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U.S. push for space weaponisation must be challenged

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President Biden has said his administration will continue the work of Trump's Space Force (Image by Dan Jensen)

While most of the world supports outlawing space weaponry, the U.S. Government is still pushing to militarise space, writes Karl Grossman.

RETIRED U.S. Army Colonel John Fairlamb stated in a piece in The Hill, the Washington, DC news website:

‘Let’s be clear: Deploying weapons in space crosses a threshold that cannot be walked back.’

Fairlamb knows the issue with the weaponisation of space. His background includes being an International Affairs Specialist for the Army Space and Missile Defense Command and Military Assistant to the U.S. Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs. He is familiar with war first-hand: he was a company commander in Vietnam and holds a doctorate in Comparative Defense Policy Analysis.

In his opinion column headed ‘The U.S. should negotiate a ban on basing weapons in space’, Fairlamb wrote:

Given the implications for strategic stability, and the likelihood that such a decision [to deploy weapons in space] by any nation would set off an expensive space arms race in which any advantage gained would likely be temporary, engaging now to prevent such a debacle seems warranted.

 

It’s time for arms control planning to address the issues raised by this drift toward militarisation of space. Space is a place where billions of defence dollars can evaporate quickly and result in more threats about which to be concerned. Russia and China have been proposing mechanisms for space arms control at the United Nations for years; it’s time for the U.S. to cooperate in this effort.

Indeed, if weapons are deployed in space – and for decades, including during the Reagan Administration’s “Star Wars”  (officially named the Strategic Defense Initiative) push, now likely again with the Trump Administration’s creation of a U.S. Space Force and its mission to “dominate” space – there will be no return.

Space weaponisation ‘cannot be walked back’. And the world is at a crossroads.

Russian Foreign Minister Serge Lavrov two weeks ago called tor talks to create an ‘international legally binding instrument’ to ban the deployment of “any types of weapons” in space.

Lavrov declared:

“We consistently believe that only a guaranteed prevention of an arms race in space will make it possible to use it for creative purposes, for the benefit of the entire mankind. We call for negotiations on the development of an international legally binding instrument that would prohibit the deployment of any types of weapons there, as well as the use of force or the threat of force.”

He made the statement on 12 April, the International Day of Human Space Flight, marked this year by the 60th anniversary of Russian Yuri Gagarin’s space flight, the first by a person in space.

The U.S., the United Kingdom and the then Soviet Union joined decades ago in drafting the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 that designated space as a “global commons” for peaceful purposes. The treaty bans the deployment of weapons of mass destruction in space. It’s been signed by most nations on Earth.

Russia and China – along with U.S. neighbour Canada – have led in a move to expand the Outer Space Treaty by outlawing the deployment of any weapons in space.

During the period of Reagan’s “Star Wars” and in years since, the U.S. has been working on developing space weaponry that has included hypervelocity guns and particle beam and laser weapons.

The Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) treaty has been pushed by Canada, Russia and China to broaden the Outer Space Treaty.

PAROS has worldwide support. But through a succession of U.S. administrations – Republican and Democrat – the U.S. Government has voted against the PAROS treaty at the Conference on Disarmament of the United Nations. Because conference decisions must be supported by consensus, the U.S. has effectively vetoed the enactment of the PAROS treaty.

The day after Lavrov’s statement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry joined Russia in its plea.

Deputy director of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Information Department Zhao Lijian said on 13 April:

“We are calling on the international community to start negotiations and reach agreement on arms control in order to ensure space safety as soon as possible. China has always been in favour of preventing an arms race in space; it has been actively  promoting negotiations on a legally binding agreement on space arms control jointly with Russia.”

As for the Biden Administration and space militarisation, spokesperson Jen Psaki tweeted: ‘We look forward to the continuing work of Space Force...’

Space News, in relating her comments, added:

The U.S. Space Force, the nation’s first new military branch since the Air Force was established in 1947, was highly championed by former President Trump during most of his administration. Some have speculated Biden would not support it but the President has not commented on it. Regardless of Biden’s position on the Space Force, the President does not get to choose whether or not to keep the Space Force. Congress enacted the Space Force in the law, like the other armed services, and would have to pass new legislation to roll it back. That would be an unlikely scenario as the Space Force has bipartisan support in Congress.

The Space Force was “highly championed” by Trump, but the legislation through which it came about was supported by most Democratic members of the U.S. Congress.

The leading grassroots organisation internationally that has been challenging the weaponisation of space has been the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space (space4peace.org).

