20 August 2018
Last week, Vice-President Mike Pence announced the Trump administration’s plan for a new military command, the US Space Force, emphasizing President Donald Trump’s urging that “It is not enough to merely have an American presence in space: we must have American dominance in space.” Pence’s announcement was greeted by Trump, tweeting in response, “Space Force all the way!”
Pence’s rationale for this disturbing expansion of US militarization to the heavens is that “our adversaries”, Russia and China, “have been working to bring new weapons of war into space itself” that pose a threat to American satellites. But despite a virtual blackout in the mainstream media, Russia and China have been arguing for years in the halls of the United Nations that the world needs a treaty to prevent stationing such weapons in outer space in order to maintain global “strategic stability” among the major powers and enable nuclear disarmament. Although the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 prevented the placement of weapons of mass destruction in outer space, it never prohibited conventional weapons in space. In 2008 and again in 2014, Russia and China introduced a draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space in the UN forum that negotiates disarmament agreements, the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. The U.S. has blocked any discussion of the space weapons ban treaty in the consensus-bound forum, where all talks are stalled because of U.S. repeated vetoes. After years of inaction, we now learn that Russia and China are believed to be developing the ability to shoot down satellites in space.
We reach this point after a sad history of missed opportunities for peace in space and nuclear disarmament. It began with President Truman’s rejection of Stalin’s proposal to place the bomb under international control at the United Nations in 1946. Then President Reagan rejected former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s offer to eliminate nuclear weapons, provided the U.S. didn’t proceed with his plan for Star Wars, a space-based military system, later described in 1997 under the Clinton administration, as the US Space Command’s Vision 2020, proclaiming its mission to “dominate and control the military use of space to protect U.S. interests and investments.” Clinton rejected Putin’s offer to reduce our massive nuclear arsenals of some 15,000 bombs each to 1,000 and then call on all the other nuclear weapons states to negotiate for their abolition, conditioned on the U.S. halting its plans to put anti-missile systems in Eastern Europe. President George W. Bush, relying on his policy to include missile defense and space-based weapons to destroy targets anywhere in the world swiftly for “full spectrum dominance,” walked out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty that the U.S. had negotiated with the Soviet Union and now there are U.S. missiles in Romania and others planned for installation in Poland. Further, President Obama rejected Putin’s offer in 2006, in light of a new kind of arms race with potentially dangerous consequences, to negotiate an international treaty to ban cyber attacks.
Last March, President Putin, in his State of the Nation Address, said he would speak about “the newest systems of Russian strategic weapons that we are creating in response to the unilateral withdrawal of the United States of America from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the practical deployment of their missile defence systems both in the U.S. and beyond their national borders.” He went on to say:
Back in 2000, the US announced its withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Russia was categorically against this. We saw the Soviet-US ABM Treaty signed in 1972 as the cornerstone of the international security system….. Together with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the ABM Treaty not only created an atmosphere of trust but also prevented either party from recklessly using nuclear weapons, which would have endangered humankind, because the limited number of ballistic missile defence systems made the potential aggressor vulnerable to a response strike.
We did our best to dissuade the Americans from withdrawing from the treaty. All in vain. (emphasis added). The US pulled out of the treaty in 2002. Even after that we tried to develop constructive dialogue with the Americans. We proposed working together in this area to ease concerns and maintain the atmosphere of trust... All our proposals, absolutely all of them, were rejected. And then we said that we would have to improve our modern strike systems to protect our security
There has been a shocking failure to report on the repeated proposals from Russia and China to negotiate a treaty to prevent the terrible possibility that the United States is stirring up an arms race that could destroy our extended use of global positioning satellites to gather critical information for both peaceful and military purposes. A careful and honest examination of the historical record can only lead to the conclusion of Walt Kelly’s Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us!”
Alice Slater serves on the Coordinating Committee of World Beyond
War, is a CODEPINK affiliate, and represents the Nuclear Age Peace
Foundation at the United Nations.