29 June 2010
Obama Supports Possible Limits on Space Weapons
Global Security Newswire


A U.S. Standard Missile 3 interceptor lifts off in February 2008 in a successful attempt to destroy a disabled U.S. military satellite. The Obama administration yesterday indicated it was interested in negotiating international limitations on orbital weapons (U.S. Navy/Getty Images).

The White House yesterday released a Space Policy that indicates U.S. support for potential international measures to restrict the preparation of space-based armaments, the New York Times reported (see GSN, Jan. 27, 2009; Broad/Chang, New York Times, June 28).

"Our policy reflects the ways in which our imperatives and our obligations in space have changed in recent decades," U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement. "No longer are we racing against an adversary; in fact, one of our central goals is to promote peaceful cooperation and collaboration in space, which not only will ward off conflict, but will help to expand our capacity to operate in orbit and beyond" (White House release, June 28).

In a notable divergence from his predecessor's space stance, Obama's policy states the United States would "consider proposals and concepts for arms control measures if they are equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhance the national security of the United States and its allies," according to a White House fact sheet. The United States should "lead in the enhancement of security, stability and responsible behavior in space," the policy says.

Former President George W. Bush, by contrast, maintained a position that "rejects any limitations on the fundamental right of the United States to operate in and acquire data from space," and opposed "the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access or use of space."

�The [Obama] arms control language is bipartisan language that appeared in the Reagan policy and George H.W. Bush�s policy and the Clinton policy,� the Times quoted National Security Council Space Policy Director Peter Marquez as saying. �So we�re bringing it back to a bipartisan agreed-upon position."

An arms control proposal's even-handedness, ability to benefit U.S. security, and inclusion of monitoring terms would act as "the gates" for consideration by the administration, Marquez said.

The document released yesterday �sets the stage for progress in space arms control -- without getting into specifics,� Arms Control Association analyst Jeff Abramson added. Some arms control advocates accused Bush of slowing progress on space weapons treaty at the international Conference on Disarmament (see GSN, June 7).

China and the United States each shot down one of their disused satellites during tests in 2007 and 2008, respectively, prompting concerns about a potential buildup in antisatellite capabilities that could undermine U.S. security interests due to Washington's heavy reliance on space-based military technology (see GSN, April 1, 2008). The Bush administration backed studies capable of supporting work on a ground-based antisatellite laser, according to some opponents of the research (Broad/Chang, New York Times).

"This policy clearly articulates the right space policies and priorities for our nation, and is also a pledge that the United States will maintain the leadership and capabilities in space imperative for our national security," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in released remarks.

"Changes in the space environment over the last decade challenge our operations. Today, space is increasingly contested as our systems face threats of disruption and attack, increasingly competitive as more states, private firms, and others develop space-based capabilities," Gates said.

"Together with other departments and agencies, the Department of Defense will take a number of steps to support the new National Space Policy, and will work with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to develop a strategy document to address specific national security requirements for outer space. We will look to leverage growing international and commercial expertise to enhance U.S. capabilities and reduce vulnerabilities.

"Finally, we will pursue activities consistent with the inherent right of self-defense, deepen cooperation with allies and friends, and work with all nations toward the responsible and peaceful shared presence in space," he said (U.S. Defense Department release, June 28).

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