Astro-Imperialism: War in Space
Karl Grossman

We have only a narrow window to prevent an arms race in space. The US military is seeking to base weapons in orbit to "control space" [Winter-Spring'99 EIJ]. Vision for 2020, a 1998 government report, explains that the role of the United States Space Command (USSC) will be to dominate "the space dimension of military operations to protect US interests and investment. Integrating Space Forces into warfighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict."

The USSC not only plans to fight wars in space: It is also planning to wage war from space. In an Aviation Week and Space Technology article on the "Future Combat Missions in Space," General Joseph Ashy, Commander-in-Chief of the US Space Command vowed: "We will engage terrestrial targets someday--ships, airplanes, land targets--from space." A 1998 USAF report envisions bombers in space orbit capable of dropping "a precision munition, anywhere on Earth, in less than an hour from the 'go' order."

"It's politically sensitive, but it's going to happen," says the general. "Some people don't want to hear this, and it sure isn't in vogue, but absolutely--we're going to fight in space . . . . That's why the US has development programs in directed energy and hit-to-kill mechanisms."

Asst. Secretary of the Air Force for Space Keith Hall (who also is director of the secretive National Reconnaissance Office, whose $6.8 billion budget is nearly triple the CIA's) has declared: "With regard to space dominance, we have it, we like it, and we're going to keep it."

The USSC's 1998 Long Range Plan notes that "The development and production process, by design, involved hundreds of people including about 75 corporations." Phillips Laboratory, a major Air Force contractor, proudly describes its mission as "helping control space for the United States." But who exactly gave the US authority to control space?

In February 1999, Clinton sent Congress a military budget that asked for $6.6 billion to develop a National Missile Defense (NMD) shield by 2005. The previous year, the Pentagon signed a contract for construction of a Space-Based Laser Readiness Demonstrator. The major contractors were TRW, Boeing, the US Air Force and the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (the new name for President Clinton's reborn version of President Reagan's discredited Star Wars).

The US Space Foundation (a coalition of weapons and aerospace giants) praised the contracts for Star Wars II in an ad that proclaimed "the interdependence of Civil and Commercial and Military space efforts. It is clear that 'space is open for business'."

"The US government, particularly the new unified Space Command, has become more and more brazen in saying that it wants to achieve total dominance of the space around the planet, both in terms of weaponization and in control of all resources," says Loring Wirbel, a critic of the US push to weaponize space. Unfortunately, Wirbel added, "The more we try to achieve dominance through wielding power and having our own way all the time, the more we lose the essence of our democracy that makes us an exceptional nation. The more we move towards this dominance regime, the more I have to say I'm embarrassed to be an American."

Military Space Forces: The Next 50 Years, a book by defense specialist John M. Collins, reports how small nuclear reactors could be used to power space-based lasers, neutral particle beams, mass drivers and railguns. Nuclear reactors could support major bases on the moon.

Military Space Forces, a report commissioned by the US Congress, speaks of the "strategic superiority [of] . . . unilateral control of space, which overarches Planet Earth, all occupants and its entire contents . . . Possessors of that vantage position could overpower every opponent."

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 is the basic framework on international space law. This landmark treaty--signed by 91 nations including the US, the UK, and the former Soviet Union--decrees that space shall be used "for peaceful purposes . . . . The exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interest of all countries." The treaty states that no nation shall "place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction."

The US already is in violation of the Outer Space Treaty's provision that "states shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects." In 1991, the US placed its nuclear space flights under the Price-Anderson Act, a US law that limits domestic accident liability to $8.9 billion and foreign claims to a mere $100 million.

The White House declared on November 5, 1999 that it was prepared to deploy the $20 billion NMD system even if it violated the historic Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty--an agreement the Union of Concerned Scientists has called "the cornerstone for stability and arms control." The White House seemed to be taking its lead from a 1998 Space News essay entitled "Seeking American Space Dominance." In this article, Thiokol Corp. Vice President Tidal W. McCoy thundered that, when it comes to US dreams of space superiority, "Phony arms control issues . . . should not continue to stand in our way."

