The Space Reviewin association with SpaceNews

Brilliant Pebbles illustration
Recent events and history alike, some argue, demonstrate the need to prepare for the use of weapons in space. (credit: Ball Aerospace)

The skies are already dangerous

“To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual ways of preserving peace”
– George Washington

In a recent article published on the Center for Defense Information’s Space Security Update, Victoria Samson writes about her concern for what she calls the “unilateralist” and “militaristic bent” US policy toward space defense and exploration. She made several points that I think need to be looked at from a more proper perspective.

First, she views the international security situation in space based on treaties and “collective security”. She cites treaties such as the now-defunct ABM treaty, the Outer Space Treaty, and several other proposed treaties such as PAROS (Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space) that aren’t even ratified by the US Senate. As always with position papers like these, they use the term “dangerous” with respect only to the United States, as if everything we do is preemptive and/or reactionary as a means of global evil. While I agree the skies are “more dangerous”, I do not believe it is any fault of our own.

Just because space is used by the US military to enhance operations to protect the people of the United States and our friends and allies, allowing for faster communications and more precise weapons targeting and thus saving thousands of both military and civilian lives, doesn’t mean that the United States is the reason why space has become a threatening place. Other nations and non-state actors such as Al-Qaida want the destruction of our capabilities and global influence for liberty. Anyone who thinks that every nation, even at peace, is closer than a brother by treaties needs to read their history and get a reality check.

It’s time to wake up and realize that space isn’t the sanctuary it once was believed to be, and prepare for what may lay ahead.

This was clearly illustrated this month when China tested an anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon, destroying a old Chinese weather satellite in polar orbit. That test came several months after a groundbased Chinese laser reportedly “illuminated” or even “blinded” an American military satellite as it passed over Chinese territory. Believing that the Chinese ASAT test was nothing more than their scientists working technology for show or peaceful purposes is wishful thinking. According to a recent report written by the Strategic Assessment Center at SAIC, a national security analysis group, “the Chinese view space warfare [as] inevitable” and they think in “spheres” of combat operations and believe space to be one of those spheres. They view the United States capabilities in “space, (especially C4ISR capabilities) as even more critical to US power projections… they place a high priority on the development of space capabilities that degrade or destroy US space-centric C4ISR, believing this to be the lynch pin of US power projection.” With the new ASAT capability the Chinese have that ability to destroy our space vehicles, civilian and military.

The “non state actors” the policy refers to could include space terrorism. Just because we think that terror groups such as Al-Qaida are backwards people with AK-47s living in caves, doesn’t mean that’s always the case. These people are highly educated and have large amounts of money with which to purchase technology. To wait to develop the space defenses to protect the satellites that support our armed forces and our economy is ludicrous. Prudence dictates in this post-9/11 world that we prepare for the worst and try to prevent it through some measure of deterrence. Ms. Samson’s reverence for the “Clinton model” of space policy will just lead to what the “Clinton model” toward global Islamic fascism led to: thousands of Americans dead. With no way to back up the treaties, they are just pieces of paper, like the Treaty of Versailles, the Washington Naval Treaty, and Neville Chamberlain’s “Peace in our Time” agreement with Hitler.

I applaud the new policy and I think it is worded to respect the Outer Space Treaty, which doesn’t prohibit the deployment of conventional weapons in space. History shows that every area that man has exploited for “peaceful purposes” for commerce, communication, and trade—on land, sea, or air—has eventually seen conflict. To not prepare would be foolish, and to think that we are the reason the world is dangerous is ignorance of the world we live in. As the Marshall Institute’s Jeff Kueter states in his report “The War in Space Has Already Begun”, “the days of unchallenged use of space is coming to an end.” It’s time to wake up and realize that space isn’t the sanctuary it once was believed to be, and prepare for what may lay ahead.