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Militarizing Space Would Lead to New Balance of Terror

11 June 2002

Within days, President Bush's withdrawal from the ABM Treaty will go into effect - without the advice and consent of the Senate or action by Congress. This is an assault on our Constitution and the principle of separation of powers that is so essential to our freedom. And there is no greater threat to the future security of the United States than the Bush administration's rush to put weapons into space.

It is obvious why the president has chosen to avoid seeking the Senate's advice and consent or any action by Congress: The arguments for urgency in termination of the treaty could not stand up under scrutiny by the Congress. There is no plausible case for urgency in deployment of a missile defense system when the threat is so remote, the demand on our resources so great, and the dependability of the system so much in doubt.

So one has to ask, what is the administration's purpose? Why the hurry?

The answer is clear from all the signals the Bush administration has sent about its vision of our future military posture. The goal is to gain complete military dominance of space and to be able to project overwhelming force from space to anyplace on earth, at any time. As recently as June 1, the president emphasized this in an address to the graduating class at West Point, in which he called for "a military that must be ready to strike at a moment's notice in any dark corner of the world." This implies that we maintain a fleet of offensive weapons in orbit.

What does this have to do with the ABM Treaty? For decades, the military has been designing weapons for dominance of space - powerful lasers and projectile launchers in orbit, capable of wreaking devastation anywhere on the surface of the Earth at the command of the president. The ABM Treaty has stood in the way of testing and deploying these weapons, as they could arguably be part of a missile defense system.

But the pressure to terminate the treaty has little to do with defense. Rather, it has to do with removing an obstacle to testing and deploying these offensive weapons in space.

What is wrong with this strategy? For a time we could have unchallenged military control of space, but it is naive not to foresee that other nations would eventually succeed in putting weapons into space. From that moment on, we would face a new balance of terror.

Consider recent history. In 1945, the United States exploded the first atomic bomb. Within a few years, Russia had one. In 1957, Russia put the first satellite into orbit. The United States soon followed. Surely the lesson is that even a nation less developed than ours can focus its resources to challenge us in specific areas when its vital interests are at stake.

The Bush administration professes to believe that we have little to fear from major powers because they are now all friendly and cooperative. But the Earth's resources are limited. Currently, the United States, with 5 percent of the Earth's population, consumes 25 percent of the Earth's resources and produces 55 percent of the greenhouse gases which threaten everybody's future. It is absurd to suppose that we can continue on this course and not provoke a military challenge.

There is a better way to protect our future security. Instead of using our current position of dominance to gain temporary control of space, let's use it to promote international agreements under which no nation will be permitted to put weapons into space, agreements with strong provisions for surveillance and verification to ensure compliance. With our current influence, we could shape these institutions to assure that we could have confidence in them when we come to the time - as surely one day we will - when another nation can challenge our dominance.

Is there uncertainty about how to design systems for surveillance and verification by an international authority to enforce a ban on weapons in space? Indeed, there is. But surely such systems are not beyond the reach of our science and technology. We should devote a reasonable fraction of our current "defense" budget to research and development of such truly defensive systems.

The president's strategy is a dangerous one because it naively puts us on a path to devastating conflicts in future decades. Instead, let's use our present power wisely, with a realistic eye to the future.

Dan Cornwell
Published in the Madison Capital Times © Dan Cornwell

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