Outer space begins where Earth's atmosphere ends, some 100 kilometers above the globe's surface. The United States wants the ability to militarize outer space to sustain its world dominance. The Pentagon can already monitor the world from space. Now it seeks to develop and deploy military systems in space that allow the US to strike with great force anywhere on Earth in less than an hour.
The Defense Department's Global Strike Integration policy seeks to "gain and maintain both global and theater space superiority and deliver tailored, integrated, full-spectrum space support to the theater commander, while maintaining a robust defensive global counter-space posture".
This means occupying space with surveillance and reconnaissance satellites and anti-satellites, ballistic missiles, missile or kinetic interceptors, and other advanced technology weapons to assist US land, sea and air forces in maintaining military hegemony throughout the world. It also means preventing any other country, by force if necessary, from using space for similar purposes, including self-defense.
Aside from the satellites, which have become key to the Pentagon's battle plans, most of the other technology is in the research and development stage or awaiting deployment decisions from the White House that are complicated by political complexities.
The George W Bush administration - especially the Defense Department and particularly the US Air Force (USAF) - is anxious to launch a full-scale militarization of space, regardless of its enormous expense and the fact that it will inspire worldwide condemnation, generate a dangerous arms race in outer space, and undoubtedly enhance prospects for major wars in this century.
The rightists and neo-conservatives are not unaware of these potential consequences but they are confident the US will prevail because of its overwhelming power. In effect, "It's worth the price."
But that mindset is not shared so far by most Americans outside the hard right, particularly in the absence of any other country that could come near to threatening the United States for global primacy. In addition, virtually every other nation in the world, including Washington's close allies in Canada and the European Union, opposes the weaponization of space, as is evident from repeated votes at the United Nations.
What this means is that the US is clearly heading toward space militarization - more slowly during the Bill Clinton administration, more swiftly during the Bush administration - but not yet with the acceleration the war hawks demand or the Bushites would prefer.
The annual US space budget amounts to about US$36 billion. This constitutes 73% of what the world's nations collectively spend on space, including China, Russia, the European Union, Japan and India, according to the Space Security Project.
At a certain point, perhaps in the not distant future, one Washington administration or another may be able to convince the American people, and particularly the elite that rules the country, that Russia, China or both have become such grave threats to US hegemony that survival depends on extending the reach of Fortress Americana into the heavens. Since the Second Cold War against both these countries is getting under way, the pretext is in the process of becoming established.
The plan to use outer space as part of America's war preparations was put forward by the right wing during the vehemently anti-Soviet years of the 1980s, resulting in president Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" anti-missile program and the creation of the Air Force Space Command in 1982, the mission of which is to "defend North America through its space and intercontinental-ballistic-missile operations - vital force elements in projecting global reach and global power".
By the 1990s, the neo-conservatives were developing ideas for projecting US power throughout the world, including the militarization of space - resulting in an influential document published in 2000 by the Project for the New American Century titled Rebuilding America's Defenses. A year after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the Pentagon and New York's World Trade Center, President Bush included most of these ideas in a new National Security Strategy for the United States. At about the same time, Bush withdrew the US from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which had barred development of missile defenses and space-based systems.
One complication for the Pentagon is that the US, as a signatory of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, may not "place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction (chemical or biological killers), install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner".
Thus at this stage the US military space program is based on "conventional" warfare, not weapons of mass destruction (WMD), but with a few adjustments this could change. For instance, more than 70% the Pentagon's "shock and awe" bombing of Baghdad during the first days of the invasion of Iraq was coordinated and sent to target through military satellites in space. These bombs were conventional explosives, but satellites could have guided nuclear weapons as long as they were not launched from space.
According to Hans M Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, "Although Global Strike is primarily a non-nuclear mission, the information collected [about the program] reveals that nuclear weapons are surprisingly prominent in both the planning and command structure for Global Strike."
Both China and Russia, among many nations, have been attempting to gain UN passage of a new treaty banning conventional weapons in space as well as WMD, and also prohibiting the use of satellites to guide warfare on the ground. True to its militarist imperative, the US will not allow any such treaty to interfere with its plans.
