ForeignPolicy

War in Heaven: Stopping the Arms Race in Outer Space

A new book reveals Bush's revamped national space policy. It lays the basis for a radical change of U.S. policy toward outer space -- the deployment of weapons.
The following is an excerpt from War in Heaven: Stopping the Arms Race in Outer Space Before It's Too Late (New Press, 2007).
If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and reserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown!
--"Nature," by Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1836
It's politically sensitive, but it's going to happen. Some people don't want to hear this and it sure isn't in vogue, but -- absolutely -- we're going to fight in space. We're going to fight from space and we're going to fight into space. That's why the U.S. has developed programs in directed energy and hit-to-kill mechanisms. We will engage terrestrial targets someday -- ships, airplanes, land targets -- from space. We will engage targets in space, from space.
--William R. Scott, "USSC Prepares for Future Combat Missions in Space," Aviation Week & Space Technology, Aug. 5, 1996
The Cold War is over, but many of us can remember the terror of living in that era. Tens of thousands of rockets were poised to strike the United States and the Soviet Union in less than an hour -- all armed with hydrogen bombs hundreds of times stronger than the bombs that had leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If war broke out, our countries would be seething wastes of radioactivity. Almost nothing would survive.

The Cold War began in 1945, immediately after World War II, and by 1958, both the United States and Russia had obtained hydrogen bombs of unbelievable destructive power. At the same time, both countries were developing intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to speed the delivery of these satanic weapons to their targeted cities. Between them, the United States and the Soviet Union soon had the capacity to destroy the planet in a series of lightning strikes. During the 1960s, reports from the Rand Corp., a national security research institution, predicted between one and two hundred million dead in the first nuclear exchange. Not only would millions die, but the planet would be permanently polluted with radioactivity. Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union, said "Will the living envy the dead?"

The fact that the ICBMs were designed to exit the earth's atmosphere before raining death and destruction down on Moscow, St. Petersburg, New York and Washington, marked the first instance of the use of outer space for military purposes. And once this threshold had been crossed, military planners realized that space itself could be militarized -- satellites could be used to identify military targets on the other side of the world and accurately guide missiles to their targets. Before satellites were used in this way, it had not been feasible for the United States or the Soviet Union to fly over each other's territory under international law. The United States could not observe the Soviets, who might be developing a missile launching platform in some obscure area of Siberia, unless the United States flew over Soviet territory, a violation of national air space under international law and an act of war. Satellites allowed such observations to be made unobtrusively and legally for the purpose of either identifying targets or monitoring arms control agreements. This technology became even more important after the U-2 incident in 1960, when the American airplane pilot, Francis Gary Powers, was shot down while spying on the Soviet Union in a high-altitude plane.

The military planners had still other ideas for the military uses of outer space. Not only could missiles move through outer space and satellites spot targets and guide missiles, but weapons could be permanently placed in orbit outside the earth's atmosphere and then, on a signal from the earth, bombard bases and cities. Bombardment satellites, and satellites to knock out the satellites of other countries, looked like the weapons of future wars.

At the same time that military planners were dreaming of space wars, others were imagining a wide range of ways by which space could be used to benefit humankind. First on the seas, and then in the air, human beings had expanded their horizons, and had begun to create a unified planet. Outer space held the exciting promise of a further extension of the human endeavor -- a new frontier with the potential to benefit the entire species.

Scientific exploration held perhaps the greatest and most wonderful promise. Before satellite technology became available, the examination of the solar system, our own galaxy and the universe was limited to rather primitive observations made from the ground, because telescopic sightings were restricted by the fog of the atmosphere, which seriously compromised their clarity. Observations from satellites, by contrast, transcended the atmosphere, which opened up a whole new field of scientific endeavor. For the first time, we could observe the farther reaches of our planetary system with accuracy and begin to understand the composition of our galaxy and then of the universe as a whole. We began to comprehend the immensity of the universe that we inhabit -- 100 billion galaxies -- and to be able to speculate on the world's origins based on the direct evidence provided by satellite observations. The earthly restrictions on scientific research that limited findings in the 19th century and earlier decades of the 20th century were astonishingly superseded by the birth of a totally new field of astrophysics.

