas. Reagan came simply to talk and reiterate his commitment to further discussions, so as to add assurance to the thinning level of trust. Yet Gorbachev wanted a breakthrough, looking for a big win on the international stage to offset the stalling reforms at home. He also sought to demonstrate his coolness as a leader to both friend and foe. Gorbachev therefore created a package of radical proposals that included halving the nuclear arsenal on both sides. He was ready to make a series of dramatic concessions, including some imprudent ones. Reagan also expressed willingness to radically reduce the nuclear arsenal and commit to other important agreements.
Still and once again it all came back to the same fatal impasse. Reagan argued that tests on orbital ABM systems were already underway; their development could not be stopped. He would, however, share this technology with the Soviet Union as a protection against "some maniac like Hitler". Gorbachev flared up: "Excuse me, Mr. President, but I do not take your idea of sharing SDI seriously. You don’t want to share even petroleum equipment, automatic machine tools, or milking machines... Let's be realistic. "
Just as the two leaders of the U.S. and Russia had never been closer to brokering a deal, a rift arose that subsequently remained unmended. The Space Shield, not yet developed, had already played both a provocative and destructive role.
Of course, the problem was not only a lack of trust. SDI was likely to become a new, and even steeper spiral in the arms race. For the economy of the U.S.S.R. in its twilight, the burden could have become unsustainable.
Встреча делегаций Комитета молодежных организаций СССР и Американского совета молодых политических деятелей. Вашингтон, Белый дом, 4 августа 1986 года. В первом ряду (слева направо): ректор Литинститута и будущий министр культуры России Владимир Егоров; помощник секретаря ЦК КПСС Бориса Ельцина Алексей Царегородцев; политолог Сергей Караганов; спичрайтер Рональда Рейгана, а ныне конгрессмен от Калифорнии Дана Рорабахер. Во втором ряду: зампред Ленинградского горисполкома, а ныне председатель Совета Федерации Валентина Матвиенко (вторая слева); сотрудник аппарата Конгресса и будущий генсек Парламентской ассамблеи ОБСЕ Спенсер Оливер (крайний справа); Брюс Вайнрод — один из руководителей Heritage Foundation, разработчик концепции «звездных войн» (третий справа) 50-02.jpg ИЗ АРХИВА АВТОРА
Why immerse ourselves in this story – and history – once again?
It seems the time has come to share certain little-known, yet significant facts and events that I witnessed and participated in.
While the propaganda machinery of the "Evil Empire" and the "Den of Imperialism" droned on, diplomats as well as military and intelligence officers from both sides were looking for effective alternatives. GONGOs were also actively involved in this dialogue.
I happened to participate in the dialogue between such two GONGOs - the USSR Committee of Youth Organizations and the American Council of Young Political Leaders. A high-level delegation of the United States came to us at the end of 1985, just after the Geneva summit. The return visit took place in August 1986, on the eve of the Reykjavik summit.
The photo, made thirty years ago, in one of the offices of the White House, captured the young leaders together. Among the Americans were Dana Rohrabacher, speechwriter for President Reagan, later in 1989 and today a California representative in U.S. Congress; Spencer Oliver, who occupied a notable position in Congressional administration back then, and from 1999 to 2016, was Secretary General of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly. Bruce Weinrod was one of the leaders of the Heritage Foundation and a developer of the "Star Wars" concept (afterwards the representative of the Secretary of Defense in Europe and member of the Council on Foreign Relations). People from our Soviet delegation also became important political, public and business leaders of the new Russia, and advanced to high positions in government.
Our first conversation with Weinrod took place in December 1985 near Batumi, in Soviet Georgia. While the future Congressman, Curt Weldon, chaired a heated plenary discussion on the South Korean airliner, we went for a walk. This one small walk set the stage for a great leap.
Along with Vladimir Aksenov, Chairman of the Committee of Youth Organizations of the USSR, we summarized our conversations and sent a classified note “to the Authority” (Soviet slang) through an official channel, and then a dozen copies – through informal ones. The main part of it, together with appendices, was published in 1989 in the bestseller "After Communism" under the pseudonym S.Platonov (see Russian branch of Wikipedia). I will recall the key details.