Bush put forward a 10-page unclassified version of the new US National Space Policy last October, superseding the Clinton administration policy of September 1996, but it generally obfuscated the government's real intentions. The new policy was similar in some instances to the Clinton era policy but more unilateral, arrogant and favorable toward space militarization, though not coming out with it honestly.
Only by reading between the convoluted lines was it possible to comprehend fully that the US government intends to do as it pleases militarily in outer space, including preventing other countries from obtaining a similar strategic advantage.
Here is an example: "The United States is committed to the exploration and use of outer space by all nations for peaceful purposes, and for the benefit of all humanity. Consistent with this principle, 'peaceful purposes' allow US defense and intelligence-related activities in pursuit of national interests."
(Translation: Since we respect your peaceful purposes, you must respect ours, so butt out.)
Here's another: "The United States will oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit US access to or use of 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 US national interests." (Translation: The US intends to militarize space, and as the principal member of the Security Council and world hegemon, we will not allow a new treaty to abrogate our rights.)
Another: Under the title "National Security Space Guidelines", the document declared that the Defense Department would:
"Develop and deploy space capabilities that sustain US advantage and support defense and intelligence transformation."
Provide "reliable, affordable, and timely space access for national-security purposes".
"Provide space capabilities to support continuous, global strategic and tactical warning as well as multi-layered and integrated missile defenses."
"Develop capabilities, plans, and options to ensure freedom of action in space, and, if directed, deny such freedom of action to adversaries."
(Translation: We're ready to roll, so move out of the way.)
Theresa Hitchens, director of the Center for Defense Information, said that while the new policy "doesn't go as far as some space hawks wanted it to in openly endorsing the strategy of fighting 'in, from and through' space, neither has it served to put a blanket - even a thin one - on those ambitions. And in taking a decidedly 'us against them' tone, it is likely to further cement the view from abroad that the United States has taken on the role of a 'Lone Space Cowboy'."
It took four years and three dozen revisions until a final version of the National Space Policy was approved - a reflection of how complex it must be to transform a military plan to control the world into a space travelogue. The report was actually delayed for 15 months after press reports revealed that Bush was leaning toward a USAF request for a presidential directive permitting the deployment of weapons in space. The uproar evidently persuaded the Bushites to tone down the policy - a problem solved by not mentioning it.
Moscow and Beijing have been calling for years for an international ban on any kind of weaponization of outer space, including militarized reconnaissance and communications satellites, and conventional weapons as well as WMD. In 2002, China and Russia, co-sponsored by Vietnam, Syria, Indonesia, Belarus and Zimbabwe, presented a proposal to the United Nations for a treaty to demilitarize space completely, tentatively called the "Prevention of the Deployment of Weapons in Outer Space [and] the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects". The US not only rejected the possibility of such a treaty, it refused even to discuss the matter.
Meanwhile, a number of other resolutions have also been introduced concerned with preventing an arms race in space and gained impressive majorities.
In 2000, for example, a resolution on the Prevention of an Outer Space Arms Race was passed with a vote of 163-0 with three abstentions, Micronesia, Israel and the United States. In 2003, the UN vote to prevent an arms race in space was 174-4, with the Marshall Islands joining the "Big Three", which all voted in opposition this time. Last year, the UN General Assembly vote on preventing an arms race in space was passed 166-1. Israel abstained. The US voted No.
Publicly, Washington maintains that the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and other legal measures render a new treaty redundant, but that's only because the treaty allows the US to militarize space via the back door of satellites with battlefield connections and weapons other than WMD. Most of the rest of the world opposes any militarization of space, and Washington and Israel evidently cannot even always rely on the Marshall Islands and Micronesia.
The Bush administration has repeatedly expressed contempt for the Russia-China treaty proposal and similar efforts from other countries. Former deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz, perhaps the most vociferous of the neo-conservative initiators of the Iraq war, declared in October 2002, "Space offers attractive options not only for missile defense, but for a broad range of interrelated civil and military missions." Former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton, another war hawk, commented in Geneva in September 2004, "We are not prepared to negotiate on the so-called arms race in outer space. We just don't see that as a worthwhile enterprise."
