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Global Security Scholars, in Talk at AAAS, Say Many Nations Resent U.S. Bid to Control Space
Current United States space policy expresses the intention to dominate the use of space for national military advantage in violation of established international rules according to two experts speaking at a AAAS forum.
John D. Steinbruner
Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland
John D. Steinbruner and Nancy Gallagher, University of Maryland experts on international security policy, said the United States has refused for the last 30 years to negotiate equitable rules for peaceful use of outer space by all countries. At the same time, they said, America is spending far more than the rest of the world combined to develop military uses for space and is now actively studying ways to achieve full military dominance of space.
Such actions by the U.S., said Steinbruner and Gallagher, are viewed by many other nations as provocative and threatening—and may actually make America less safe.
Steinbruner and Gallagher were speakers at a forum organized by Benn Tannenbaum, the associate program director of the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy. Tannenbaum said the forum is one of a series of briefings organized by the Center to provide expert information on U.S. security policy.
In her remarks, Gallagher said that some countries consider it threatening that the U.S. is vigorously expanding military uses of space while declining to conduct meaningful international negotiations on anti-satellite weapons, space-based weapons, and other offensive uses of space. Apprehension about U.S. intentions could cause other nations to take self-protective measures that threaten others, she said, "leaving everybody worse off than they would have been before."
It was not always so, Gallagher told a packed room gathered for the briefing at the Cannon House Office building on 9 June.
The U.S. helped draw up the 1967 outer space treaty that laid out basic rules to guide the use of space for peaceful purposes and for mutual benefits. The rules allowed for military satellites for early warning, arms control verification, crisis management, and other activities that were seen as "stabilizing deterrence," said Gallagher, and all nations were treated equally.
Serious U.S. efforts to negotiate more advanced rules for the use of space ended with the administration of President Ronald Reagan, when American experts became more interested in using space in a "war-fighting context," including research on a proposed nuclear missile shield, she said.
By the 1990s, some U.S. military and defense experts believed that America so dominated the technology that it could fully control space, turning the orbital frontier into "a full spectrum combat command," said Gallagher.
"They argued that if the United States didn't do that then other nations would view space as America's Achilles' heel and would try to attack us," she said.
"The current U.S. space policy is guided by this idea that the United States is the strongest space power so we should eschew rules that might tie our hands and should instead seek ... military space dominance," Gallagher said.
The basic elements of military space dominance, she said, would mean that the U.S. would be able to use space to project military power anywhere in the world on short notice. It would also mean that the U.S. would be able to protect its satellites and those of its allies, while being able to prevent other countries from using space "in ways we don't like."
Gallagher said the 2006 U.S. national space policy is completely consistent with concepts of space dominance.
The policy does not mention using weapons from space to hit targets on Earth, she said, "but it definitively endorses this idea that the United States needs to be free to use space however it wants and to be able to prevent other countries from using space in ways we don't like."
Gallagher said the policy is "fundamentally at odds" with the outer space treaty that says "space is free for all to use .... in accordance with international law, including UN Charter rules about the use of force" and that all nations are subject to the same set of rules about legitimate and illegitimate uses of space.
"Any country outside the U.S. alliance system has good reasons to be very threatened by this idea that the United States should have veto power over how it can use space," said Gallagher.
Even the majority of Americans do not like the idea, she said. Polling shows a strong public opinion against the U.S. acting as the world's policeman, said Gallagher, and "they certainly don't want the United States to be the policeman of the universe."
Both Steinbruner and Gallagher said that a sincere effort by the United States to start negotiations on equitable military space rules for all nations would be an important step toward calming the fears of other nations about American security policies and could lead to more international cooperation toward U.S. goals.
Steinbruner said that when a new administration takes office in January, it faces a central issue of stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan—and space policy could be a key to achieving that objective.
"We are in deep trouble in both places," he said. "We will require very substantial assistance" from other countries, particularly Iran, Pakistan, Russia, India and China, "if we are to master this situation."
But Steinbruner said all these countries "feel threatened by the recent trend of our security policies. No casual rhetorical assurance is going to fix that problem to the degree that we need to fix it to get their assistance."
Negotiating new international rules for space use, he said, could play an important role by providing tangible evidence of a change in U.S. policy and attitude.
"Space policy is probably the most readily available opportunity for conveying meaningful reassurance" to other countries, said Steinbruner.
Steinbruner is a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland and director of the university's Center for International and Security Studies. He has held academic positions at Yale, Harvard and MIT and is currently chairman of the board of the Arms Control Association.
Gallagher is the associate director for research at the Center for International and Security Studies and a senior research scholar at the University of Maryland.
They are co-authors of a new study, "Reconsidering the Rules for Space Security" published by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
17 June 2008