Arms race in outer space?

Philadelphia Inquirer

March 18, 2000

By Karl Grossman

The United States is seeking to make space a new arena of war.

This is in violation of the intent of the basic international law on space, the Outer Space Treaty (OST) of 1967. The OST, ratified by most of the world's nations, sets aside space for "peaceful purposes."

But the U.S. administration and military have other ideas.

"In the coming period the United States will conduct operations to, from, in and through space in support of its national interests both on the Earth and in space," declares the recently released report of the "Space Commission" chaired by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Stressing that it is "possible to project power through and from space in response to events anywhere in the world," the report declares that "missions initiated from Earth or space . . . would give the United States a much stronger deterrent and, in a conflict, an extraordinary military advantage."

The 13-member panel, formally called the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization, recommends a transition of the U.S. Space Command, which now coordinates U.S. space military activities, into a "Space Corps," a separate military entity like the Marine Corps.

The report follows up a series of military reports that call for the United States to "control space" and from it to "dominate" the Earth below. These include the "Vision for 2020" report of the Space Command, its cover depicting a laser weapon shooting a beam from space zapping a target below. Vision for 2020 then proclaims the Space Command's mission - "dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect U.S. interests and investment."

Vision for 2020 compares U.S. military plans for space to how centuries ago "nations built navies to protect and enhance their commercial interests," how the empires of Europe ruled the waves and thus the world.

The Space Command's Long Range Plan says, "Space power in the 21st century looks similar to previous military revolutions, such as aircraft-carrier warfare and Blitzkrieg." A Space Command logo: "Master of Space."

Far more than words are involved. About $6 billion a year - plus funds in the "black" or secret budget - have in recent years been going to U.S. space military programs.The Alpha High-Energy Laser, a TRW space weapon, last year was test-fired for the 22d time. The Space-Based Laser, a joint TRW, Lockheed Martin and Boeing project, got the go-ahead last year. Its "lifecycle cost" is between $20 billion and $30 billion. In December, the Pentagon chose Stennis Space Center in Mississippi as its development site - and that was under the Clinton administration. In President Bush, we have an administration far more gung-ho for "Star Wars."

And although U.S. citizens may not be familiar with the full extent of what is going on, the nations of the world are.

Because of the U.S. plans, there was a United Nation vote in November on a resolution for "Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space." It sought to "reaffirm" the OST, specifically its provision that space be kept for peaceful purposes. More than 160 nations voted yes. We abstained.

It was a Philadelphian, Craig Eisendrath, who as a young foreign service officer at the State Department in the 1960s, was instrumental in drafting the OST. "We sought to deweaponize space before it got weaponized," he explains.

Our leadership may think this country can control space and dominate the Earth below, but other nations will not sit back and accept that. They will respond in kind. There will be an arms race and inevitably war in space.

Our friend and neighbor Canada is leading a U.N. initiative (strongly backed by Russia and China) to strengthen the OST with a ban on all weapons in space. (The treaty now bans nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction.) Space could be kept for peace and mechanisms put in place to assure compliance. But our country opposes Canada's effort.

"If the U.S. is allowed to move the arms race into space, there will be no return," says Bruce Gagnon, coordinator to the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power In Space ( "We have this one chance, this one moment in history, to stop the weaponization of space from happening."

There's only a narrow window to prevent the heavens from becoming a war zone.

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, wrote the forthcoming book "Weapons in Space" and the TV documentary "Star Wars Returns."

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