Let's Weaponize Space
by John Carter McKnight
Scottsdale - Jan 30, 2003
Efforts to ban space-based weaponry, by international treaty and American legislation, are directly harmful to space development. Practical, effective means of defending space-based assets can ensure the growth of infrastructure and enable the establishment of human settlements in space. Space advocates should join in opposing overbroad efforts to prevent space weaponization.
Shortly, U.S. Congressional Representative Dennis Kucinich (Democrat, Cleveland, Ohio,) will re-introduce his "Space Preservation Act," calling on the President to work towards enacting a proposed international treaty to ban space-based weapons, the Space Preservation Treaty.
The act, previously introduced in 2002 (H.R. 3616) and 2001 (H.R. 2977), stands little chance of passage. Nonetheless, the measure should be opposed now, to disrupt the formation of any international consensus to enact a treaty over the opposition of the spacefaring powers.
Space-based assets are already essential to our networked civilization. GPS-dependent ranchers in Canada and sailors in the Atlantic, cell-phone users in Bangkok and Tel Aviv, field medics and polar explorers, all owe their livelihoods, if not their lives, to space infrastructure. Space lines of communication are as essential to 21st Century global commerce as sea lines of communication were in previous eras. Those lines must be defended.
Weapons-ban supporters say that the best defense is universal disarmament. All historical evidence, however, shows that the lack of legitimate defensive force breeds crime and piracy. Where the British navy patrolled the seas, or where heavily-armed Dutch East India Company merchantmen sailed, life and property were safe. Where superior defensive force was absent, as in the 18th Century Caribbean or the contemporary South China Sea, piracy has been a brutal reality.
Before long, the first sorts of space piracy will become practicable. The advantages to a terrorist or rogue state of blinding GPS ore wrecking communications are too great. Anti-satellite weaponry will proliferate. The use of these weapons will damage ordinary people in small nations every bit as much as it will impede American military operations. The common interest of civilization lies not in surrendering the space lines of communication to pirates, but in defending them, vigorously and effectively.
Beyond contemporary defense needs, future individuals and communities in space must have effective means of self-defense. By its terms, the proposed treaty ban would cover personal and police weapons, introducing the specter of violent predation by sociopaths or criminal gangs in future habitats.
As previously noted in this column (2.10, Saluting the Flag of Convenience, orbital habitats may be terribly vulnerable to external attack, from Terrestrial nations or from other locations in space. Habitats without the means of effective territorial defense will be hostages to the political demands of any power capable of fielding orbital weapons or troops.
The Kellog-Briand Pact, which outlawed war in 1928, failed to prevent Hitler's rearming and provoking the Second World War. Similarly, the Space Preservation Treaty will be little impediment to determined pirates or to a superpower's blackmailing an independence-threatening O'Neill colony. But those same powers, with law on their side and the tools of inspections and sanctions, could readily prevent colonists from defending themselves against such threats.
Multilateral weapons-ban treaties can be useful in certain limited circumstances. They will be obeyed if the technologies they ban are unreliable or obsolescent: this is why the chemical weapons ban has largely been observed.
They will be useful if the primary danger is to non-combatants, the weapon's military utility can be met by other means, and their supply can be interdicted - making the recent land mine treaty valuable and effective. Neither set of circumstances applies to space weaponry.
Most space weapon proposals involve using space-based means to influence Terrestrial battles, as a defense against ground-to-ground missile attacks, or the sort of space piracy described here. In none of these cases do the weapons systems meet the criteria for an effective treaty ban.
The only consequence of such a treaty would be to endanger lives and property in space. As many of the treaty activists are generally anti-space and anti-technology (Rep. Kucinich, though supportive of the NASA center in his district, is the Congressional leader of opposition to biotechnology), such an outcome is probably generally desired by treaty supporters.
Opposition to a treaty ban by no means mandates support for American ballistic missile defense initiatives, unilateralist foreign policies or the growing influence of the military-industrial complex. The wisdom and utility of Star Wars is open to debate. Each system, each policy, should be addressed on its own merits.
Neither complete acquiescence nor universal bans are realistic, rational or appropriate responses to the complexities of politics and technology. Citizenship requires us to think for ourselves and act responsibly for the preservation of our civilization - and for its expansion into space. A space weapons ban is an abdication of that responsibility.
Given this fairly obvious analysis, it is surprising that some of the strongest support for the treaty comes from the space movement's main advocates of traditional governmental structures for space. United Societies in Space, Inc. (USIS) is an organization advocating the establishment of a "space metanation" under UN auspices, with their organization serving as the foundation of such a government.
Their draft constitution calls for a space Department of Defense, implying at least some recognition that the definition of "government" involves a monopoly on legitimate violence, and that UN standards fro nationhood include effective military control of territory.
Yet one of the leaders of the treaty movement, Carol Rosin of the Institute for Cooperation in Space, is a member of the USIS Board of Directors, and co-author of an article in the current issue of the group's journal (Space Governance, v.7/8, 2001/2002, pp. 61 et seq.) advocating the treaty. The article, a blend of grammar-challenged New Age rhetoric:
"Because 2003 is when the human species will experience a collective consciousness awakening and shift, as they see the arms race ends before it escalates into space, and when the truth begins to be revealed about who we are in these bodies, on this planet and in the universe."
and legalese, provides a bridge between the model-UN bureaucrat-wannabee enthusiasm of USIS and true wackiness among advocates of the treaty.
Rosin calls for promotion of the treaty proposal by introducing "the Resolution to ban space-based weapons in your city." Given how few of us live in space-based cities, one would expect precious little activity in this area.
Undaunted, though, on the eve of 9/11 commemorations last year, the Berkeley, California City Council passed Resolution 61744 declaring "the outer space above the city to be a space-based weapons-free zone." The self-parody is so immaculate that any commentary would be painting the lily.
Favorable coverage of the Berkeley declaration appears right above news of President Bush having "turned the moon over to a private, for-profit corporation called TransOrbital that has a far-reaching frightening agenda for the corporate domination of space."
Other sites, advocate the treaty as a defense against X-Files style technological conspiracies and the sort of world government feared by militia movements everywhere. There is comfort in the discovery that some of our opponents are sillier than we are. Perhaps California's military-industrial towns could declare themselves space-based weapons enabling zones.
Despite the lunatic fringe of treaty supporters, the proposal is the outgrowth of substantial UN support for a space weapons ban. Two unanimous General Assembly resolutions (Resolution 55/32, November 20, 2000 and Resolution 56/535, November 29, 2001) have supported such a ban, as has Secretary General Kofi Annan in public statements.
The treaty proposal may become a popular cause in nations seeking a cheap means of demonstrating opposition to American military technological superiority, and by its terms will become binding even on non-signatories after being ratified by twenty nations.
The Space Preservation Treaty may well join the Outer Space Treaty and the Moon Treaty as significant efforts by Terrestrial politicians to stop the development of space-based industry, commerce and civilization.
The space movement faces obstacles enough without its own members backing efforts to cripple our progress. United and determined opposition now by the space community may make the road to space a little easier, and our presence there a little safer. The new owners of the Moon might join with us as well.
The Spacefaring Web is a biweekly column © 2002 by John Carter McKnight, an Advocate of the Space Frontier Foundation http://www.space-frontier.org Views expressed herein are strictly the author's and do not necessarily represent Foundation policy. For comments, subscribing or unsubscribing, contact the author at email@example.com
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