Outer space could also be used to establish a global communication system free from expensive and sometimes impracticable ground wires and cables. A small village in Nigeria, which previously had no communication with the rest of the world, could suddenly be linked via satellite, and people in this small village could speak with anyone in the world at relatively low cost.

Outer space could also be used to track worldwide weather, thereby creating an accurate system of weather prediction. Before space-based satellites, weather tracking and predictions had been sketchy at best, relying solely on ground observation and sightings from ships and planes, with great geographic areas of the planet left unreported. Now, satellites can record developments all over the earth. This comprehensive forecasting would be of immense advantage to people ranging from farmers to pilots, travelers and government planners.

Still another exciting possibility presented itself: Any person on earth could be located immediately by satellite, whether driving a car down an unfamiliar highway, steering a ship in the ocean, or flying a plane. It was now impossible to get lost. A quick communication with the satellite system would give one exact coordinates, and if one were sick or injured, the chance of rescue. Satellites were now the means by which ships and planes could navigate with assurance around the world.

Information technology loomed in the future, and outer space technology would be an important part of that revolution. The science of artificial intelligence, which was begun in the 1930s and would provide the basis for the development of computers, was in rapid progress by the 1950s. Prophets could imagine a world in which all global information could be stored or transmitted, with outer space as the ideal venue for transmission—not only verbal communications could be exchanged, but industrial designs, patent information, and scientific data. All the world's store of information could be contained in computers and transmitted as needed through the medium of outer space.

Parts of the earth that had never been photographed could now be mapped; conferences could now be achieved without the need for face-to-face communication, and virtual chat groups could be set up around the globe; radio and television broadcasts could now reach any part of the world; and worldwide systems of information, including the flight paths of planes and the spread of epidemics, could be monitored. For the first time, the world could be united by information, although as globalization increased, many people became uneasy. Would this global integration homogenize and destroy cultures and subjugate economies before the gigantic, all-powerful multilateral corporations? Or, on the other hand, would it create a global consciousness and a more efficient production and flow of goods?

At the very beginning of the space age, humans asked: Would outer space be dominated by one powerful nation and weaponized, or would it become the common property of mankind? Outer space would either be a model for international cooperation or a venue for intense and destructive nationalism. Would it be the venue for wars and synchronized killings, or the common space for a complex of cooperative peaceful efforts benefiting our species? The two uses of outer space could not exist side by side. Space wars would destroy peaceful satellites and the international cooperation upon which the peaceful uses of outer space depend. Cooperation of this magnitude requires not only the absence of conflict but the creation of international agreements on rules, for example, allocating the orbits in outer space to be used by satellites and allocating specific parts of the radio frequency band for satellite communication.

It is at this point, in 1958, at the dawn of the space age, that our story begins. This book starts by chronicling the series of good and bad decisions that have been made over a period of almost 50 years on a relatively ad hoc basis about how outer space will be used. It takes us up to the first decade of the 21st century, to a planet enriched with a world communication system, global meteorological forecasting, global exchange of information, a global positioning system, the wonders of outer space exploration and the use of outer space to monitor arms control treaties. But it is also a world armed with nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) on hair-trigger alert, with an embryonic but extremely destabilizing missile defense system, and ten nations possessing dedicated military satellites to identify targets and guide missiles.