The White House is reluctant openly to acknowledge its intention to militarize space, but the USAF in particular has been quite frank. In 1996, the then head of the Space Command, General Joseph W Ashy, was quoted as saying: "We're going to fight from space, and we're going to fight into space. That's why the US has development programs in directed energy and hit-to-kill mechanisms. We will engage terrestrial targets some day - ships, airplanes, land targets - from space."
In 2004, Under Secretary of the Air Force Peter B Teets, discussing America's intentions in space, declared bluntly, "We are paving the road of 21st-century warfare." In May 2005, the New York Times quoted General Lance Lord, another head of the Space Command, as revealing, "Space superiority is not our birthright, but it is our destiny. Space superiority is our day-to-day mission. Space supremacy is our vision for the future." He did not explain how space superiority is obtained, but there is only one way - dominant military force.
The USAF acknowledges that the militarization of space is a prime objective. Air Force Doctrine Document 2-2.1 on "Counterspace Operations", published in August 2004 (and available online), states: "US Air Force counter-space operations are the ways and means by which the air force achieves and maintains space superiority. Space superiority provides freedom to attack as well as freedom from attack."
General John P Jumper, air force chief of staff in 2004, wrote in the foreword to Document 2-2.1: "Counter-space operations are critical to success in modern warfare. The rapid maturation of space capabilities and the evolution of contingency operations have greatly enhanced the effectiveness of air and space power. Combatant commanders leverage space capabilities such as communication; position, navigation, and timing; missile warning; environmental sensing; and reconnaissance to maintain a combat advantage over our adversaries. Space superiority ensures the freedom to operate in the space medium while denying the same to an adversary. The development of offensive counter-space capabilities provides combatant commanders with new tools for counter-space operations."
So what has the Pentagon accomplished so far? Here are some hints from Giuseppe Anzera, an Italian professor, in Star Wars: Empires strike back (August 18, 2005), an article circulated by the Power and Interest News Report:
On the technological level, the Pentagon's planning is in the advanced stage: some projects - aimed at space weaponization - have already been in place for some time. Among the (partially known) Pentagon's new plans, the two most interesting projects are the "Global Strike" program and the "Rods from God" program. Global Strike involves the employment of military space planes capable of carrying about 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) of high-precision weapons (with a circular error probability less than 3 meters) with the primary use of striking enemy military bases and command and control facilities in any point of the world.
The main strength of military space planes is the ability to reach any spot on the globe within 45 minutes. This is a short period of time that could provide US forces with a formidable quick-reaction capability, as opposed to the enemy's subsequent inability to organize any effective defense. Such a weapon's primary target would be the enemy's strategic forces and - according to US Air Force sources widely quoted in the news - the Pentagon is inclined to give priority to this project. One of the main reasons, these sources say, is that the Pentagon itself - after spending more than US$100 billion - has finally admitted its failure to create an infallible Earth-based, anti-missile system to protect American soil from ballistic strikes.
The so-called Rods from God project, according to Anzera, "consists of orbiting platforms stocked with metal tungsten rods about 6.1 meters long (20 feet) and 30 centimeters (1 foot) in diameter that could be satellite-guided to targets anywhere on the Earth within minutes, for the rods would move at more than 11,000 km/h (6,835mph). This weapon exploits kinetic energy to cause an explosion the same magnitude of that of an earth-penetrating nuclear weapon, but with no radioactive fallout. The system would function due to two satellites, one of which would work as a communications platform, while the other would contain an arsenal of tungsten rods."
The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency is developing space-based missile interceptors (SBIs) at a cost of up to $600 million over several years, complete with a test bed for experimentation. This would appear to be a weapon in space, but Bush administration spokesman Tony Snow managed not to crack a smile when he answered a press-conference question on October 18 by declaring that "defense from space is different than the weaponization of space".
