Arms Race In Outer Space

By Karl Grossman, For Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, 22nd November 1999

On Nov. 1 the United Nations considered a resolution entitled "Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space." The resolution, which 138 nations voted for, said that space "shall be used for peaceful purposes." The United States was not one of these nations, however. It cast a lonely abstention.

This was a shameful vote, and it puts the United States on a path toward weaponizing space.

Actually, the United States is on that path already. Just look at the material coming out of the Pentagon's U.S. Space Command based in Colorado Springs, Colo. The cover of the "Vision For 2020" report of the Space Command, for example, depicts a laser weapon shooting a beam from space zapping a target below. The report opens: "U.S. 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."

US Space Commands Vision 2020
The US Space Command Vision

"Vision For 2020" compares the U.S. effort to "control space" with the effort centuries ago when "nations built navies to protect and enhance their commercial interests" by ruling the oceans.

General Joseph Ashy, former commander-in-chief of the U.S. Space Command, has said: "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….We will engage terrestial targets someday-ships, airplanes, land targets-from space….That's why the U.S. has development programs in directed energy and hit-to-kill mechanisms"

And far more than rhetoric is involved. Last year, the U.S. signed a multi-million dollar contract for a "Space-Based Laser Readiness Demonstrator." A promotional poster shows the laser firing its ray from space, a U.S. flag somehow waving in space above it.

The main justification that Washington gives for the rapidly expanding U.S. military push into space is that it's about missile defense.

But the U.S. military documents stress not defense but "control" and "domination" of space and from it the Earth below. They talk of space as the "ultimate high ground." "Belligerently offensive" is how Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power In Space, describes current U.S. space military doctrine.

We have only a narrow window to prevent an arms race in space. The key is an international pact to ban all weapons in space--the original intent of the basic international law on space, the Outer Space Treaty. Once the United States moves to turn space into "the ultimate high ground" and to weaponize the heavens, other nations will follow.

At the UN's Conference on Disarmament in March, China moved to strengthen the Outer Space Treaty, to "negotiate and conclude an international legal instrument banning…any weapons, weapons systems and their components in outer space, with a view to preventing the weaponization of outer space." China received wide support from other nations.

Approved in 1967 and now signed by 91 nations, including the United States, the Outer Space Treaty ended up banning nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. It's high time we return to its original intent. The people of the United States need to oppose this reckless U.S. policy of weaponizing space. The heavens should not be a war zone.


Karl Grossman is professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury and member of the Commission on Disarmament Education, Conflict Resolution and Peace of the International Association of University Presidents and the United Nations.


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