8 March 2007
StratCom and Academic Rights and Responsibilities
UNL College of Law and StratCom Form Partnership

By Tim Rinne
State Coordinator, Nebraskans for Peace


Since the attack of 9/11, U.S. Strategic Command has been spying on American citizens, operating a network of military bases stretching around the globe, planning and coordinating preemptive strikes on other nations, promoting the research and development of a new generation of nuclear weapons, waging the White House’s “War on Terror,” and seeking the military and economic domination of space.

It was only a matter of time, then, until StratCom worked its way onto campus and into the college classroom.  And on March 2, 2007, StratCom formally celebrated its entrance into the academic world with its co-sponsorship of the “Space and TeleCom Law Conference” at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Law.

Dating back to last spring, I’d been hearing bits and pieces about this collaboration between StratCom and the UNL Law College with a growing sense of consternation.  Just as a matter of principle, I’m not particularly pleased with our state-owned institution of higher education getting further in bed with the military.  But that our UNL College of Law would actively seek the collaboration of a group that is dedicated to flouting the international rule of law regularly through claiming a right of unprovoked “first-strike” assaults anywhere on earth, conducting constitutionally suspect “warrantless wiretaps” on our citizenry, and advocating the creation of new weapons of mass destruction—in flagrant violation of international treaties—frankly offended my sense of decency.

So when I discovered that members of the public like myself could pay the $100 registration fee and attend, I jumped at the opportunity to spend a morning with StratCom, see for myself what our publicly funded law school is getting mixed up in, and try to get a little better understanding of what StratCom is now up to.

The Lincoln Journal Star had published an op-ed piece by me chronicling StratCom’s current activities a week before the conference, in which I hinted we’d be there protesting that morning.  As fate would have it though, March 2 was the day after the state’s first blizzard in more than a decade and it was icy and miserably cold.  Even so, over a dozen peace activists braved the freezing temperatures to stand outside the law school’s McCollum Hall before the conference began, holding signs opposing the planned attack on Iran and a big banner that read:  “STRATCOM’S NEW MISSION IS OFFENSIVE — ‘Global Strike’ = Illegal Attack.”

About 8:30 a.m., I left the demonstrators standing on the sidewalk and headed on in to pick up my conference materials.  In terms of paying participants, there were probably as many people outside protesting as there were in attendance.  However, by the time you factored in the faculty members, law students, conference presenters and undercover agents, there were probably 50 people in the classroom all told.  Nebraskans for Peace can probably take credit for the undercover agents’ presence.  The scuttlebutt before the conference had it that my registration and assumed attendance constituted some sort of national security threat that set the StratCom and Homeland Security alarms flashing.

As the state coordinator of the oldest statewide Peace & Justice organization in the entire country, I confess to being fairly indignant at first about this security nonsense, asking myself, “Can’t these people read?  What do they think the word ‘Peace’ in our name means?”  On reflection, though, I recalled that for decades StratCom’s predecessor (the Strategic Air Command), whose mission of “Mutual Assured Destruction” threatened the nuclear annihilation of life on earth, had had as its official motto, “Peace Is Our Profession.”

 And I realized that, no, these people probably wouldn’t know what NFP means by “Peace.”

I came away from the experience though surprised at some things.  For example, I have a lot more respect for the political acumen of our native son, Vice President Dick Cheney, and our recently deposed Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.  These are the two men most responsible for tapping the first Marine to ever hold the post, General James “Hoss” Cartwright, as StratCom’s new commander.  The General is both articulate and bright.  But I was unprepared for how personally engaging he turned out to be.  The man is a public relations dream.  After hearing him speak, even career peace activists like myself could have walked out of that classroom, thanking our lucky stars we’ve got a humanitarian installation like StratCom looking out for our global well-being.  Commander Cartwright’s talk highlighted StratCom’s non-military services to the world community (such as the round-the-clock tracking of 40,000 objects in the earth’s orbit—everything from the space station to satellites to space debris—to prevent costly collisions that could interrupt international telecommunications).

As he wound up his extemporaneous comments, however, he did say (in an obvious reference to the banner the protestors had been holding outside) that, perhaps, he ought to mention something about “the offensive side” of StratCom.  But then, he in fact didn’t.

He said nothing about CONPLAN 8022 and the Command’s mission of “full spectrum global strike,” authorizing StratCom to preemptively—and illegally under the UN Charter’s “Prohibition of Aggression”—attack any place on the face of the earth within two hours, if a threat to America’s national security is even suspected.  (I don’t recall Iran’s name, the latest focus of this sort of unprovoked assault, coming up once.)   Nor did he mention that to eradicate such a suspected threat, CONPLAN 8022 permits the offensive use of nuclear weapons—a patent violation of the International Court of Justice 1996 ruling that international law does not authorize even the threat of use of nuclear weapons.  And not a word was said about the “warrantless wiretaps” conducted by the National Security Administration (a StratCom “component command”), which the White House claims are an essential arrow in StratCom’s quiver if it’s to effectively wage the “War on Terror.”

