28 September 2009
From Space, No One Can Watch You Die
By Loring Wirbel and Bill Sulzman,
Citizens for Peace in Space,
Colorado Springs/Global Network board members

Peace groups internationally are putting the pressure on President Obama this fall, as he ponders the request from Gen. McChrystal for a “surge” troop escalation in Afghanistan.  Thankfully, leading Democrats and even former President Clinton are urging caution, though few are taking the wiser step of recommending a pullout.  But there is an additional decision Obama must make, one which the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space sees as a fundamental issue in the upcoming Keep Space for Peace Week.

As soon as CIA Director Leon Panetta was appointed in an acting role to his post, he asked Obama for a significant escalation in armed “drone” flights, utilizing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), over both Afghanistan and Pakistan.  These robot planes are flown by ground-based pilots, either in-country or even in the United States, using space as the navigational medium.  The UAVs can accurately send bombs to pinpoint locations, though this does not mean there is no “collateral damage” in terms of civilian human casualties.

The Global Network wants to remind people that standoff war using robotic technology is neither surgical, nor antiseptic, nor moral.  It can be appealing to the White House and to the American public, because it is allows nearly infinite kill ratios – thousands of so-called adversaries can be killed with very little chance of U.S. casualties.  With no American soldiers coming home in body bags, few U.S. citizens care about anything else.

Yet turning the Afghanistan-Pakistan war into a UAV turkey-shoot is little different from the assassination squads approved by former Vice President Dick Cheney.  In fact, it is no accident that, on two successive days, the New York Times reported on Blackwater (now Xe) being assigned to Cheney’s death-squad team, and the same Blackwater group being used for outsourcing of armed UAV flights.  One method of killing is being used to replace the other.

Not so long ago, UAV pilots used joysticks to control UAVs, emulating a video game.  Now they use Google Earth on touch screens to point to a location they want a robot plane to bomb.  Within a year, those Google Earth applications will be available for special iPhones and Blackberries made for U.S. troops.  And all those means of delivering death use space.   Many of the war-fighter tools that are employed from space also take advantage of the Pentagon’s new cyber-warrior tools, which have culminated in the establishment of a dedicated Cyber Command to control computer networks here and abroad.

Moral review of space policy is ruled out because the critic can never have access to the “secret information” needed for evaluation.  Hiding the truth from the enemy means hiding it from the public.  Real public discourse cannot happen, either, because the body politic cannot be trusted with all the facts.

The Global Network has had reason to see optimism in recent months: No true weapon in space has yet been fielded by any nation.  Obama has canceled planned missile-defense ground-based components in Poland and the Czech Republic.  The world’s leaders are pledging to work harder to banish nuclear weapons.  And Obama has called for a review of the October 2006 National Space Policy that calls for virtual U.S. “ownership” of orbital space.

But like so many national-security realms where Obama has taken tentative half-steps, the struggle for peace in space is far from over.  The U.S. military remains by far the largest user of orbital space.  Its satellites for intelligence, communications, and navigation remain the key enabling components that allow the U.S. and its allies to conduct war.  And Obama’s new sea-based missile-defense plans allow a more provocative stance in challenging the nations like Iran and North Korea that are trying to foil global management plans.

For Keep Space for Peace Week, we urge activists throughout the world to examine closely the claims for “sanitizing” warfare.  We urge citizens to not be swayed into thinking that a war allowing more invisible means of killing others is somehow one that can be accepted better than bloody battles on the ground.  Space is the ultimate commons, and no one has the right to dominate the planet through unilateral control.

Global Network