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International Relations

Trump locks on China and Russia with revived 'Star Wars' strategy

Washington looks back to Reagan-era plan amid new missile threats

The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency released a report sounding alarms about China's advances in missile technology.   © Reuters

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump is turning his sights to "new threats" posed by ballistic advances by Russia and China with an ambitious space-based missile defense strategy, reminiscent of the "Star Wars" shield proposed by Ronald Reagan in 1983.

The new plan forms a key part of the Department of Defense's Missile Defense Review released this week, marking the first update of that policy in nine years. At its core lies Trump's deep-seated concern that America's biggest rivals are not playing by the same rules.

During a speech at the Pentagon on Thursday, Trump called for additional government spending on research and development so the U.S. can outpace its adversaries "at every single turn."

"Today marks the beginning of a new era in our missile-defense program," said Trump. "For too long, we have been held back by self-imposed limits while foreign competitors grow and they advance more than we have over the years."

Late last month, Russia successfully tested the Avangard hypersonic missile system, which could deliver weapons at 20 times the speed of sound. China has also become a leader in hypersonic technology, according to a report published Tuesday by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.

Trump seeks to counter that threat through a new network of space-based sensors, as well as satellites equipped with laser missile interceptors. The last time such a system was broached was in the 1980s when then-President Reagan proposed his Strategic Defense Initiative, later nicknamed "Star Wars."

But the current leader has gone even further, with the idea of forming a sixth branch of the armed forces called the Space Force to defend U.S. interests in space. "We will recognize that space is a new warfighting domain, with the Space Force leading the way," Trump said Thursday.

His speech at the Pentagon echoes the concerns he has expressed over Chinese and Russian missile capabilities. Early next month, the president is deliver a formal notice to exit the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which was signed with Moscow in 1987. Reasons cited for the move include Russia's failure to abide by the treaty, and the need to contain China, which continues to develop intermediate-range missiles unfettered by the U.S.-Russia treaty.

But Trump needs approval from Congress to fund the objectives outlined in the Missile Defense Review. Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate's Armed Services Committee, believes that the funding could be better used elsewhere, like modernizing the nuclear triad. "We don't have unlimited resources, so we must weigh investments among competing national security priorities," he said Thursday.

The Democratic Party, which controls the House, is fundamentally opposed to the Trump administration's strategy of "peace through strength" and resistant to expanding military appropriations. Further complicating matters is the standoff between the Democrats and Trump over funding for a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.

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