America's New War Zone
By Andrew Buncombe
20 October 2006
Bush administration has staked an aggressive new claim to dominate space
- rejecting any new treaties that seek to limit the United States' extraterrestrial
activities and warning that it will oppose any nations that try to get
in its way.
A new policy recently signed
by President George Bush, asserts that his country has the right to
conduct whatever research, development and "other activities"
in space that it deems necessary for its own national interests.
The new policy further warns
that the US will take those actions necessary to protect its space capabilities
"and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities
hostile" to those interests. The document adds: "Space activities
have improved life in the United States and around the world, enhancing
security, protecting lives and the environment, speeding information
flow serving as an engine for economic growth and revolutionising the
way people view their world and the cosmos."
"Freedom of action in
space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power."
In some respects the policy
represents the space equivalent of the "Bush Doctrine" national
security policy initially outlined by Mr Bush in a speech at West Point
military academy in June 2002. At that event - and later more formally
codified - Mr Bush said the new US policy would place more emphasis
on military pre-emption and unilateral actions.
Some experts believe the
space directive, discreetly published more than a week ago and barely
noticed outside specialist circles, puts the US on a new and dangerous
course given that it transports "Bush Doctrine" policy to
a new arena and rejects any efforts to limit US behaviour.
"I think that saying
we will not have any limits on our actions is quite dangerous,"
said Theresa Hitchens, director of the Washington-based Centre for Defence
"It claims no one can
prohibit our rights but it also denies rights to [others].
"You would think that
we would have learnt our lessons about the danger of military pre-emptive
action and unilateralism in Iraq yet we are repeating the same policy
In part the new directive
builds on the space policy of the Clinton administration. But some believe
its new, hardline rhetoric will increase international suspicions that
the US is seeking to develop and deploy weapons in space.
"The Clinton administration
opened the door to developing space weapons but that administration
never did anything about it. The Bush policy now goes further,"
Michael Krepon, of the Stimson Centre, told The Washington Post.
Mr Bush's attitude to space
has always been more ambitious than that of his predecessor. In 2004
he outlined a vision to restart sending astronauts to the Moon, and
even to Mars. In the same year the US Air Force published a highly controversial
plan for establishing weapons in space, amid speculation that advanced
lasers, spacecraft and space-based weapons firing 100kg tungsten bolts
were being developed. And earlier this year it was revealed that the
Pentagon was seeking hundreds of millions of dollars from Congress to
test and develop space weapons.
In those portions of the
new policy document that have been made public, there is no specific
mention of the weaponisation of space. It says the US's priorities are
to "strengthen the nation's space leadership" and to enable
"unhindered US operations in and through space to defend our interests
there". But the policy also claims that national security is "critically"
dependent upon space capabilities. As a result it calls on the Defence
Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and the Director of National Intelligence,
John Negroponte, to "develop and deploy space capabilities that
sustain US advantage and support defence and intelligence transformations".
In recent years some nations
have called for talks to ban the deployment of weapons in space. Currently
the deployment of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction
are prohibited by the 1967 United Nations Outer Space Treaty.
When proposals to ban the
weaponisation of space have been put forward at the UN, the United States
has routinely abstained. But last October the US voted against a UN
resolution calling for the banning of weapons in space.
Likewise, the US has repeatedly
resisted efforts to hold negotiations on the issue of banning the placement
in weapons by the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament.
Wade Boese of the Arms Control
Association said the language in the new policy was "much more
hard line" than any that previously existed.
He added: "We believe
that this allergy to treaties is counter-productive. The US has the
most to lose if there is an arms race in outer space in the long run.
If the US [puts weapons in space], other countries will respond in some
A spokesman for the White
House's National Security Council said in a statement that the policy
was needed to "reflect the fact that space has become an even more
important component of US economic, national and homeland security".
The final frontier
President Bush announced
his Vision for Space Exploration in January 2004, calling for humans
to return to the Moon by the end of the next decade. The first wave
of robotic probes is the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, due to launch
in 2008. As well as seeking landing sites, it will search for water
ice and other resources. The initiative is supported by 68 per cent
of Americans, according to opinion polls.
Under President Bush's 2004
vision, Moon exploration would pave the way for human space travel to
Mars and beyond. The Mars reconnaissance Rover arrived on the Red Planet
on 10 March 2006, equipped with the most powerful telescope ever taken
to another planet.
The Clinton administration
in 1999 revived Ronald Reagan's "star wars" space-based anti-missile
shield as the Pentagon pushed for a more aggressive military posture
in space amid warnings that North Korea, Iran and Iraq could obtain
nuclear weapons. The programme became known as "son of star wars".
Space weapons could include lasers that can shut down rival satellites
and "killer" satellites that could ram others.
The new Bush policy calls
for space-based capabilities to support missile-warning systems, and
"multi-layered and integrated missile defences" that could
lay the groundwork for the militarisation of space.
© 2006 Independent News
and Media Limited
Share Your Insights