Weinrod was informed that in high-level circles of party and state leadership, there were discussions about discontinuing the identification of contemporary American society with “capitalism” in program documents. In accordance with Marx’s foresight, capitalism practically ceased to exist with the series of disasters that marked the first half of the 20th Century. Modern western society was acquiring a different, post-industrial foundation, so it seemed that the “assumption of its inevitable end” which undermined all mutual trust, could be discarded. The upgraded Soviet and American visions of social development, while remaining competitive, even conflicting, will eventually find grounds for aligning strategic priorities. With the removal of artificial ideological barriers, the problem of mutual trust between the superpowers would finally get a solid basis for solution.
Keeping this crucial reconciliatory gesture in mind, it is now clear, we said, that the US proposal to transfer SDI technology is not excessively, but rather insufficiently, radical. What is needed is not just a transfer of technology, but a full-scale joint effort to design, manufacture and deploy a shared space shield under the auspices of a specially created international organization.
Weinrod tried to keep his countenance, though in the heat of the moment he used emotive expressions like "turning point" and "very plausible," quite unusual for his dry style of discourse. He pledged to conduct “high level consultations in Washington" and invited us to meet at the Heritage Foundation headquarters during a return visit.
This meeting took place in August 1986, and outside of the agenda and view of the main delegation. During its preparation we were able to expand on the rationale for a concept of shared space shield in more detail.
Six months were spent intensively working on the arguments and their comprehensive testing in dozens of high office discussions. At the time of the meeting in Geneva, the idea of an international space shield was nothing more than S. Platonov’s reckless scheme. All we had in terms of political support was the tacit approval of Vadim Zagladin, scholar, writer, First Deputy Head of the International Department of the Central Committee. By the time of Reykjavik, the idea was vigorously supported by many in Soviet leadership, including Vladimir Kamentsev, Vice-Chairman of the Council of Ministers, Alexander Bessmertnykh, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Philip Bobkov, First Deputy Chairman of the KGB. Moreover, the latter two had organized discussions respectively with Shevardnadze and Kryuchkov, which may be seen as an informal approval of the Shared Space Shield concept.
The very idea of accessorizing an orbital ABM system with the latest laser weapon, which Regan promoted as liberating, was hiding grave danger within itself, which was not recognized at the beginning. Therefore, the path to accepting the idea of the Shared Space Shield started exactly from recognizing this danger.
Since the first ABM resources were deployed, all military experts realized that if the shield was in the same hands that clutch the nuclear sword, the shield starts to play a destabilizing role and provokes an escalation. Therefore, the main achievement of the first U.S.-Soviet detente was the ABM Treaty of 1972. Yet, subsequent deployment in orbit of two or more laser enhanced missile defense systems, operating under different commands, would explode the situation and push it from fragile equilibrium to immediate clash.
Suppose, for example, those with the best of intentions agree to place in orbit only X-ray lasers (whose beams are absorbed by the atmosphere) - to eliminate the possibility of attacks on ground targets. Let’s say each party deliberately tries to program its system for purely defensive tasks. It turns out that it is really not possible to do this in principle.
A nuclear missile attack is carried out with rocket escape velocity, yet the warning system communicates with the speed of light. There remains the gap of at least a few minutes for human intervention to halt or avert a catastrophe caused by a technical or human error. In the case of a space weapon with laser capability, there is no such gap – the attack and the alert occur at the same speed of light. This leaves no room of human intervention, even in theory; this becomes a war of machines. If there are two or more such machines, the first shot becomes the last and fatal. Therefore, the only possible algorithm for protection is to shoot down the foreign platform in the first microseconds of its reaching orbit.
In other words, there can be only one space missile defense system and it must be shared. Were it locally owned, it would automatically become an instrument of global suicide.
Our grand plot was for the Heritage Foundation to relay documents containing arguments in support of a shared space ABM system to the US President before the next summit, while we pushed them through on the Soviet side.
