U.S. Nixes Arms Control in New Space Policy

By Boese, Wade | Arms Control Today, November 2006 | Go to article overview

U.S. Nixes Arms Control in New Space Policy


Boese, Wade, Arms Control Today


The Bush administration recently released a new space policy that eschews future binding measures to regulate space activities in favor of keeping open all U.S. options, including space-based anti-missile systems, to promote and protect U.S. security and space assets.

Dated Aug. 31 but issued Oct. 5, the new policy replaces a September 1996 Clinton administration version. The October document was a slimmer, unclassified version of the actual policy.

Some overlap exists between the Bush and Clinton policies. Both extol a goal of preserving U.S. "freedom of action" in space and denying the same to foes. The two policies also instruct the Pentagon to pursue space capabilities for "force enhancement, space control, and force application" missions.

Still, the Bush administration version is more muscular in tone. "Freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power," the new policy declares.

In addition, the Clinton administration policy held out the possibility of negotiating arms control and related measures if they were "equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhance the security of the United States and our allies." The Bush administration strategy states the United States "will oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to or use of space."

Some aspects of the new policy were foreshadowed by a January 2001 report of the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization, which Donald Rumsfeld chaired before becoming President George W. Bush's secretary of defense. Declaring U.S. vulnerability to a potential "Space Pearl Harbor," the commission warned the United States "must be cautious of agreements intended for one purpose that, when added to a larger web of treaties or regulations, may have the unintended consequences of restricting future activities in space."

The 2001 report further recommended that Washington develop "new military capabilities for operation to, from, in, and through space" and preserve the "option to deploy weapons in space." However, the Bush policy offers a streamlined formulation of pursuing "unhindered U.S. operations in and through space" and makes no specific mention of weapons.

Still, the new policy calls on the Pentagon to "provide space capabilities to support... multi-layered and integrated missile defenses." The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency (MDA) will be seeking $45 million in the administration's upcoming fiscal year 2008 budget request to begin conducting "space-based interceptor feasibility and demonstration experiments." All told, MDA is envisioning spending nearly $570 million through 2011 to develop space-based interceptors.

Lieutenant General Henry Obering, the head of MDA, told Arms Control Today in September 2005 that the goal is to create a space test bed comprised of "not even a handful" of interceptors for conducting experiments. (See ACT, November 2005.) The Fort Greely, Alaska, ground-based midcourse defense missile interceptor base was originally described as a test bed and is now the core of the administration's rudimentary missile defense system.

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U.S. Nixes Arms Control in New Space Policy
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