A few days prior to the White House statement, Russia "sent a message" to the US by launching its own version of a short-range "defensive" ABM missile. That same week, an overwhelming anti-deployment vote in the UN saw every member of the European Union side with Russia in opposing deployment of the NMD.

Undeterred by international opposition, President Clinton is set to decide in June whether to proceed with development of the NMD. The June decision date is a charade. It will take at least 19 tests to determine if the NMD is even feasible but only three will have been attempted by June. According to the New York Times, "weapons experts doubt that the first three tests will provide enough information to make a sound judgement."

Star Wars II is clearly on the fast track. The GOP-controlled Congress approved the NMD program last May by a lopsided 345-71 vote. Five months later, the USAF launched the first NMD test from a base in California.

The White House is promoting the NMD system as a "defensive" measure but this is a Trojan Horse for a hidden military agenda. USAF Vice-Chief of Staff Gen. Lester Lyles was perfectly clear about the ultimate role of the NMD: "Space control and all of its capabilities and ramifications . . . are going to grow exponentially," Lyles has stated. "Ultimately, you can see the Air Force deploying systems that can deny space capabilities to our enemies."

The New York Times reports that NATO's European members fear the NMD "will put their countries at risk." Senate Armed Services Committee member Charles Robb (D-VA) has called the NMD "a mistake of historic proportion."

Even the conservative Washington Times pointed out that "The drawback of America's long-range missile reach is that it is driving more nations to seek nuclear weapons and long-range missiles capable of reaching US soil."

So why is this destabilizing $20 billion boondoggle happening? The answer is simple: $20 billion. Every time there is an arms race, the arms industry wins. The Pentagon's $288 billion FY 2000 budget contains massive increases for a number of new weapons programs including the Space-Based Infrared Satellite, the Milstar Satellite, the Space-Based Laser Project and the Navy Theater Missile Defense System.

Noting that US companies are "likely to invest $500 billion in space by 2010," US News & World Report observed that the Space Command "will be called upon to defend American interests in space much as navies were formed to protect sea commerce in the 1700s."

The USSC's Long Range Plan stresses that these private corporate interests "must be fully protected to ensure our nation's freedom of action in space."

Water, helium-3, and strategic minerals have been detected on the moon. The Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space (GNAW) warns "US aerospace corporations intend to seize control of these resources for exploitation and profit. The Space Command will ensure US control." According to GNAW, "efforts now are underway to circumvent the UN Moon Treaty [because it] . . . does not allow for individual or corporate land claims."

Not all business in space is welcomed. A November 1999 cover story in US News & World Report cited the DOD's concerns that a private US company was about to launch a commercial satellite that would permit it to sell high-resolution "spy satellite" images to civilians and foreign clients. "That had to be stopped. But how?" US News fretted. Had the satellite not crashed into the Pacific Ocean, US News clearly implied, the DOD would have been impelled to shoot the company's satellite out of orbit.

The US hopes to be able to determine "which nations will have access to space," says GNAW "During times of hostilities, the Pentagon intends to attack rival nation's satellites with anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons."

On November 1, 1999, 138 members of the United Nations approved a resolution on the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space to assure that space "shall be used for peaceful purposes." The US cast the only abstaining vote.

"[M]any now believe it is inevitable that weapons will invade space," US News propagandized. Perhaps recalling the faked Gulf of Tonkin incident that widened the Vietnam War, US News concluded its report with a deeply troubling paragraph: "In the end, it may take a Pearl Harbor-like attack on a satellite to justify such a momentous move. But, if that day arrives, the Pentagon may pull a few surprises of its own off the shelf."

What You Can Do: Ask the White House and Congress to halt further spending on "Star Wars II"-- the National Missile Defense system. For more information, contact: the Global Network [PO Box 90083, Gainesville, FL 32607, (352) 337-9274].

Karl Grossman is a full professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury. He the recipient of the George Polk and John Peter Zenger reporting awards, and the author of The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program's Nuclear Threat To Our Planet [Common Courage Press, Box 702, Monroe, Maine, 04951]

© Earth Island Journal, spring 2000 issue