Other projects on the Pentagon's space drawing boards or in development include the X-51 hypersonic cruise missile that can travel at 5,800km/h; space-mirror satellites redirecting laser beams from Earth against any orbit or surface target, and satellites that send out radio waves with a high range in power and breadth; high-energy lasers of various kinds; a robotic spacecraft capable of determining whether a particular satellite is a "danger" to the US, in which case it will be able to sabotage the offending instrument; rockets with blunt heads that function as kinetic-energy interceptors; a weaponized glider known as the Common Aero Vehicle that can be rocketed into space and travel at hypersonic speeds to target objects on Earth; an experimental spacecraft system; and much more.
On February 15, the Associated Press reported that Russia is fed up with US proposals for an ABM system not only in space but particularly Washington's plan to deploy anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, practically in President Vladimir Putin's face. The news agency quoted General Yuri Baluyevsky, the chief of the Russian General Staff, as indicating Moscow might withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty if the US sets up missile defense in Eastern Europe. The IRNFT eliminated medium-range missiles that had been based in Europe.
Fearing that the momentum toward space war preparations will dissipate when Bush and the neo-conservatives leave office, the right-wing warmaking faction has accelerated its campaign for the weaponization of space. A legion of conservative hawks from various think-tanks banded together last year as the "Independent Working Group on Missile Defense, the Space Relationship and the 21st Century", and published a document of more than 200 pages calling for an extensive military space program.
Writing in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (January/February 2007), Theresa Hitchens said the document was "written in language so incendiary it should be banned from carry-on luggage, [and] lashes out against opponents of the weaponization of space, branding them as a cabal of 'arms-control extremists, pacifists, realpolitik practitioners, [and] anti-Americans' bent on 'unilateral disarmament' of the US".
In conclusion, we return to the theme introduced at the beginning of this two-part article - US militarism.
As Chalmers Johnson wrote in The Sorrows of Empire, "The United States has been inching toward imperialism and militarism for many years. Disguising the direction they were taking, American leaders cloaked their foreign policy in euphemisms such as 'lone superpower', 'indispensable nation', 'reluctant sheriff', 'humanitarian intervention', and 'globalization'."
However, with the advent of the Bush administration in 2001, these pretenses gave way to assertions of the Second Coming of the Roman Empire. Bush didn't transform the United States into a militarist society. Militarism developed long before he took office, at least by the beginning of the Cold War in the late 1940s, when America's political leaders initiated a virtual state of perpetual war preparations and warfare that continues to this day, long after the US has become a near-impregnable fortress, long after the demise of any possible enemies of substance.
Nor did Bush transform the United States into an imperialist country. Imperialism motivated Washington's unjust seizure of Mexican lands in 1848. Imperialism motivated the 1898 war against Spain to extend US hegemony to Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, and it has continued ever since, growing stronger in the post-Soviet period of unipolar geopolitical domination supported by unparalleled military power.
Bush is arguably the most dangerous president in US history - he has launched unjust wars, threatened many countries, and broken treaties. But he could not have done so without the political weapons of militarism and imperialism, weapons that have been handed down from president to president for some 60 years.
At issue in this exploration of the US government's warmaking preparations and intentions is not simply what progressive-thinking people are going to do about Iraq today or Venezuela, Iran and China tomorrow. The real question is what will they do about the catastrophic combination of militarism and imperialism that makes continual war preparations and warfare an indelible characteristic of the American state. It is not simply a matter of getting rid of George W Bush because of Iraq or getting rid of Lyndon Johnson because of Vietnam. If we do not get rid of militarism and imperialism we are simply paving the way for the next war, and the next, and the next.
Jack A Smith is former editor of the (US) Guardian Newsweekly and editor of the Hudson Valley (New York) Activist Newsletter.
"IN TIMES OF UNIVERSAL DECEIT, TELLING THE TRUTH WILL BE A REVOLUTIONARY ACT." - George Orwell
“If the world is upside down the way it is now, wouldn’t we have to turn it over to get it to stand up straight?” - Eduardo Galeano