Author and Page information
- This page: http://www.globalissues.org/article/69/militarization-and-weaponization-of-outer-space.
- To print all information e.g. expanded side notes, shows alternative links, use the print version:
The exploration and use of outer space … shall be for peaceful purposes and shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interest of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development. … [The] prevention of an arms race in outer space would avert a grave danger for international peace and security
— Prevention of an arms race in outer space, United Nations General Assembly Resolution, A/RES/55/32, January 2001. (PDF Document)
It’s politically sensitive, but it’s going to happen. Some people don’t want to hear this, and it sure isn’t in vogue, but—absolutely—we’re going to fight in space. We’re going to fight from space and we’re going to fight into space. That’s why the US has development programs in directed energy and hit-to-kill mechanisms. We will engage terrestrial targets someday—ships, airplanes, land targets—from space.
— Commander-in-Chief of US Space Command, Joseph W. Ashy, Aviation Week and Space Technology, August 9, 1996, quoted from Master of Space by Karl Grossman, Progressive Magazine, January 2000
This web page has the following sub-sections:
World Agrees: Space for peaceful purposes
Interntionally, for many years, it has been agreed that space should be used for peaceful purposes, and for the benefit of all humankind. Examples of uses and benefits include weather monitoring, help in search and rescue, help in potential natural disaster detection, coordinating efforts on detecting and dealing with issues of space debris and minimizing harmful impacts on Earth, research in sciences, health, etc.
The United Nations (U.N.) Outer Space Treaty provides the basic framework on international space law, saying that space should be reserved for peaceful uses. It came into effect in October 1967. As summarized by the U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs web site, the treaty includes the following principles:
- the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind;
- outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States;
- outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means;
- States shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner;
- the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes;
- astronauts shall be regarded as the envoys of mankind;
- States shall be responsible for national space activities whether carried out by governmental or non-governmental activities;
- States shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects; and
- States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.
Towards the end of 2000, the United Nations General Assembly had a vote on a resolution called the “Prevention of Outer Space Arms Race.” It was adopted by a recorded vote of 163 in favor to none against, with 3 abstentions. The three that abstained were the Federated States of Micronesia, Israel and the United States of America. (You can see the details from a U.N. press release, together with a list of countries that voted, were absent and so on.)
US Seeks Militarization of Space
While various militaries around the world have used Space for years, it has largely been for surveillance satellites etc.
However, the Bush Administration in the United States has long made it clear that the US wishes to expand its military capabilities and have weapons in space and therfore also be dominant in this fourth military arena (the other three being sea, land and air). This new “ultimate high ground” would provide further superior military capabilities.
While it would provide additional important defense mechanisms, many worry about the other benefit it would bring—capabilities for offensive purposes to push America’s “national interests” even if they are not in the interests of the international community.
Furthermore, together with its pursuit of missile defense, (which goes against the Anti Ballistic Missile treaty, an important part of global arms control mechanisms), the USA risks starting a wasteful expenditure of an arms race in space.
Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, and the resulting “War on Terror” military-based policies and spending has increased. So too have the policies looking into space-based weapons. The Washington D.C.-based Center for Defence Information (CDI) provides a detailed report suggesting that this should not be a rushed decision:
Unlike in Star Trek, the “final frontier” has yet to become a battlefield. But if the current trends continue, that will change—not in the distance future of science fiction, but within the next several decades. Emerging Bush administration plans and policies are clearly aimed at making the United States the first nation to deploy space-based weapons. There are several drivers behind this goal, including the very real concern about the vulnerability of space assets that are increasingly important to how the US military operates, and the administration’s decision to pursue missile defense.
Unfortunately, the administration has done little thinking—at least publicly—about the potential for far-reaching military, political and economic ramifications of a US move to break the taboo against weaponizing space. There is reason for concern that doing so could actually undermine, rather than enhance, the national security of the United States, as well as global stability. Thus it behooves the administration, as well as Congress, to undertake an in-depth and public policy review of the pros and cons of weaponizing space. Such a review would look seriously at the threat, both short-term and long-term, as well as measures to prevent, deter or counter any future threat using all the tools in the US policy toolbox: diplomatic, including arms control treaties; economic; and military, including defensive measures short of offensive weapons. There is nothing to be gained, and potentially much to be lost, by rushing such a momentous change in US space policy.
— Theresa Hitchens, Weapons in Space: Silver Bullet or Russian Roulette?, The Policy Implications of US Pursuit of Space-Based Weapons, Center for Defence Information, April 18, 2002
But because space-based weapons have been on the agenda long before September 11, and the War on Terror, the fight against terrorism is not the sole justification, though it may now add to the reasons. However, long before September 11, the concerns of the US’ motives for pursuing such policies have been questioned. The fear is that by seeking to create a dominant position in space, the US will become more powerful and others may be compelled to join an arms race in space.
The above-mentioned CDI report also points out that “The Bush administration’s views were directly reflected in the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), released Oct. 1, 2001. ‘A key objective … is not only to ensure US ability to exploit space for military purposes, but also as required to deny an adversary’s ability to do so,’ states the QDR.” In this context then, space is no longer seen as the resource available for all of humanity, but another ground from which to fight geopolitical and economic battles.
Militarization of Space for Economic Superiority
With regard to space dominance, we have it, we like it, and we’re going to keep it. Space is in the nation’s economic interest.
— Keith Hall, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space, Speech to the National Space Club in 1997. (Emphasis Added)
Most wars (hot wars, trade wars, cold wars etc) throughout history have had trade and resources at their core. (See the Military Expansion part of this web site for more on that perspective.) The military superiority of past and present nations has been to defend or expand such “national interests.” The militarization of space by the USA, even when there has been an international agreement to use space for peaceful purposes, as mentioned above, begs the question “why?”