We have circumstantial evidence that Weinrod’s colleagues did a good job on their end – and we also did so in Moscow. In February of 1987, Anatoly Chernyaev, Aide to our Secretary General, received our papers on the Shared Space Shield from three different channels at the same time, and forwarded them to Gorbachev in one package. Gorbachev was going on a ten-day vacation with his wife Raisa, grumbling that even there he could find no peace; but he took the documents with him, and even familiarized himself with them.
It was, however, too late.
The unplanned and improvised meeting in Reykjavik had already reshuffled the cards in the deck. Our arguments and the underlying rationale did not find their way to the addressees before the all-important meeting, but only afterwards, when discussions on the Space Shield had already taken place in a less than constructive manner, one essentially led to a rift on the subject.
Intermittent dialogues between the presidents continued for another couple of years, but the urgency of the unresolved problem of SDI seems to have waned and was practically put on the back burner. Arms matters were becoming less of priority for Gorbachev as the Soviet Union was beginning to slide into the abyss. After the Iran-Contra scandal, Reagan had problems of his own. Moreover, he soon publicly retracted his words about the "Evil Empire." As the walls of pro-Soviet regimes were cracking, many thought that a lasting nuclear-free world was already at the doorstep anyway. Everyone was tired of tedious discussions led by meticulous military specialists embroiled in endless technical details, and so these specialists gradually lost the attention of mass media, then the attention of voters, and then the politicians.
For a while, we refused to admit defeat. Early in 1992, we managed to promote the idea of a joint SDI unit in Yeltsin's peace initiatives. In the same year, a group of experts under the auspices of the Foreign Policy Association of Alexander Bessmertnykh were commissioned by Kosmoflot, a private firm headed by the famous cosmonaut German Titov, to do a comprehensive analysis of the Shared Space Shield project’s economic, political, defense and international implications. However, very soon Gaidar’s economic shock therapy cured the community of experts of their cosmological daydreaming.
Mankind, at this point in history, was yet to tip its hat to the insightful, fortyish real estate mogul Donald Trump, a man who’s business has been far from being a warheads merchant. Yet, even in 1990, he was expounding an interesting nuclear weapon position to the interviewer of “Playboy”:
“I’ve always thought about the issue of nuclear war; it’s a very important element in my thought process. It’s the ultimate catastrophe, the biggest problem this world has, and nobody’s focusing on the nuts and bolts of it… Nobody wants to talk about it. The greatest of all stupidities is people’s believing it will never happen, because everybody knows how destructive it will be. What bullshit. ... It’s like thinking the Titanic can’t sink.
«Эти черти во власти стену покрасить не в состоянии, а мы им даем ракеты, направленные на Москву. А если они не в Москву полетят? А если наши компьютеры не сработают? Это полный бардак» 50-04.jpg ТАСС
Too many countries have nuclear weapons; nobody knows where they’re all pointed… We have thousands of weapons pointed at us and nobody even knows if they’re going to go in the right direction. They’ve never really been tested. These jerks in charge don’t know how to paint a wall, and we’re relying on them to shoot nuclear missiles to Moscow. What happens if they don’t go there? What happens if our computer systems aren’t working? Nobody knows if this equipment works, and I’ve seen numerous reports lately stating that the probability is they don’t work. It’s a total mess.”
Today, in early 2017, the threat of non-systemic launch of nuclear weapon appears to be more real than ever. The actions of terrorists, separatists, nationalists, extremists, sectarians, mafia or other groups, can lead to illegal use of self-made or stolen nuclear weapons, or unauthorized launches of missile from the arsenal of one of the nuclear powers. The list of possible scenarios could include a bad act of a rogue nation, or simply a spontaneous launch from the arsenal of a legitimate state due to malfunction.
The response to the growth of such threats has been an accumulation of local and regional missile defense systems, which serve only to exacerbate the neuroses of other nuclear powers.
In general, the international nuclear weapons complex quickly grows complicated in an uncontrollable manner and the possibility of losing control of its elements and subsystems is quite real. It would certainly serve us well to analyze it as a whole. However, the whole takes on a very paradoxical character.
