Sunday, March 18, 2001
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle

Arming the Heavens

 


"IF THE U.S. is to avoid a 'Space Pearl Harbor' it needs to take seriously the possibility of an attack on U.S. space systems."

You might think this is the opening of a science fiction novel. But these words appear in a federal government document. Specifically, this is the conclusion reached by the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization, which presented its long-awaited recommendations to Congress on Jan. 11, 2001.

Chaired by Donald H. Rumsfeld -- before President Bush appointed him secretary of defense -- the commission seeks to protect American military and surveillance satellites from future attacks. To thwart such aggression, the commissioners recommend that the United States develop a space-based "military capability" to defend its space "assets."

Just as Rumsfeld delivered this report to Congress, President Bush decided to suspend all further military expenditures and asked the new secretary of defense to conduct a complete review of the armed services, including their strategies and weapons.
Although no one knows what Rumsfeld will ultimately conclude, he has already provided us with a disturbing vision of how he imagines America's military future.

America will prepare to fight in space. The U.S. will control space to maintain strategic dominance on Earth.

If adopted, the Rumsfeld report could ignite an arms race that would make the proliferation of nuclear bombs seem almost quaint.

In Rumsfeld's view, space is the next arena of warfare. While politicians debate whether the United States should build a defensive national missile defense, the Rumsfeld commission regards a ground-based missile defense as the first step in deploying space-based weaponry, which could become an offensive threat.

His is not an isolated view. In a recent issue of the New Republic, Senior Editor Lawrence Kaplan suggests we drop all pretenses and admit that "missile defense is about preserving America's ability to wield power abroad. It's not about defense. It's about offense. And that's exactly why we need it."

U.S. weaponry is obsolete, says Rumsfeld. The next president must "have the option to deploy weapons in space to deter threats and, if necessary, defend against attacks on U.S. interests."

The Rumsfeld report proposes a full-scale effort to prepare for space warfare. It recommends, for example, that the president declare space a national security priority, that a Space Advisory Group report directly to the president and that the Air Force create "a Space Corps" that will eventually morph into "a military department for space." With these steps, the report concludes, the United States will gain "the capability to use space as an integral part of its ability to manage crises, deter conflict, and if deterrence fails, to prevail in conflict."

The resolve to build a space-based military is hardly new. Much of the commission's report is, in fact, a tamer and toned-down version of documents already published by the U.S. Space Command, which the Pentagon established in 1985 to "help institutionalize the use of space."

These documents, readily accessible on the Web site of the U.S. Space Command (www.spacecom.af.mil/usspace), reveal a more ominous vision of space-based warfare.

The cover of one document, called "Vision for 2020," depicts a laser weapon shooting a beam down from space, zapping a target below. Beneath this sci-fi image crawl the words: "U.S. Space Command -- dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect U.S. interests and investments."

"Vision for 2020" emphasizes how the global economy will widen the gulf between "the haves" and the "have-nots." By deploying space-based weaponry and surveillance, however, the United States will have the ability "to control space" and from space, "to dominate" the Earth below.

U.S. military leaders are blunt in describing their plans for space warfare.

"It's politically sensitive, but it's going to happen," Gen. Joseph Ashy, former commander-in-chief of the U.S. Space Command, told Aviation Week & Space Technology in 1996.

"Space is the ultimate 'high ground,' " reported "Guardians of the High Frontier," a 1997 U.S. Air Force Space Command report. "Tomorrow's Air Force will likely dominate the air and space around the world," declares "Almanac 2000," recently published by the U.S. Space Command.

All this, remember, was before George W. Bush became president.

Yet candidate Bush never hid his enthusiasm for Star Wars. On the campaign trail, he repeatedly proposed that the United States leapfrog over the next generation of weapons -- still meant for fighting the Cold War -- and proceed directly to high-tech weapons. By choosing Donald Rumsfeld, Bush appointed a man whom the Washington Post has called the "leading proponent not only of national missile defenses, but also of U.S. efforts to take control of outer space."

Spending billions of tax dollars to deploy space-based weaponry is a serious matter, though most Americans seem unaware of an idea that appears to be gaining currency -- including the cash -- within government. Last year, for example, a multimillion-dollar contract was signed for a "Space-Based Laser Readiness Demonstrator."

The militarization of space would violate international law.

In 1967, the U. S.-initiated Outer Space Treaty banned all nations from deploying weapons in space. Last year, 163 nations voted to reaffirm that U.N. agreement. Three nations abstained and refused to support the resolution: The United States, Israel and Micronesia.

So, is Donald Rumsfeld's "strategic review" a charade? Have the decisions already been made? Some experts and activists think so. An editorial in the Economist recently argued that "the long-promised transformation of the American defense system from a Cold War fighting force to the high-tech -army of the future" is finally going to take place. The Center for Defense Information has criticized the "concerted effort in the administration" to push ahead with the militarization of space.

Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, says,

"We have this one chance, this one moment in history, to stop the

weaponization of space from happening."

If he is right, the American people face an urgent need to become informed about our government's future military plans.

Look up at the heavens.

Imagine laser or nuclear weapons orbiting in space.

Then decide whether space-based warfare will make you

feel any safer here on Earth.

©2001 San Francisco Chronicle Page A - 20

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