On Aug. 31, 2006, President Bush authorized a new national space policy. It differs significantly from the policy proclaimed ten years ago by President Clinton. Where the earlier document emphasized the peaceful uses of outer space, this document focuses on its military uses and aggressively proclaims its resistance to any attempt to infringe upon U.S. dominance or limit U.S. activity by international agreement. It states that the United States will "develop and deploy space capabilities that sustain U.S. advantage and support defense and intelligence transformation." It calls upon the secretary of defense to "maintain the capabilities to execute the space support, force enhancement, space control, and force application missions." It also 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 outer space. Proposed arms control agreements or restrictions must not impair the rights of the United States to conduct research, development, testing and operations or other activities in space for U.S. national interests."

The new national space policy lays the basis for a radical change of U.S. policy toward outer space -- the deployment of weapons. After decades of research and development in outer space, we will show that the U.S. government is contemplating such deployment. Human beings find themselves at a major crossroads. The Unites States and other countries have a wide range of exceedingly dangerous weapons on the drawing board. If deployed, these weapons -- designed specifically to bombard the earth and destroy satellites -- could transform outer space into a major battleground, creating an arms race costing trillions of dollars and, in a worst-case scenario, triggering a catastrophic nuclear war. This book looks at how the United States has progressed to the brink of this decision. It offers the first comprehensive overview, for the general reader, of the specific weapons being contemplated and developed. It argues that the first deployment would be disastrous for the human race and explores the impact of deployment and the likely political, military and environmental outcomes. Finally, it explores available means for avoiding such a catastrophe.

On May 16 and 17, 2005,the Nuclear Policy Research Institute, founded by Helen Caldicott, sponsored a major conference called "Full Spectrum Dominance," near Washington, D.C., inviting the country's leading experts on space weaponization and national missile defense to discuss the pros and cons of using outer space as a new battlefield. The conference was also attended by representatives from key countries in the field, including Russia, China and Canada, as well as journalists representing important elements of the United States' print and electronic media. The papers at the conference presented up-to-date analyses by well-known insiders in the field. This book draws heavily on these papers (with the consent of the authors) and on the newspaper and journal articles that followed the conference.

The weaponization of outer space, currently buried under obscure categories in the Pentagon budget, is at the forefront of the Bush administration's agenda and must be at the forefront of the national agenda.

On Sept. 14, 2005, at a conference on space security, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., put the issue succinctly:
The U.S. space policy has global repercussions and a global dialogue is needed. Also, it is important for the American people to debate this issue. I believe this administration is pushing for the weaponization of space, and I find the trend disturbing for several reasons: (1) The Congress has not had a real dialogue, and the American people do not understand what is happening; (2) the weaponization of space actually makes us less safe. I would prefer we put our resources elsewhere and that other nations would also like to put their resources elsewhere -- such as to eliminate poverty. If the U.S. begins to put weapons in space, I believe other nations will feel the need to close the gap and level the playing field. By attempting to create and maintain dominance in space, we are creating a new battlefield, and money that the U.S. is not in a position to spend (we have a $7.5 trillion national debt) will be spent. ... I think we can protect the interests of America and its allies without opening up the "Pandora's Box" of space weapons, nor do I believe that weaponizing space is inevitable.
In a democracy, power lies with an informed and energized public who can compel their political representatives to make the world safe for them and their children. This book aims to inform the public of the immense dangers posed by the weaponization of outer space. It seeks to galvanize public opinion to stop space weaponization and promote outer space for what it can be: a venue for human cooperation and benefit. We must act today if we are to avoid a war in heaven tomorrow.

© 2007 by Helen Caldicott and Craig Eisendrath. This piece originally appears in War in Heaven: The Arms Race in Outer Space by Helen Caldicott and Craig Eisendrath (The New Press, March 15, 2007). Published with the permission of The New Press and available at good book stores everywhere.
Helen Caldicott is the co-founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility, president of the Nuclear Policy Research Institute, and a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. She divides her time between Australia and Washington, D.C. Craig Eisendrath is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and author, most recently, of Bush League Diplomacy. He lives in Philadelphia.
Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
[x]
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Activism
Drugs
Economy
Education
Environment
Food
Media
World