Seemingly separate units of this broader complex with scattered systems of management and control are inextricably linked in the sense that some were created for the purposes of deflection or destruction of others. However, their physical and technological co-dependence is mediated by incomplete and often erroneous intelligence data about organizational structure, capabilities, as well as the composition and management of the opposing forces, and perhaps most importantly, the current and future plans for their use.
In terms of engineering and technology, the world’s military-nuclear complex of weapons is a dispiritingly motley patchwork, where many of the carriers continue to operate from the middle of the last century (their designers and manufacturers long dead), while their holders and operators have largely lost their technological savvy. The communication and alert systems have fallen behind the growing challenges of managing the complex, in which there are gaps and outright holes as a result of political changes and crises, not to mention the fact that the parties are developing ever more powerful information system disrupters and enemy control infiltrators. The protective walls that separate the complex from external intrusions are constantly stretched, increasing their permeability. At the same time, the threshold of complexity for development of warheads and delivery systems by private entities continues to drop. An Elon Musk could appear on either side of the fence at any time.
In short, the international nuclear weapons complex is the most unique, large-scale, technologically complicated property in the history of mankind, and one essentially deprived of a proprietor. It is rapidly becoming unmanageable, which is evidenced by an uncontrolled, self-sustaining arms race. There are, of course, countries with communities of professionals, some in uniform and others not, who sincerely believe that they have everything under control. In fact, their responsibilities are limited and field of vision patchy, rife with blind spots and gaping black holes. Sure enough, if the world detonates, no treacherous intent or faulty component will be uncovered. And there will be no one (and no reason) to conduct the investigation.
It is rather astonishing that a nuclear accident has not yet occurred. Whether this is due to Divine Providence, or care of extraterrestrial civilizations, we should stop tasking their patience.
Fortunately, the advent of distributed ledgers, the Internet of Things (IoT), and self-fulfilling (smart) contracts creates a long-awaited opportunity to revisit the idea of the Shared Space Shield (S3) on a new technological basis. As America’s Mark Twain observed, “History may no repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes.”
In our endeavor to solve the historic problem of how to get “the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete,” we should not feed any illusory hopes of a quick success. The process of “demining” this monstrously overgrown complex will take more than a few decades.
Yet now we can return to the heritage of the "Star Wars" and with Reaganesque gesture commence the outlining of the Star Shield project. Let’s assume for simplicity’s sake that “Star Shield” is the code name for a business simulation game. One of its scenarios is described below. I would ask military experts not to be overly set on finding fault with particulars.
We can start with the threat of unauthorized launches.
The Star Shield International Project shall be formed by a joint agreement of the main nuclear powers and shall be declared open for all states ready to recognize themselves as owners of nuclear arsenal and/or those who apprehend danger of unauthorized or off-system launch from their territory.
Agreed initial contributions shall form an investment fund. It shall invest resources in the defense industries of participating countries to produce and place in orbit a compact complex of laser weapons, which will be owned by the Member States and will be able to quickly detect and, if necessary, shoot down any nuclear carriers, ballistic and cruise missiles, hypersonic rocket planes, aircraft, and unmanned vehicles of different classes. The Fund shall have a monopoly on placement of laser weapons in orbit.
At each stage, its automatic control system shall be programmed to solve a specific narrow class of problems. The program shall be developed, approved, and agreed upon unanimously by all participants, and can be started, stopped or changed likewise. In the interim periods, while new unanimous agreements are being formed (on the basis of a distributed ledger), the shield will operate automatically, and it will be impossible to intervene in its work.
Participating countries shall voluntarily supply all their warheads and carriers with sensors that are triggered at initiation and which instantly send encrypted signals, programmed by the Country’s top military authority, to the Star Shield. The signal can only be received by Star Shield devices and relay the message that this initiation was authorized by the legitimate leadership of the participating countries. The Star Shield does not respond to authorized initiations, i.e. it does not prevent Member Countries from using their own nuclear weapons as they may wish.
The Star Shield shall react to unauthorized launches and automatically destroy the carriers.
Software-based security features that safeguard offensive capabilities of participating countries may be supplemented by direct physical constraints. First the Shield’s ammunition capacity can be restricted to no more than a few dozen targets so as not to undermine any participating country’s nuclear power.
