George Bush says he wants to put weapons in space to protect us from rogue states and terrorists. As usual, long-standing U.S. goals pick up new justifications throughout time.
The desire to militarize space goes back to the 1960s, but acting on it is banned by international law. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty said that space “is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.” Carrying weapons of mass destruction, testing weapons and establishing military bases in space are all prohibited. Space is “the province of all mankind,” reserved for peaceful and scientific purposes.
The treaty is unclear as to what is banned and what constitutes a violation – from space any weapon could be a WMD. The Clinton administration blocked efforts at the United Nations, led by China, to extend and clarify the treaty, as these efforts would have found U.S. policy in violation.
In 1997, the U.S. Army Space Command declared that the United States sought “to control the space medium to ensure U.S. dominance.” It noted that the U.S. military, like every military in history, exists to protect “national interests and investments,” and predicted that as globalization continues widening the gap between the “haves” and “have nots,” U.S. space power will be needed to protect the “haves.”
Bush, not to be outdone by Clinton, brandishes a more blatant disregard for the law. In 2001 Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld headed a space commission focused on ensuring the U.S. right to space-based weapons.
In 2002 Bush withdrew from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty, which banned space-based weapons, claiming it hindered U.S. ability to protect from missile attacks by terrorists or rogue states. Russia and China, trying to avoid an arms race, submitted a proposal for a new treaty to ban weapons in space, but Bush said there was no need – we already have the Outer Space Treaty, which Bush would continue to ignore.
Bush’s “ownership society” apparently extends into space, as policy has shifted from control to ownership of space. In 2003 the Air Force Space Command released a report that said, in the past, “whoever owned the high ground owned the fight.” Space is “the ultimate high ground,” and controlling it “means superiority in information and significant force enhancement. Tomorrow, ownership may mean instant engagement anywhere in the world.”
It tells planners to “consider integrating future development capabilities, such as the capability to deliver attacks from space,” into war plans. The Air Force regards this as a positive transformation, and compares it to Nazi Germany: unlike the French, “the Germans combined their tanks with a new concept and organization (blitzkrieg) and other new systems … to produce a transformational effect that revolutionized warfare.” As the Nazis strove to dominate the earth, so will the U.S., but from space.
In May of this year, the New York Times reported Bush is expected to approve a national-security directive authorizing space militarization. The Pentagon has already spent billions developing and preparing ways to deploy space weapons in efforts to create “an incredible capability” to strike anywhere in the world, according to Gen. Lance Lord, head of the Air Force Space Command.
Debate thus far assumes that if it works and is not too costly, then we should proceed.
The cost of the weapons is not a problem – one purpose of defense spending is to provide weapons producers and the high-tech industry with profits. If it doesn’t work, U.S. corporations will have made billions; if anything useful comes out of it, they will sell it to the taxpayers who paid to develop it. This is a very nice arrangement for the wealthy, and if the wealthy are happy, the cost is no problem at all.
If it works, however, we have a problem. China, Russia and other states assume it will, and are already developing new nuclear weapons and weapons systems to counter it. The day after the Times article, the Financial Times reported that “Russia would consider using force if necessary to respond if the U.S. put a combat weapon into space.”
Space militarization does not make us safer, and it is not supposed to. It is supposed to project U.S. power.
Gen. Lord says, “Space superiority is not our birthright, but it is our destiny.” If Bush approves this national-security directive, our destiny may not extend too much further into the future.
Khalid Adad can be reached at [email protected]