Outer space: the new battleground

Wednesday, October 10, 2007 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:59 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

COLUMBIA — In October 1967, the United States and other members of the United Nations negotiated and signed an outer space treaty that affirmed “the common interest of all mankind in the progress of the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes” and provided a basic framework of international space law to ensure the realization of that goal. A major provision of the treaty prohibited the deployment of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction into orbit, on celestial bodies, or in any other station in outer space. However, there was no explicit prohibition on the use of satellites for military intelligence or orbital observation of the Earth for research and other peaceful purposes.

Today, some 500 active satellites are in outer space that are used for global communications, weather observation, navigation and remote sensing services for land use, natural resources management and environmental research by civilian organizations. Military uses of outer space are for a variety of missions, including land-based military applications such as early-warning communications, command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as navigation and meteorology.

At least 110 of the operational military satellites belong to the U.S., about 40 are Russian and the remainder belong to other nations. Clearly, there are many uses for artificial satellites but, to date, no evidence indicates any nation has deployed space-based weapons into orbit around the Earth for long-term operations.

Thus, it is important to emphasize that outer space is already highly militarized. But, so far, it has not been weaponized.

Unfortunately, that situation is rapidly changing. Presently, U.S. military officers in cooperation with U.S. scientists and engineers are working on research, planning and development of weapons to attempt to gain unilateral control of outer space with a host of non-nuclear, offensive components such as particle beams, lasers, rocket and missile launchers, and other exotic killing devices.

While these weapons are technically not nuclear in terms of explosive power, most of them will require plutonium driven mechanisms as an energy source for operation. Plans for these weapons also confirm what “Star Wars” opponents have been saying for years, that so-called defensive anti-ballistic missile research has always been a precursor to offensive space weapons. If one can place “defensive” weapons in space, one can also use “defensive” applications for purposes of offensive research and development. Such offensive weapons, if deployed, will destroy space-based targets as well as ships, airplanes and a host of other targets, including human beings on the ground. Such offensive capability has long been the dream of U.S. neoconservatives, and is the product of U.S. space czar Wernher von Braun and Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb.

Several years ago, U.S. Air Force General Howell Estes, then head of the U.S. military space program, said, “The increasing reliance of U.S. military forces upon space power, combined with the explosive proliferation of global space capabilities makes a vision essential. As stewards for military space, we must be prepared to exploit the advantages of the space medium. This vision serves as a bridge in the evolution of military space into the 21st Century.”

“Vision for 20/20,” the U.S. space warfare mission statement reads: “Dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect U.S. interests and investment by integrating space forces into war fighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflicts.” Thus, General Estes’ words and the space war mission statement confirm that past “Star Wars” claims of “defense only” goals, have always been a fabrication.

President Bush and many members of the U.S. military establishment want to place weapons in space as soon as possible. Also, many members of Congress and their corporate sponsors are working hard to weaponize the “high frontier.” More than 75 U.S. corporations are quickly pressing forward with space weapons planning, budgeting, design and development. Corporate leaders for this effort are Boeing, Hughes Space, Lockheed Martin, RAND Corporation, Raytheon, TRW and many others. Cost projections for the full-blown weapons program are in the range of one trillion dollars.

No doubt, this gigantic project will accelerate an international arms race, not only in space, but also with increased forces on land, sea and air. In response to U.S. space weapons plans, Russian Col. Gen. Vladimir Popovkin recently said; “Should any country deploy weapons in space, then the laws of armed warfare are such that retaliatory weapons are certain to appear. ... We do not want to fight in space, and we do not want to call the shots there either, but we will not permit any other country to do so.”

It is also important to note that both Russia and China have long called for a ban on space weapons. Both have signed on to a U.N. resolution which proposed a ban on deployment of all types of weapons in space. Unfortunately, the U.S. has always refused to support any resolution that limits the outer space weapons noted above.

To date, the weapons in space issue has not been broached in the presidential debates of either major U.S. political party. Consequently, we must do everything we can to raise the issue and pressure leaders of both parties to get this item on the political agenda. It is one of the most critical issues facing humankind. We need legislation that will terminate and ban further research, testing, development, manufacturing, production and deployment of all U.S. space-based weapons, and our new president must work with others at the U.N. to develop and implement an international treaty banning all weapons in space. The weaponization of space is not a legacy we want for our children.

The psalmist says: “The heavens are telling the glory of God.” If President Bush and his weapons profiteers have their way, the heavens will be telling of death and destruction.

Bill Wickersham is an adjunct professor of peace studies and a member of Veterans for Peace.

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