Resisting Empire: Reaffirming Our Vision of Outer Space

Conference Keynote Speech

April 23, 2004

by Craig Eisendrath


wpe1D.jpg (23464 bytes)In December of 1957, at the dawn of the space age, I was a private in the U.S. Army stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. We had a Russian kid in our unit, who was translating for us as we listened to a fairy tale on Radio Moscow. As the story unfolded, the storyteller said, “Look in the sky, Aloysha. There are three moons, and two of them are Russian.”

That’s how I learned that we were into a space race. Nine months later, I was in the U.N. Political Office of the State Department handling the multilateral aspects of our space program. This work, and that of dozens of other dedicated people, culminated in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.

When the space age first started, we were faced with some basic questions. Who owned outer space and the celestial bodies? Would outer space follow the pattern of the discovery of the new world? Would some modern astronaut repeat a variant of what Columbus had said in 1492, “I claim this land for King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella?”

The answer in the Outer Space Treaty was an emphatic No. The Treaty says, “Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use of occupation, or by any other means.” Space, the Treaty said, would be a common resource for mankind, not a national preserve.

The Treaty also contained a number of other provisions which bear repeating today: First, it affirmed that international law, including the Charter of the United Nations, extended into outer space. At a time when the Bush administration is disparaging international law in almost any way it can, this is an important provision to remember. Secondly, the Treaty stated that the moon and other celestial bodies “shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes,” and that “The establishment of military bases, installations and fortifications, the testing of any type of weapons and the conduct of military manoeuvres on celestial bodies shall be forbidden.” This is very important today, as the United States moves to make outer space as a new theater for military operations.

Finally, it forbid nations from the orbiting of “nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction,” installing “such weapons on celestial bodies,” or stationing “such weapons in outer space in any other manner.” Again, consider where we are in 2004.

Our aim in drafting the Outer Space Treaty was to take outer space out of the Cold War. Things were bad enough on earth. Weekly we were reading reports from the Rand Corporation and other research institutes that a nuclear exchange with the Soviets would result in 100 million deaths in the first strike, and the creation of radiation fallout would permanently pollute the planet and kill many hundreds millions more in the years to come. Our aim was to prevent the extension of this madness into outer space.

Other developments in outer space law looked to the same objective. In 1963, the United States had ratified the Limited Test Ban, which forbid the testing of nuclear weapons on the earth, in the atmosphere, and in outer space. Again, as the current administration expands its missile defense system, or considers nuclear bombardment satellites, it is worth recalling this provisions, as well.

In 1972, we and Soviets agreed to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, which limited to a token site on each side the deployment of missile defense systems, and stated that the U.S. and the Soviets would not “develop, test, or deploy ABM systems or components which are sea-based, air-based, space-based, or mobile land-based.”

In 1979, the Moon Treaty declared space resources to be the “common heritage of mankind” and proposed “to establish an international regime, including appropriate procedures, to govern the exploitation of the natural resources of the moon. . .” The United States bowed to commercial and military interests and refused to ratify the treaty. Subsequently Cyrus Vance said that states could indeed own the natural resources of the moon, as long as they removed them from their original site.

Finally I should mention the 1975 Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space, a convention which we have observed in the breach, as we have failed to register about 150 of our satellite payloads, and maybe more.

This was the legal situation of outer space as we moved into the Bush era in 2000. Here we have seen stark reversals of the basic foreign policies which the United States had championed since the end of World War II. These policies were the support of the United Nations, the support of international law and particularly arms control treaties, and the designation of diplomacy and international cooperation as our primary means of dealing with other nations.

The Bush alternative, or neoconservative revolution, has been to put force first, to  assert the primacy of the Defense Department over the State Department, and unilateral action over multilateral cooperation. It has resulted in a new aggressive style of dealing with other nations, and a doctrine of using force preemptively, rather than defensively, and even, in the Nuclear Posture Review, of using nuclear weapons preemptively against non-nuclear states.

It has meant our refusal to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban, the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Protocol, as well as conventions on land mines, child soldiers, small arms and bacteriological weapons.

It also meant the abrogation of the ABM Treaty, first proclaimed by President Bush in December 2001, which went into effect six months later. Not only was this the first arms control treaty to be abrogated, but it also established a precedent in law whereby the president does not need to even consult Congress in canceling a treaty, even though it takes two thirds of the Senate to ratify one.

Dennis Kucinich and the 31 other members of the House of Representatives sued the president on this issue — I was part of the team conducting the suit — but we failed to gain the support of even one Senator, and eventually lost the case before a Bush appointee in the district court of the District of Columbia. It is well to ponder the consequences of this suit, as it puts at risk all other treaties to which we are signatory, including the Outer Space Treaty and the Limited Test Ban. It means that such treaties can be abrogated if they get in the way of some current policy, say, using nuclear weapons as a way of knocking out decoys, or as bombardment satellites.

We have now an administration which in moving aggressively to weaponize outer space, and to achieve what it calls “global battlefield dominance,” or “full-spectrum dominance.” We must be clear. Space has been at least partially militarized for some time. As Michael Moore, former editor of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, has written, “Space has been militarized for forty years; but it has not been weaponized.”

