Weapons in the Heavens: A Radical and Reckless Option
Krepon, Michael, Arms Control Today
Of all the risky "transformation" initiatives championed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the one receiving the least media attention is the weaponization of space. Shortly before arriving for his second tour at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld chaired a commission calling for the U.S. government to vigorously pursue "the option to deploy weapons in space to deter threats and, if necessary, defend against attacks on U.S. interests."1 The Air Force is now actively implementing Rumsfeld's wishes. As General Lance Lord, commander of U.S. Air Force Space Command, explained, "We must establish and maintain space superiority. Modern warfare demands it. Our nation expects it. Simply put, it's the American way of fighting."2
Rumsfeld's transformation in U.S. military space policy is driven by worst-case assumptions that the weaponization of space is inevitable; that conflict follows commerce in space, as on the ground; and that the United States must not wait to suffer a "Space Pearl Harbor."3 Yet, the countries most capable of developing such weapons, such as Russia and China, have professed strong interest in avoiding the weaponization of space. The Bush administration has refused negotiations on this subject.
If Rumsfeld's plans to weaponize space arc carried to fruition, America's armed forces, economy, and diplomacy will face far greater burdens, while controls over proliferation would be weakened further. Although everybody loses if the heavens become a shooting gallery, no nation loses more than the United States, which is the primary beneficiary of satellites for military and commercial purposes.
If the United States leads the way in flight-testing and deploying new antisatellite (ASAT) weapons, other states will surely follow suit because they have too much to lose by allowing the Pentagon sole rights to space warfare. U.S. programs will cost more and be far more sophisticated than the ASAT weapons of potential adversaries, who will opt to kill satellites cheaply and crudely. The resulting competition would endanger U.S. troops that depend on satellites to an unprecedented degree for battlefield intelligence, communication, and targeting to win quickly and with a minimum of casualties.
Space warfare would have far-reaching adverse effects for global commerce, especially commercial transactions and telecommunication services that use satellites. Worldwide space industry revenues now total almost $110 billion a year, $40 billion of which go to U.S. companies.4 These numbers do not begin to illuminate how much disruption would occur in the event of space warfare. For a glimpse of what could transpire, the failure of a Galaxy IV satellite in May 1998 is instructive. Eighty-nine percent of all U.S. pagers used by 45 million customers became inoperative, and direct broadcast transmissions, financial transactions, and gas station pumps were also affected.5
Weaponizing space would poison relations with China and Russia, whose help is essential to stop and reverse proliferation. ASAT weapon tests and deployments would surely reinforce Russia's hair-trigger nuclear posture, and China would likely feel compelled to alter its relaxed nuclear posture, which would then have negative repercussions on India and Pakistan. The Bush administration's plans would also further alienate America's friends and allies, which, with the possible exception of Israel, strongly oppose the weaponization of space. The fabric of international controls over weapons of mass destruction, which is being severely challenged by Iran's and North Korea's nuclear ambitions, could rip apart if the Bush administration's interest in testing space and nuclear weapons is realized.
This highly destabilizing and dangerous scenario can be avoided, as there is no pressing need to weaponize space and many compelling reasons to avoid doing so. If space becomes another realm for the flight-testing and deployment of weapons, there will be no sanctuary in space and no assurance that essential satellites will be available when needed for military missions and global commerce. …