He did however cite the Chinese government’s decision in January to shoot down one its own weather satellites, using that incident as a pretext for discussing the whole question of militarizing space:  “Oftentimes I’m asked what kind of military capability we need to put in space as result of someone doing an [anti-satellite missile] test.  I just don’t see the need to be doing that.”  Rushing to stockpile offensive weapons in outer space, he said, would not protect U.S. satellites.  “If you believe you’re being done harm to or disadvantaged in space, there are more than enough tools to address that problem here on earth.  There is really no need for an arms race in space.”

Although I felt some disgruntlement about the General’s highly selective portrayal of StratCom’s role and mission, I was heartened by his comments about the ill-advisedness of militarizing space.  In just minutes, though, I was to rudely discover that Commander Cartwright had simply played the ‘good cop’ to the ‘bad cop’ who spoke next.

By rights, Col. Rob Fabian from the Department of Defense-Space Policy Office was to have provided an “Introduction” for the panel discussion, but, presumably because of the weather, he had to cancel.  Fabian, however, I have since learned by googling the internet, was hardly likely to have provided anything close to an objective perspective.  A former speechwriter for the U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, whose career has also included ICBM maintenance, he won “Second Honorable Mention” in an October 2002 “Armed Forces Joint Warfighting Contest” for an essay entitled, “Storm Warnings: Cruise Missile Lessons from the Gulf War,” that included this statement:  “Our forces should be prepared to employ theater missiles offensively [italics mine] and to defend against them.”  If the internet is any guide, he’s more famous for writing devout “Catholic Science Fiction” with his wife than he is for his research.

Fabian’s absence, however, meant that Phil Meek, associate general counsel and director of space law for the U.S. Air Force General Counsel’s Office (and a former Staff Judge Advocate for the U.S. Space Command) led off the panel discussion on “Military Dimensions: System Protection, System Negation, and Using Military Power to Protect Civil, Commercial and Tourist Operations.”  And Counsel Meek spent no time mincing words.

At present, he announced, the U.S. “enjoys an asymmetrical advantage in space,” which, in way, he stated, was actually something of a “liability,” in that it makes us a “target” for our weaker adversaries who covet what we have.  Take our “first strike” policies, Meek said, for example.  The Bush/Cheney Administration, he noted, is roundly criticized in the international community for its doctrine of preemption.  But in contrast to our adversaries (e.g. Russia, China, even France), the U.S., he countered, is at least up front and “transparent” about its goal and policy (as if transparency somehow makes an unprovoked attack more excusable under international law).

It was international law—international space law, to be more precise—that the Air Force associate counsel sought to address.  Under the “regime” of current space treaties, he told the conference audience, there are no restrictions on the research into or the development, testing or operation of conventional weapons in space.  In fact, as he interprets international law, only “aggression” from space is prohibited—not the militarization of space.

And with the Bush/Cheney Administration’s abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, he’s legally right.  All of which speaks to the inadequacy of the existing regime of space treaty law and the need for additional international legislation, such as annually called for in United Nations’ “Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space” (PAROS) resolution.  Meek, however, took just the opposite view.  The current situation (or, more accurately, ‘vacuum’) provides the U.S., he argued, with great “flexibility” in its plans and conduct in space—pretty much permitting the U.S. to do whatever it wants to.

The new “National Space Policy” released last October, Meek continued, essentially states that the U.S. has the right and prerogative to dominate space for itself and its approved allies.  Defending this perspective as “National Security 101,” he said that, accordingly, there is no need for additional treaties.  Not only is the status quo of U.S. space domination perfectly acceptable and justifiable, he warned that for the U.S. to consent to any UN-backed proposals restricting or prohibiting the militarization of space was equivalent to “U.S. disarmament.”  These proposed treaties, he asserted, were in effect “tools of war” against the United States by our adversaries.  They were, he spat out, “law-fare.”

The term hit me like a jolt.

“Law-fare?”  Taken in the context in which it was spoken, the word apparently meant ‘war-making’ by means of ‘law-making.’  But having been taught in my training that war and law were polar opposites, the concept was news to me.

Meek summed up by stating that of all the nations of the earth, the U.S. had the most to lose and least to gain from any new space treaty.  Therefore, we shouldn’t pursue any.

And that’s where the discussion ended.

