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#239 - Jeff Shesol - Cold Wars

In this week's Space Podcast, Matt talks to American Historian, Speechwriter and Author Jeff Shesol about his new book and the Cold War and the potential for more cold war. Matt and Chris take the theme of Space War and discuss the past and future of the militarization of space.



And as I was sayin', whoever controls the high ground of space controls the world. The Roman Empire controlled the world because it could build roads. Later, the British Empire was dominant because they had ships. In the Air Stage, we were powerful because we had the aeroplane. And now the Communists have established a foothold in outer space. Pretty soon they'll have damned space platforms so they can drop nuclear bombs on us, like rocks from a highway overpass. Now, HOW IN THE HELL did they ever get ahead of us?

Lyndon Johnson



The guest this week is

Jeff Shesol

American historian, speechwriter, and comic strip author. He served as a speechwriter for President Bill Clinton and is now a partner at West Wing Writers, a speechwriting and strategy firm in Washington, D.C.

Graduated from Brown University in 1991 before earning his masters in history from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar

His new book.

Mercury Rising: John Glenn, John Kennedy, and the New Battleground of the Cold War





This week the interview we talk about John Glenn and I try to get a feeling for that moment in history and how that looks like with today as the backdrop.



The militarization of space.

We are all obsessed with war and fighting. We romanticize it, the biggest films of the past few decades has often centred around war and strangely they are even more compelling and romantic when set in Space. Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel, Enders Game, War of The Worlds, Starship Troopers, The Expanse etc etc etc.


So with this fixation with war and fighting is it inevitable that Space will become a battleground?


Well, it doesn’t look good.

  • The first suborbital rocket was used to kill thousands in the second world war.

  • The Russians and Americans developed ICBMs for warheads first and then as an afterthought stuck satellites and humans on them later.

  • The Space Race can truly be seen as a military race.


I suppose a slightly less depressing element of this is the scientists, engineers and podcast listeners and hosts, we probably all hate the idea of war in space. So why is it a thing and is it inevitable?


Space War is a classic arms race scenario too, unsurprisingly.

As soon as ICBMs were a thing, so was defence systems against them ...ABMs

  • 1950s Nike-Zeus programme firing Nike nuclear missiles against oncoming ICBMs, thus exploding nuclear warheads over the North Pole.

  • 1958. Project Defender attempted to destroy Soviet ICBMs at launch with satellite weapon systems, which orbited over Russia. This programme proved infeasible with the technology from that era.

  • Work then began on the Sentinel Program which used anti-ballistic missiles (ABM) to shoot down incoming ICBMs


1972 ABM treaty said you could only use ABMs to protect ICMB launch facilities or capital cities and nations were limited to certain numbers


What looks like lunacy is the idea of mutually assured destruction, MAD. So if one side managed to develop a system that could cope with the others warheads then MAD wouldn’t work. Reagan didn’t like the “evil empire” of Russia or MAD, and wanted to build Star Wars.

Andropov responded "It is time Washington stopped thinking up one option after another in search of the best way of unleashing nuclear war in the hope of winning it. To do this is not just irresponsible. It is madness"

Russia developed systems that had multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) systems that allowed a single ICBM to deliver as many as ten separate warheads at a time. Making the US ABM’s very impractical. The whole idea is insanely difficult to shoot down Rocket coming in at speed from space, using nuclear explosions to take the ICMBS out. The tech for a direct hit is very difficult indeed.


The US withdrew in 2002, from the ABM treaty in order to test and build a limited National Missile Defense to protect the United States from nuclear blackmail by a rogue state. The withdrawal also had many critics. John Rhinelander, a negotiator of the ABM treaty, predicted that it would lead to a "world without effective legal constraints on nuclear proliferation." Putin responded to the withdrawal by ordering a build-up of Russia's nuclear capabilities. In 2018 he announced things like the Avangard a MERV that can glide hypersonically and evade targets. In a test, the glider flew at 27 times the speed of sound and hit its target. 21,000 mph, about 3000mph faster than orbital speed.


So basically weapons that use space are most certainly a thing and are incredibly destabilising.



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