Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Space Sanctuary: A Viable National Strategy

Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Space Sanctuary: A Viable National Strategy

Article excerpt

LT COL BRUCE M. DEBLOIS, USAF*

SPACE "militarization/weaponization" is not an "all-or-nothing" affair. For clarification, one can view military activities in space on a threat continuum (see table 1). As used here, space weaponization refers to anything greater than the current capability, which is roughly at the moderate threat level.1

Much of the literature flowing from the Department of Defense (DOD) on space and its role for future military operations makes a fundamental assumption: "Space will be weaponized; we only need to decide if the US will take the lead."2 One cannot so readily make such an assumption. The immediate military advantages of being the first nation to weaponize space are undeniable3 but must be weighed against long-term military costs, as well as against broader social, political, and economic costs. The decision to weaponize space does not lie within the military (seeking short-term military advantage in support of national security) but at the higher level of national policy (seeking long-term national security, economic well-being, and worldwide legitimacy of US constitutional values). At that level, many reasons suggest why the weaponization of space may not be the obvious "best" strategy.

The purpose of this article is to articulate those reasons. Space-sanctuary advocates will appreciate what follows as a comprehensive summary of their position; likewise, space-- weaponization advocates will have to address these issues if their belief (that American preemptive weaponization of space best serves this nation) is to remain on firm ground. The following summary of the case against space weaponization proceeds from the historical trend of US nuclear and space policy to consider domestic and international political concerns. It then addresses the space-- weaponization issue by briefly examining adversarial potential (the threat), technological limitations, financial trade-offs, practical considerations of military strategy, and the emotional appeal of global security and well-being. This article is not meant to be an in-depth study of each facet of the debate; rather, it is a terse summary of the space-sanctuary argument aimed at opening the debate.

Historical Trend

Although the militarization of space may seem to be a new issue driven by emerging technological capacity, a historical trend dates from the close of World War II.

The Nuclear Weapons-Space Weapons Analogy

Demonstrations of atomic weapons at the close of World War II and the prospect of nuclear weapons married to emerging ballistic missile technology ushered in a new era of international relations. Threatening to use military force had always been an instrument of diplomacy, but the potential for instantaneous, indefensible, and complete annihilation posed a new rubric in the games nations play. Thus, nuclear deterrence was born.

Initial thoughts that such a threat relegated warfare to the shelves of history due to the prospects of massive nuclear retaliation proved naive-subsequent lower-order conflict did not force nuclear escalation. Symmetric nuclear capabilities among the principal powers weakened the credibility of their use, while asymmetric responses (guerrilla and terrorist tactics, aligning with nuclear-capable parties, conflict protraction, etc.) still allowed lesser powers to test the resolve of the principals-particularly over issues of peripheral interest to those nuclear powers. Examples include Vietnam and Afghanistan. Visions of massive space superiority and the touted huge, coercive power advantage they provide will likely prove as bankrupt a notion as that of massive nuclear retaliation. In their logical evolution, both give way to strategies that recognize an international context of reactive nations. Principal powers will simply not allow a space hegemon to emerge, and lesser powers may concede hegemony but will continue to seek asymmetric counters. …

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