As Meek’s comments had become progressively more contentious, I’d started wondering who at this state-sponsored law conference was going to provide the rebuttal to his arguments.  The next panelist actually worked at StratCom.  His presentation, though, focused on a ruling in a maritime lawsuit that might have some applicability to potential legal conflicts in space, and didn’t address space policy.  The person who was to have been the third panel member, a Canadian military officer who serves as a Judge Advocate General, also ended up not making it to Lincoln in time for the morning panel because of the snowstorm.  What he might have said is unclear.  Although he’s a graduate of McGill University’s Space Law Program, hours of surfing on the internet produced nothing indicating where his views on space policy might lie and the experts at the Center for Defense Information in Washington, D.C. were completely unfamiliar with him.

So as it all played out, Meek’s hegemonic, hyper-nationalist views essentially wound up framing the debate and standing as the legal benchmark for the panel discussion.  I should state that he had prefaced his comments with the obligatory, throw-away line about ‘speaking for himself, and not as a representative of the Air Force.”  But that was no sooner out of his mouth, than he chuckled, “But I would hope the Air Force and the Department of Defense would back me up.”

In his summary comments, the panel moderator, Dr. Eligar Sadeh, the co-editor of Astropolitics, said he agreed with most of Meek’s comments, but that a qualitative shift in thinking had taken place between the publication of the 1997 National Space Policy prepared by the Clinton Administration, and the version just issued by the Bush/Cheney White House.  Acknowledging the U.S. advantage in space, the Clinton document outlined a number of concerns that would have to be addressed before the U.S. entered into a new international agreement.  Those concerns respecting the U.S. advantage become, in the Bush/Cheney policy however, a pretext for not wanting any new treaties, period… Just as Meek himself was counseling.  As a U.S. State Department official stated on January 21 of this year, “Arms control is not a viable solution for space.”

It’s worth noting at this point just how far out of the mainstream of world opinion the U.S. is with this attitude.  In 2005, when the United Nations cast its annual vote on the PAROS resolution, 160 nations voted in favor and one country—Israel—abstained.  The U.S., however, shocked the assembly by actually voting against the resolution.  In previous years, it had also abstained.  The results of 2006 UN vote were essentially identical to 2005’s.

Speaking as an alum—and advocate—of UNL, the content of this conference did not seem intellectually possible.  This isn’t Bob Jones University or a German university of the 1930s.  It’s the University of Nebraska, which. with a few exceptions, has had a good record of academic freedom.  So where, at this space conference, was the give-and-take in the marketplace of ideas, the free and open exchange of viewpoints, and the academy’s commitment to presenting both sides of an issue in the pursuit of truth?  Where were the voices, with unimpeachable standing in the academic and legal community, representing the views and concerns of the other 160 nations of the world that are concerned, as the PAROS resolution reads, that “the prevention of an arms race in outer space would avert a grave danger for international peace and security” and that the current “legal regime applicable to outer space does not in and of itself guarantee the prevention of an arms race in outer space” and that “there is a need to consolidate and reinforce that regime and enhance its effectiveness and that it is important to comply strictly with existing agreements, both bilateral and multilateral”?  If a public university is presuming to be an academic institution, it has a pedagogical and ethical duty to present all sides of the issues.  Otherwise, what one has is mere advertising dressed in an academic garb.

What I saw March 2 was a college of law, fudging not only an authentic debate about space policy, but letting slide the compelling legal issues of StratCom’s entire mission array—involving Big Brother-like surveillance on the American public, a preemptive policy of ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ reeking of vigilante justice, and the pursuit of new a generation of nuclear WMD.

All of which are tied directly to space.  And now, it would seem, to campus.

The idea of the law school “partnering with the powerful and deep-pocketed U.S. Strategic Command” as Lincoln Journal Star reported a year ago (3/1/06), originally grew of out University of Nebraska President J.B. Milliken’s conversations with StratCom’s leadership.  Milliken, who sits on a Strategic Command consultation committee, has been discussing “ways to strengthen the weak relationship between the state’s flagship university and its flagship military base.”  He apparently wishes to enable “UNL and other NU schools to grab a small part of the military budget to fund research and education.”  And the collaboration has progressed quickly.  Already this coming fall, the administration is committed to having a “space law specialty” up and running with the ultimate goal of—according to President Milliken—making the University of Nebraska “the country’s leading space law educator.”  But where are the jurists coming from?  What values do they have?  What experience in adjudicating nuclear or space or surveillance cases have they acquired?

If I still had questions though about which of these two ‘partners’—the UNL College of the Law or StratCom—was driving the proposed new space law program at our publicly financed state university, I got my answer that cold day in March.  My $100 registration had entitled me to a brown bag lunch, but I decided to pass.  I’d had lost my appetite.  As I walked out into the cold, though, the only consolation I had was that, academically speaking, NFP at least hasn’t misrepresented the case about StratCom.

What we have said about it is what StratCom itself is saying.

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