As bilateral, multilateral, or international nuclear arms agreements are adopted, restrictions may be placed on various types of nuclear arms with respect to their make, size, destructive power, or conditions and methods of nuclear weapon use. They will be programmed into the Star Shield using smart contract technology and will expand its functionality to support automatic implementation of these agreements. Control of Star Shield events at all stages of its development will be carried out by all participants using the distributed ledger technology.
Countries that have decided not to participate in the Star Shield Project retain their inherent right to launches and flights of potential carriers of warheads on their own sovereign territory. Carriers flying beyond and/or outside of such territories will acquire the status of "unauthorized launch" and will automatically be destroyed by means of the Star Shield.
Any attempt by non-member countries to place their own laser weapons in orbit shall be treated as unleashing a nuclear war and shall be prosecuted as a crime against humanity. On the other hand, laser weapons not yet placed in orbit may be freely transferred to the Star Shield and their value can be prorated towards the charter fee for joining the project. Contributions (co-investments) by any participant in the Star Shield Fund may be also made through transfer of ready-made weapons, infrastructure, defense companies or by providing specialized services.
This brings us to the final and most important matter.
Politicians concerned with parity rates and sovereignties, as well as military specialists who are fixated on issues such as " focusing of a laser beam" or " gyro-stabilized platforms" are sure to miss the main point of the S3 system. In the foreseeable future, the Shield can leave all the above matters without changes, thus leaving military and political status quo untouched.
The S3, indeed, is above all a self-supporting and profitable investment project based on the cutting-edge financial technologies. Its purpose, amongst other things, will be to gradually relieve countries of the monstrous transaction costs of existing defense and security institutions which burden national budgets.
A compact orbital complex with shared international ownership will incrementally, as the consensus on substantive issues is reached, assume the responsibility of ensuring member military security, from tactical to strategic levels. It is clear that this can be achieved with transaction costs far below current ones, which continue to be escalated by the proliferating malignant tumor of the international nuclear complex. Freed up funds can be partially reinvested in the development of the S3, expanding its functionality to communications, environmental monitoring, meteorological research, and the conversion of defense industry facilities, amongst other things. Of course, in the near-term, the Space Shield’s purpose will also be to defend civilization not only from its own internal threats, but from potential extra-terrestrial ones - large meteorites, asteroids and other vagrants of space.
It is important to emphasize once again that the S3 is far from being a technocratic, anti-war utopia. Neither tomorrow nor in the foreseeable future, will it of its own accord eliminate the doctrine of mutually guaranteed destruction, nor will it change the military-strategic balance. It will not limit national sovereignty in any way except one: a collective Shared Space Shield monopoly on space laser weapons.
Notably, the fundamental value and the most important shared property of the S3 member-countries is not so much a platform with combat lasers in orbit. It is indeed a fintech investment platform together with an open distributed ledger of all nuclear weapons, carriers, and infrastructure.
Some generals with their modus operandi stuck in Punic Wars still hope to catch the enemy off guard on "X hour" with ambush using mobile missiles and launchers disguised as farm silos and elevators that risk to morph into unaccounted launchers. As a result, a world suspicious from seeing simple Google-earth images of foreign water pump stations continues to remain in the paranoid state of a global arms race.
But once the S3 Commonwealth clearly see the configuration of all weapons of mass destruction – their own as well as those of others – and are convinced of their mutual nuclear invincibility, they will see the path to the strengthening of that guaranteed invincibility while many-fold reducing defense capabilities and costs.
By creating a technological basis for reliable international security, the Shared Space Shield opens the door to new impact co-investment opportunities, peaceful competition and mutually beneficial integration of national economies. Furthermore, it generates its own incentive. The greatest returns will go to those who most quickly and completely remove the transaction costs of the national defense industry (without it being a detriment to security) and reinvest them using the methodology of Impact Investing to solve the problems of global growth and societal development.
The Unites States and Russia can and must work together to de-mine the earth’s sky, free the civilized world from the burdens of the arms race, and realize the great dream – “to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.”
Head of Research, Laboratory of Institutional Project Engineering