Kicking Ass...In Space!

The White House is considering weapons in its space policy through the Air Force, and will probably incorporate the long-standing view of Air Force: the United States should have space superiority. The 2001 Rumsfeld Report discusses, in light of missile defense, options for weapons in space. The United States Air Force’s Lance Ward has said: “We must establish space superiority: freedom to attack, freedom from attack.” In October 2002, Paul Wolfowitz asserted that space is the “ultimate high ground.” The domination of space is part of the Air Force’s strategic doctrine. Now non-state actors play a role in space, such as commercial satellites, but, formally, every satellite launched comes from some state, but some lack oversight. The Rumsfeld Report exaggerates near-term threats in stressing that, unless we do something, we risk a space “Pearl Harbor.”

The U.S. Air Force, for the first time ever, has developed and approved a new doctrine document outlining the service’s approach to warfare in space. Called Counterspace Operations (AFDD 2-2.1) and dated Aug. 2, 2004, the doctrine details the planning and execution of operations against space systems and satellites, both for defensive and offensive purposes. In effect, the new document establishes as fact U.S. Air Force intentions not only to weaponize space, but also conduct anti-satellite operations, possibly preemptively, against enemy military satellites as well as those with primarily civilian functions and satellites owned and/or operated by third-parties (whether governments or commercial entities). It further seeks to establish “space superiority,” with counterspace as the “ways and means” to that end, as a first-order strategic and tactical priority for all military operations, on a par with achieving air superiority. “U.S. Air Force counterspace operations are the ways and means by which the Air Force achieves and maintains space superiority. Space superiority provides freedom to attack as well as freedom from attack....Space and air superiority are crucial first steps in any military operation.” Proponents of space weapons argue that space is just another platform for warfare like land, air, and sea.

The Department of Defense has articulated two categories in the ability to project power in and through space, or “space pre-emption,” as (1) space control—to ensure U.S. access to space and to deny others; and (2) space force projection—weapons targeting land. Russia and China are concerned this will lead to an arms race. The total Defense budget, not including operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, is $440 Billion, and about $20 billion of that is spent on space, and only about two-thirds of those program elements are unclassified. Ninety percent of the space operations budget is not for weapons per se, but for supporting infrastructure such as sensor programs. There are three anti-satellite programs in the budget: micro-satellites, lasers, kinetic energy anti-satellite. Other program elements deal with space control, such as sensor programs, and space-based missile defenses and space-based strike. Opponents of space weaponization assert that this bears great opportunity costs to international cooperation, and it ultimately has a profoundly destabilizing effect.

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty bans the stationing of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in outer space, prohibits military activities on celestial bodies, and details legally binding rules governing the peaceful exploration and use of space. Ninety-seven countries are states-parties to the treaty, while another 27 have signed it but have not yet completed ratification. North Korea is the only state with potential space-launch capabilities that has not signed the treaty. Fueled by concerns about U.S. missile defense plans and space policy, many countries support negotiation of additional outer space agreements. China is pressing the 66-member UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva to negotiate a treaty on the prevention of an arms race in outer space. The United States, however, claims no additional outer space treaties are needed because there is currently no arms race in outer space. The Outer Space Treaty guarantees members freedom of access to and use of space for peaceful purposes. Some critics of a military presence in outer space go so far as to interpret the purpose of the treaty to require that any outer space activity must be for the benefit for all countries as well as in accordance with international law. The middle-ground understanding of the treaty terms is generally that space can be used for stabilizing military purposes but not destabilizing ones.

The biggest opportunity cost of the Department of Defense’s intentions in projecting force in and through space is allowing The Outer Space Treaty to weaken. The Air Force wants to use space to see anything, anywhere, anytime, and to destroy anything we don’t like (as long as there are no weapons of mass destruction in space), and to provide and deny access to others. There exists near universal support for additional rules on The Outer Space Treaty. The United States, in typical form as observed as well in its approach to nuclear non-proliferation, wants the best of both worlds in having no limits enforced on its own military activities while demanding other nations to comply with those very norms it is in violation of.

U.S. moves to reject the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, build a national missile defense, and develop offensive space weapons underscore a stark choice between competition or cooperation as the basis for space operations. Space is increasingly important to commerce in the information age, to the management of global environmental problems, and to the revolution in military affairs. For nearly fifty years, the United States promoted a vision of space as a place controlled by no country and meant to benefit all. Commercial activities and scientific exploration could occur freely as long as nobody else's interests were harmed. To protect its use of space for reconnaissance, arms control verification, early warning, and other support for terrestrial security activities, the United States worked to outlaw space-based weapons of mass destruction, to avoid the deployment of other space-based weapons, and to restrain the development of anti-satellite capabilities.

Now the United States appears to be abandoning its former de facto "space sanctuary" policy and seeking space dominance as a way to protect increasingly important commercial and military space assets. USSPACECOM Vision for 2020, for example, argued that the only way to prevent a surprise attack on U.S. satellites is to develop the ability to "see anything, anytime," to deploy worldwide missile defense, to develop space-based weapons, to be able to protect militarily all U.S. space assets, and to deny similar capabilities to any competitor. The U.S. decision to abrogate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty on June 13, 2002 without negotiating other limits on national missile defense or committing to any specific forms of international cooperation underscores a fundamental shift away from international agreement on a basic framework for space activities, and toward a situation where the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must - unless they can find an asymmetrical way to protect their interests.

Of the major space-faring countries, China has said most explicitly that U.S. pursuit of SPACECOM's vision would be intolerably threatening and would require a countervailing response. Even a limited national missile defense could neutralize China's minimal nuclear deterrent. U.S. use of space for highly intrusive surveillance and force-enhancement, let alone force application or coercive diplomacy short of war, would have serious implications for the Taiwan situation. Chinese officials have clearly indicated that their preferred response to an aggressively imposing U.S. military program is not to enter a classic arms race, but to put pressure on points of weakness, such as vulnerable space assets. China's delegate to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva has bluntly pointed out that the existing legal rules regarding the military use of space are partial and fragile. Military support activities and related commercial services are protected from interference under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty under the supposition that their purposes are fundamentally peaceful. U.S. pursuit of the SPACECOM vision would not be peaceful, in China's view, and would therefore remove the legal protection currently accorded to space assets. In other words, China is warning that U.S. attempts to weaponize space would jeopardize commercial and military support activities. The result would not be U.S. space dominance, but a chaotic situation that left everybody less secure.

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