Bruce Gagnon, its coordinator, told this writer about the Fairlamb piece:

The comments from retired Army Colonel John Fairlamb are quite excellent as he calls for the U.S. to seriously enter into negotiations with Russia and China on PAROS. Both those nations for years have been offering to enter into negotiations at the U.N. to close the door to the barn before the horse gets out. In other words, develop a new treaty that prevents a space arms race before it happens. Sadly, the U.S. due to aerospace industry greed and dreams of space domination has been blocking this much need treaty development process.

 

Some might see Mr Fairlamb's comments as representing the U.S. military – as if a sea change was happening inside the Pentagon – on this very important issue. 

 

I am not so certain.  But surely there must be at least a few more serious people in the Pentagon who recognise that any war in space would be a disaster for all.

 

I recall in 2017 when the Global Network held our annual space organising conference and protest in Huntsville, Alabama, just outside the Army's Redstone Arsenal, the place that the U.S. military chose for Wernher Von Braun and his fellow 100 Nazi rocket scientists/engineers to come create the U.S space program after World War II under the secret program called Operation Paperclip. Today, Huntsville is called the “Pentagon of the South”.

 

While we were meeting at the hotel on our last day, a man approached our group and asked if he could talk with us. He introduced himself as a U.S. military officer. He said he was drawn to us because of some of the peace t-shirts being worn. We explained the purpose of our meeting and a bit about the Global Network. He told us that he was very worried about the direction the Pentagon was going with its very aggressive military operations and language. We urged him to speak out as best he could.

 

This connection and the words from John Fairlamb make very clear that there are indeed some sane people inside the U.S. military. We must hope that they are vocal during these times where the U.S. has tragically undertaken the creation of the Space Force which has the mission to “control and dominate space and to deny other nations access to space”.

 

Biden has already stated that he intends to honour Trump's creation of this new provocative and destabilising branch of the Pentagon. And it must be remembered that inside the House of Representatives, which the Democrats control, a vast number of Democrats voted yes to “stand up” this new service branch. In fact, the only thing the Democrats requested and were denied was to instead call it the “Space Corps”.

Of the calls by Russia and China this month for international talks on space weaponisation, Gagnon said:

It was a great joy to hear the recent announcements by Russia and China. They reveal the continued leadership by these states in attempting to ensure that we keep space for peace.

 

Since the founding of the Global Network in 1992, we've witnessed Russia and China repeatedly attempting to create a PAROS treaty... the key promoter of the militarisation of space, the United States, has refused to discuss and has even blocked such treaty negotiations at the United Nations. Washington, during both Republican and Democrat administrations, has continually claimed, “There is no problem, there are no weapons in space. We don't need a treaty.”

 

The reason the U.S. has taken that position is quite simple. Washington has long dreamed of “controlling and dominating space and denying other nations access to space”. The Air Force Space Command famously displays its logo on the headquarters building at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado reading “Master of Space”.

 

The U.S.-based aerospace industry views space as a new market for weapons and nuclear power. The dream of massive profits trumps logic. With the recent creation of the Space Force, Washington signalled to the world that its goal of control and domination would not be interrupted by sound thinking nor concern for the trashing of the heavens with weapons and more space debris.

 

Members of the Global Network have worked tirelessly for years to build support for a space weapons ban treaty and we are grateful to Russia and China for doing their best to keep the vision of peace in space alive. It is now up to the people around our tiny orbiting globe to help push this important vision to fruition.

Alice Slater, a member of the boards of both the Global Network and the organisation World BEYOND War, said:

The U.S. mission to dominate and control the military use of space has been, historically and at present, a major obstacle to achieving nuclear disarmament and a peaceful path to preserve all life on Earth. Reagan rejected Gorbachev’s offer to give up “Star Wars” as a condition for both countries to eliminate all their nuclear weapons. Bush and Obama blocked any discussion in 2008 and 2014 on Russian and Chinese proposals for a space weapons ban in the consensus-bound Committee for Disarmament in Geneva.

 

At this unique time in history, when it is imperative that nations of the world join in cooperation to share resources to end the global plague assaulting its inhabitants and to avoid catastrophic climate destruction or Earth-shattering nuclear devastation, we are instead squandering our treasure and intellectual capacity on weapons and space warfare.

Karl Grossman is a professor of journalism at the State University of New York. He is also an award-winning investigative reporter. Click here to go to Karl's website.

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