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     Mar 10, 2007
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The militarization of outer space
By Jack A Smith

(For the first part of this two-part article, see The futuristic battlefield)

Outer space begins where Earth's atmosphere ends, some 100 kilometers above the globe's surface. The United States wants the ability to militarize outer space to sustain its world dominance. The Pentagon can already monitor the world from space. Now it seeks to develop and deploy military systems in space that allow the US to strike with great force anywhere on Earth in less than

an hour.

The Defense Department's Global Strike Integration policy seeks to "gain and maintain both global and theater space superiority and deliver tailored, integrated, full-spectrum space support to the theater commander, while maintaining a robust defensive global counter-space posture".

This means occupying space with surveillance and reconnaissance satellites and anti-satellites, ballistic missiles, missile or kinetic interceptors, and other advanced technology weapons to assist US land, sea and air forces in maintaining military hegemony throughout the world. It also means preventing any other country, by force if necessary, from using space for similar purposes, including self-defense.

Aside from the satellites, which have become key to the Pentagon's battle plans, most of the other technology is in the research and development stage or awaiting deployment decisions from the White House that are complicated by political complexities.

The George W Bush administration - especially the Defense Department and particularly the US Air Force (USAF) - is anxious to launch a full-scale militarization of space, regardless of its enormous expense and the fact that it will inspire worldwide condemnation, generate a dangerous arms race in outer space, and undoubtedly enhance prospects for major wars in this century.

The rightists and neo-conservatives are not unaware of these potential consequences but they are confident the US will prevail because of its overwhelming power. In effect, "It's worth the price."
But that mindset is not shared so far by most Americans outside the hard right, particularly in the absence of any other country that could come near to threatening the United States for global primacy. In addition, virtually every other nation in the world, including Washington's close allies in Canada and the European Union, opposes the weaponization of space, as is evident from repeated votes at the United Nations.

What this means is that the US is clearly heading toward space militarization - more slowly during the Bill Clinton administration, more swiftly during the Bush administration - but not yet with the acceleration the war hawks demand or the Bushites would prefer.

The annual US space budget amounts to about US$36 billion. This constitutes 73% of what the world's nations collectively spend on space, including China, Russia, the European Union, Japan and India, according to the Space Security Project.

At a certain point, perhaps in the not distant future, one Washington administration or another may be able to convince the American people, and particularly the elite that rules the country, that Russia, China or both have become such grave threats to US hegemony that survival depends on extending the reach of Fortress Americana into the heavens. Since the Second Cold War against both these countries is getting under way, the pretext is in the process of becoming established.

The plan to use outer space as part of America's war preparations was put forward by the right wing during the vehemently anti-Soviet years of the 1980s, resulting in president Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" anti-missile program and the creation of the Air Force Space Command in 1982, the mission of which is to "defend North America through its space and intercontinental-ballistic-missile operations - vital force elements in projecting global reach and global power".

By the 1990s, the neo-conservatives were developing ideas for projecting US power throughout the world, including the militarization of space - resulting in an influential document published in 2000 by the Project for the New American Century titled Rebuilding America's Defenses. A year after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the Pentagon and New York's World Trade Center, President Bush included most of these ideas in a new National Security Strategy for the United States. At about the same time, Bush withdrew the US from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which had barred development of missile defenses and space-based systems.

One complication for the Pentagon is that the US, as a signatory of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, may not "place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction (chemical or biological killers), install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner".

Thus at this stage the US military space program is based on "conventional" warfare, not weapons of mass destruction (WMD), but with a few adjustments this could change. For instance, more than 70% the Pentagon's "shock and awe" bombing of Baghdad during the first days of the invasion of Iraq was coordinated and sent to target through military satellites in space. These bombs were conventional explosives, but satellites could have guided nuclear weapons as long as they were not launched from space.

According to Hans M Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, "Although Global Strike is primarily a non-nuclear mission, the information collected [about the program] reveals that nuclear weapons are surprisingly prominent in both the planning and command structure for Global Strike."

Both China and Russia, among many nations, have been attempting to gain UN passage of a new treaty banning conventional weapons in space as well as WMD, and also prohibiting the use of satellites to guide warfare on the ground. True to its militarist imperative, the US will not allow any such treaty to interfere with its plans.

Bush put forward a 10-page unclassified version of the new US National Space Policy last October, superseding the Clinton administration policy of September 1996, but it generally obfuscated the government's real intentions. The new policy was similar in some instances to the Clinton era policy but more unilateral, arrogant and favorable toward space militarization, though not coming out with it honestly.

Only by reading between the convoluted lines was it possible to comprehend fully that the US government intends to do as it 

Continued 1 2

Star Wars? Not this decade (Jan 30, '07)

Washington's nightmare (Oct 26, '06)


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