Turns Space Into Its Colony
By Ehsan Ahrari
20 October, 2006
George W Bush signed an executive order creating a new National Space
Policy on Wednesday. The most crucial feature of this policy is that
it "rejects future arms-control agreements that might limit US
flexibility in space and asserts a right to deny access to space to
anyone 'hostile to US interests'." It adds: "The United States
will preserve its rights, capabilities and freedom of action in space
... and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities
hostile to US national interests."
As much as the United States
is hesitant to admit it, the arms
race is very much on in space. However, the United States is not the
only country pursuing its own military dominance of space. The Bush
administration soon will be known for issuing a slew of "strategies."
The upside of that pattern is that it enables those in charge of any
strategy to think comprehensively and systematically, and to remain
focused on all its aspects.
However, the downside of
having a strategy is that it unduly raises hopes for the solution of
a problem that any strategy is aimed at resolving. What dashes the hopes
of those affected is the realization that having a strategy holds no
promise that the issue of its focus will be resolved in the short term.
That is what is happening to US strategies to fight global terrorism,
and for homeland security, infrastructure protection and cyber terrorism.
The National Space Policy
also suffers from the fact that it is issued in the post-September 11,
2001, era when militarism is such a dominant characteristic of almost
all American approaches to national security. So, the policy sends unmistakable
signals to Russia, China and India - the first a veteran space power;
the latter fledgling actors in that realm - that the United States intends
to monopolize its long-standing space presence by militarizing it.
The Bush administration continues
to deny that it has any intention of militarizing space. However, there
is ample evidence to conclude otherwise.
What concerns international
observers and America's potential competitors in space is that the US
refuses to negotiate a space arms-control accord. Its rationale is that
no such agreements are needed, because there is no space arms race.
However, the US Air Force has published a Counterspace Operations Doctrine,
which "calls for a more active military posture in space",
and says that protecting US satellites and spacecraft may require "deception,
disruption, denial, degradation and destruction".
America's space competitors
also vividly recall that the current Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
chaired a commission which recommended to Congress that it develop space
weapons to protect military and civilian satellites.
The Bush administration also
made its space-related objectives quite clear at the outset. They comprise
strengthening "the nation's space leadership", ensuring "that
space capabilities are available in time to further US national security,
homeland security and foreign policy objectives" and ensuring "unhindered
US operations in and through space to defend our interests there".
For China, the chief problem
related to space competition stems from America's overwhelming dominance
in satellite technology. Consequently, the US military can study, on
a detailed basis, the movement of forces, movement of vehicles and missile
platforms, and other highly sensitive military activities of its potential
competitors and adversaries pretty much at will and develop appropriate
Considering the fact that
satellite technology expertise cannot be developed quickly, and in view
of the fact that it is a highly controlled Western technology, a country
like China does not expect to close the gap with the US in the foreseeable
future. However, despite the wide technology gap in the realm of satellite
development, China is not without countermeasures of its own.
Early this month, the Pentagon
confirmed that Beijing had "tested its anti-satellite laser and
jammed a US satellite". Even though China was not able to damage
the capabilities of the American satellite to collect intelligence,
it underscored the issue of vulnerability of satellites in future warfare.
In a conflict, say, with Iran, Chinese anti-satellite technology could
be quite effective in blinding American spy satellites.
In all likelihood, Congress
may revisit its previous opposition to its own anti-satellite laser
program, Starfire, whose funding was blocked by the House of Representatives.
What also bothers America's competitors is that, during the Bill Clinton
administration, the US was willing to abide by treaty obligations regarding
freedom of action in space. The Bush administration is willing to do
the same. However, it has declared that it "will oppose the development
of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or
limit US access to or use of space".
America's overwhelming space-based
military superiority is also driving its opposition to any negotiations
banning space weapons. A number of its "key weapons systems are
now dependent on information and communications from orbiting satellites
... The US military has developed and deployed far more space-based
technology than any other nation, giving it great strategic advantages.
But with the superior technology has come a perceived vulnerability
to attacks on essential satellites."
There is little doubt that
the space arms race is on. Right now, the US is soft-peddling its profound
predilection to make sure that it stays way ahead of the game. However,
like in all realms of scientific activities, there is no doubt that
its predominance will be seriously challenged. China may be the country
that leads in closing that gap within the next decade or so. When it
does, there is little doubt that China will be as much preoccupied with
having its own share of militaristic presence as the United States.
is the CEO of Strategic Paradigms, an Alexandria, Virginia-based defense
consultancy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
His website: www.ehsanahrari.com.
Copyright 2006 Asia Times
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