On 16 January 1984, Reagan announced that “Nineteen eighty-four is the year of opportunities for peace.” War is Peace, as Orwell wrote in his satirical book [called 1984]. Peace through strength, peace through domination. It is clear to most of the world that the Son of Star Wars, the Nuclear Missile Defense option, is also not about defense, but it is another way for the US to exert its global hegemony. The NMD, as this history of the SDI shows us, is a political weapon to further US ends rather than enhance global security.
— Vijay Prashad, Shooting Stars, June 15, 2001
While the answer from US authorities is usually along the lines of defensive purposes (as with the related issues of missile defense and star wars, as also discussed on this web site, in this section), many see the domination of space as the ability to maintain, expand and enforce those policies that will serve that national interest.
The US military explicitly says it wants to “control” space to protect its economic interests and establish superiority over the world.
Several documents reveal the plans. Take Vision for 2020, a 1996 report of the US Space Command, which “coordinates the use of Army, Navy, and Air Force space forces” and was set up in 1985 to “help institutionalize the use of space.”
The multicolored cover of Vision for 2020 shows a weapon shooting a laser beam from space and zapping a target below. The report opens with the following: “US Space Command—dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect US interests and investment. Integrating Space Forces into warfighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict.” A century ago, “Nations built navies to protect and enhance their commercial interests” by ruling the seas, the report notes. Now it is time to rule space.
— Karl Grossman, Master of Space, Progressive Magazine, January 2000
An Arms Race?
How will the rest of the world take to being dominated from above? One doesn’t have to be particularly unfriendly to the US to feel uncomfortable. More naturally hostile or suspicious countries could well feel they have been given no choice but to develop their own antisatellite weapons in an attempt to blind US satellites, even though, since the US will far outspend them, the effort would become an ever receding goal. … It will not only make enemies where none exist, it will drive its Nato allies, already nervous and alarmed about the consequences of the ballistic missile shield plan, into a state of antipathy towards America.
— Jonathan Power, Space—After Tito’s fun it might be Rumsfeld’s nightmare, Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, May 9, 2001
Additionally, the development of weapons in space risks leading to an arms race, as mentioned in the Star Wars section on this site, in discussing the development of missile defenses.
Currently, as CDI points out, the threat to US space-based interests is not as much as it is made out to be:
Vulnerabilities do not necessarily result in threats. In order to threaten US space assets, military or commercial, a potential adversary must have both technological capabilities and intent to use them in a hostile manner. There is little hard evidence that any other country or hostile non-state actor possesses either the technology or the intention to seriously threaten US military or commercial operations in space—nor is there much evidence of serious pursuit of space-based weapons by potentially hostile actors.
Currently, the simplest ways to attack satellites and satellite-based systems involve ground-based operations against ground facilities, and disruption of computerized downlinks. … It is obvious that the United States must ensure the integrity of its increasingly important space networks, and find ways to defense against threats to space assets. Still, there is little reason to believe that it is necessary for the US to put weapons in space to do so. Space warfare proponents are making a suspect leap in logic in arguing that space-based weapons are, or will soon be, required to protect the ability of the United States to operate freely in space. One could argue much more rationally that what is needed most urgently is to find ways to prevent computer network intrusion; to ensure redundant capabilities both at the system and subsystem level, including the ability to rapidly replace satellites on orbit; to improve security of ground facilities (perhaps moving to underground facilities); and to harden electronic components on particularly important satellites.
Furthermore, the evidence of actual space weapons programs by potential adversaries is thin.
— Theresa Hitchens, Weapons in Space: Silver Bullet or Russian Roulette? The Policy Implications of US Pursuit of Space-Based Weapons, Center for Defence Information, April 18, 2002
However, fearful of the additional advantage, dominance and power the US will have, it is possible other nations may choose to develop their own systems to try and keep up or minimize the perceived threat. This will in turn make the US want to increase its expenditure even more, and so on, leading to an arms race, which risks leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy to justify continued expenditures.
Once testing [of space weapons] begins, the “need” for destructive capabilities in orbit induces a mindset opposed to rational restraint. The mindset becomes unassailable if testing is completed, for then the system “must” be deployed since, if we have developed the capability, others will want to follow suit and rapidly will do so.
— Chief of Research, Colonel Daniel Smith, USA (Ret.), Space Wars, Center for Defense Information, February 2001.
While the US may possibly be able to afford this, for other nations to get involved into such expenditures will be costly indeed, especially most have other pressing priorities. (It is also somewhat questionable that even the US can afford this in the long term, but the influential US military industrial complex supports this and so tax payers money will help large military contractors, as also discussed in more detail on the Star Wars page on this site.)
(The star wars part of this section on this web site, also linked to from above, discusses more about the possibilities of an arms race and an impact on international relations.)
For more information, as well as the links above, you could start at the following:
- United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA). From here you can also see the official treaty documents and more.
- Articles by Karl Grossman. Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, wrote The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet (Common Courage, 1997). He is a prominent researcher and writer on these issues.
- Lasers from Heaven by Matthew Rothschild, Progressive Magazine, May 10, 2001.
- The Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space works to make a “global call to resist the nuclearization and weaponization of space.”
- From the Washington, D.C. based Center for Defense Information (CDI):
- Space Wars, by Colonel Daniel Smith, USA (Ret.) February 2001.
- Space: Battleground or Frontier of the 21st Century, by Jeffrey Mason, November to December 1999.
- CDI’s section on missile defense has many other articles on space and missile defense.
- The Next Space Race from CDI’s America’s Defense Monitor programs, August 27, 2000.
- Space Policy Project from the Federation of American Scientists provides a large collection of articles.
- The Institute for Cooperation in Space (ICIS) works to prevent the militarization of space, and have space used for peaceful purposes.