Following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush declared a war on terrorism. We have witnessed in Afghanistan and more recently in Iraq the military use of outer space in identifying and directing weapons which was seen in the Gulf War and, more recently, in Kosovo and Serbia. This use of space has given us the dangerous option of fighting wars with virtually no casualties. For example, in the U.S.-directed NATO air campaign over Kosovo and Serbia in 1999, NATO air forces attacked 900 targets with 37,465 sorties and suffered no combat casualties. In the recent Iraq war, our casualties were less than 175, less than a third of what we have suffered since in our on-the-ground occupation.

Today, the government is aggressively researching anti-satellites using high-powered microwave, kinetic, and directed energy or laser weapons, as well as laser, kinetic and possibly nuclear weapons to bombard the earth. Testing of the some of these weapons will happen as soon as this year.

There are solid reasons why this movement should be stopped, and therefor why we are here:

First, it will create still another battlefield for military operations, which puts at still greater risk the lives and well being of the people of the world.

Second, by creating military competition in another area, it ups military budgets here and abroad. The world can ill afford more military expense. For example, the estimated cost of a fully deployed missile defense system over the next thirty years has been estimated at $.8 to $l.1 trillion dollars. That’s a lot of school lunches. Weaponizing space could run up this bill many times over. At a time in which this country is already running $500 billion deficits, it is something we can ill afford, not to speak of the hardship such expenditure would incur in other countries.

Third, should there be a war in outer space, it would immediately disrupt the world’s communication system. By creating debris in near space, it would permanently remove near space as an environment for communication and other satellites.

Fourth, as for missile defense, we have a system which does not work, and which, by creating uncertainty in our potential enemies, endangers our security. China, for example, has twenty ICBMs pointed at the United States. If we put up a missile defense system — the first components go into Alaska this September — the Chinese threaten to up their total to 100. If our system is only 50 percent effective — it is presently considerably less than that if the Chinese use decoys — we will be far less safe than we were before.

Why are we moving into the weaponization of outer space? Curiously, it has little to do with national security. We are the hegemonic world power. We have the option of literally obliterating any nation which challenges us. We are not presently challenged in outer space by another power; indeed, the other major powers of the world have indicated that they are eager to sign on to international treaties which will eliminate the possibilities of space weaponization. Then why are we pressing weaponization? The answer is this:

First, outer space is the object of intense lobbying by wealthy arms manufacturers who are more than willing to spend their funds for the greater profit of government contracts, and of congressmen is eager for payoffs and facilities in their districts, and a Republican Party which is raking in millions of dollars from these contractors. Tens of millions of dollars, for example, have been spent by companies like Boeing, Lockheed, TRW and Raytheon to promote a missile defense system which even the Pentagon’s own head of testing says doesn’t work.

Second, outer space fits the sense of hegemonic power being promoted by our current neoconservative rulers. Curiously, ground-based weapons are much cheaper, and for the most part, more effective in military engagements than virtually anything we have on the drawing board for outer space. But national security is not the issue.

Having said this, we have a job to do. We must work hard, even harder than we have been working, to see to it that space is not weaponized. We have the option of desisting from dominance in outer space, and of agreeing not to develop or launch weapons in outer space. Meanwhile, the United States could develop with other nations an open intelligence in space so that violations could be detected and widely monitored, and that sanctions could be developed to ensure compliance. Such a monitoring system would logically be under UN auspices.

In the draft Space Preservation Treaty, which has already been introduced into the United Nations, we have the instrument which can accomplish these main objectives. It implements a ban on space-based weapons; it implements a ban on the use of weapons to destroy or damage objects in space that are in orbit; and it immediately orders the permanent termination of research and development, testing, manufacturing, production, and deployment of all space-based weapons. It also states that the moon, the planets, and other celestial bodies shall be used only for peaceful purposes, and sets up a monitoring agency to enforce the treaty. A similar bill was introduced into the 107th Congress by Representative Dennis Kucinich.

If the United States backed such a treaty, I believe we could count on international support, and indeed, at discussions in the UN on such resolutions, such support has been evidence.

What we need here is the political will to put these agreements through.

It is time this country backs off from the neoconservative fantasy of absolute domination, and that we accept our role as a leader not a dictator in the world of nations. It is time this country begin to consider how the weaponization of space will inevitably put future generations at risk, here and abroad. It is time this country deals realistically with the staggering costs of space domination. If we are serious about the war on terrorism, we can achieve far more by raising living standards abroad through intelligently administered economic aid abroad than by creating still another theater for military operations.

All these are arguments, of course, for regime change, but they are also arguments for keeping up the fight even if the result is favorable in November. The fight will not be over. This is the time to rededicate ourselves to our task, of keeping weapons out of space, and of promoting a safer world for ourselves and our children and theirs.

If we are successful, future generations will look back and see our work as absolutely essential for the survival of the planet. It is a worthy endeavor. Thank you for coming here, and for your work to keep space free of weapons.
 



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