Notes on the E-parliament space weapons meeting

16 Septmber 2005

From: Steven Staples,

I spent the day with our colleagues in DC yesterday for the e-Parliament space weapons meeting (, and while this is not a definitive report on the meeting, here are a few observations I made that you might find interesting...

  • Nine parliamentarians from outside the US attended, and several US Members of Congress joined the meeting for brief periods of time, mostly just long enough to make a brief presentation or remarks. Over the day, it created an odd dynamic where the US reps were not so much participants, as they were presenters to this international group of Parliamentarians. Nevertheless, there was participation from both main US parties which was helpful and gave additional insight into what is happening in the US.

  • The pro-space weaponization expert presentations were very interesting, and useful in better understanding their arguments (and honing our own). The first, by Ambassador Henry Cooper (ret) the former Chief US Negotiator at the Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union back in the 80s and a long-time proponent of SDI, argued that the sea-based boost-phase interceptors should eventually lead to space-based interceptors, essentially reviving the "Brilliant Pebbles" program. Characterizing himself as an engineer, he felt that the technology was mature even under Bush I, but that Clinton undid so much good work that had been accomplished...

    The second presentation, so fervently in favour of space weapons as to be almost tongue-in-cheek, was by Professor Everett Dolman, Associate Professor of Comparative Military Studies at the US Air Force's School of Advanced Air and Space Studies. He argued that as in the past, US military dominance of the sea and the air resulted in free and secure commerce, so would US dominance of space. Later, Dolman explained that the US Air force's attitude is that if it ain't explicitly illegal, then it is permitted. But privately Dolman said this is more a criminal law defence, but that international law is interpreted more broadly (e.g. the spirit of the law is taken more serious, not just the letter of the law), and that the Air Force is on thin ice with this legal approach. (To their credit, both Cooper and Doman remained in the room throughout the whole day, and Cooper was committed to continuing the dialogue in the future.)

  • The Democrats gave arguments that were reminiscent of John Kerry's statements during his run for President: in favour of missile defence, but not in favour of using space-weapons for missile defence. We are priveledged to have progressive parties in Canada that will take a stronger stand. So much of the space weapons proponents' arguments were based on the need for an effective missile defence capability. To then hear the Democrats largely accept so much of their opponents' arguments, with the exception of where you put the boost-phase interceptors, was striking... Even more, the Dems did not miss the opportunity to gently suggested to the international Parliamentarians that the US was unfairly shouldering the burden in Iraq, and that, as Loretta Sanchez said, "we need to have a new division of labour." Will international pressure be helpful? "No US legislator will say we should not take action if we feel it is required for our security, even if we have to go it alone."

    Congressman John Spratt explained how the Democrats can only slow down and "serve notice there will be trouble" from issue to issue, being in a minority in the House of Representatives and the Senate. However, on some issues they can bring over Republican support (This explains why US NGO space weapons opponents, such as CDI's Theresa Hitchens, emphasize the need to avoid making space weapons a partisan issue.) Spratt went onto encourage foreign Parliamentarians to keep up the pressure on the US, as "we need to ear from outside and others." The war against terrorism "demands that we have cooperation. There needs to be a new global congeniality."

    The highest ranking US legislator to appear at the meeting was Congressman Curt Weldon, Vice-Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, as well as Chairman of the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee. He was also one
    of the meeting's chief sponsors. While his presentation was brief, he noted that we need a definition of "what is a war in space."

  • The new Bush space policy was not anticipated enthusiastically by proponents or opponents alike. Hitchens suggested down-playing expectations of a smoking gun as the weapons programs are already underway within the Air Force's budget. Several folks pointed out that Clinton's 1996 policy could be read as in favour of many space weapons programs, but it was never 'implemented'. Pro-space weapons folks felt that the Bush policy will be very broad, and will not differ greatly from Clinton's (because it doesn't have to).

    Other interesting bits...

  • There was some interesting discussion around the evolution of the EU distinct defence identity, and its impact on space. For instance, the ESA's Galileo GPS satellite seems to be a bone of contention with the US reps.

  • The Australians are reportedly spending $6 billion (AUS) out of a $14 billion annual defence budget for new Aegis warships for missile defence (perhaps what we avaoided for Canada). These will be for defending against short-range missiles that have to be launched within 40 kms of the Australian ships and the decision to intercept must be made within 10 seconds (!). There is no info publicly available on the MOU and other missile defence agreements, though Howard has said that Australia will be protected from ICBM missiles (which is interesting because the UK joined without making this claim, arguing the radar upgrade helped the US with their shield...).

  • Japan's constitution prevents it from joining cooperative defence agreements, so apparently shooting down a missile possibly targeted at a country other than Japan could violate the constitution (which  limits the use of force to self-defence). The constitution could be changed in the next 5-10 years to allow Japan to shoot down missiles in the boost phase, before it is clear they are targeted at Japan (hmmm - not sure if I believe that they will change have to change the constitution, but that is what the Japan rep said...).

  • Norway will be coming out with a new space policy soon (their first) which will call for equal access for all to space, under int'l control.

  • Hitchens feels that any talk of a space weapons treaty is a waste of time with the current US administration, though there could be progress on codes of conduct - in fact Rumsfeld in his space commission report actually made the same call for "rules of the road." Hitchens thinks the debris issue could be an Achilles Heel for space weapons.

  • Several parliamentarians recommended reading the new brief from McGill University, available on the e-parliament web site.

  • And lastly, having so many reps of countries who have joined the US's missile defence system in the room (UK, Denmark, Japan, Australia) only underscored how great our victory was at keeping Canada out, and no doubt how the pressure to join will continue...

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