Are the children to receive the arms race from us as a necessary inheritance? – Pope John Paul II, U.N. speech, October 2, 1979
It was an interesting week. China got Mr. Bush bent out of shape and Mr. Bush got Russia bent out of shape.
China got Mr. Bush bent out of shape because it doesn’t understand why it can’t do what Mr. Bush is doing, since Mr. Bush doesn’t even want to discuss treaties that would ban what he is doing. Mr. Bush got Russia bent out of shape by making noises about planting missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic. It started with an innocent experiment by the Chinese. They wanted to see if their anti-satellite ballistic missile could shoot down a satellite.
The Chinese had a spare weather satellite floating overhead for which they had no further use, and on January 11 they fired an anti-satellite ballistic missile and pulverized the weather satellite. Though proud of the success of the firing, the Chinese said nothing about it for a few days, thus causing considerable consternation and speculation in the White House. The White House was concerned because if the test had occurred and was successful, it demonstrated that China could destroy American spy satellites in low-Earth orbit. Mr. Bush was also concerned that the test might result in starting an arms race in space.
An arms race is a possibility since Mr. Bush has steadfastly refused to get involved in talks sought by Russia, China, and others that could result in a treaty limiting the use of space for military purposes. According to the Washington Post, in years gone by when proposals to ban space weapons were brought up for a vote in the U.N., the U.S. would abstain. Last year the administration abandoned abstention and cast a vote opposing a call for negotiations. The vote was 160 in favor of negotiations – one opposed. The United States’ negative vote does not mean that Mr. Bush wants an arms race. He doesn’t. A race takes at least two parties and Mr. Bush wants to be the only one who can use space for military purposes. In October he signed a new National Space Policy.
In its introduction the document says: “Freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power.” One way of construing that phrase is that “air power” simply means the administration wants to have the very best commercial airline companies and “sea power” means it wants to have the best cruise ships. “Freedom of action in space” refers to commercial flights to Mars and the Moon. That is one interpretation. A review of other published statements suggests it may not be the right one.
According to the Washington Post, in 2004 the Air Force published a Counterspace Operations Doctrine that said protecting U.S. satellites and spacecraft might require “deception, disruption, denial, degradation and destruction.” In 2000 a panel led by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recommended developing space weapons to protect military and civilian satellites. The National Space Policy referred to above says one of its fundamental goals is to “enable unhindered U.S. operations in and through space to defend our interests there.” It says the Secretary of Defense should “develop capabilities, plans, and options to ensure freedom of action in space, and, if directed, deny such freedom of action to adversaries.” It directs the Director of National Intelligence to: “provide a robust foreign space intelligence collection and analysis capability that provides timely information and data to support national and homeland security.”
Fortunately none of this suggests that there is an arms race in space ongoing or even contemplated by this administration. I know that for a fact because a senior administration official who was not authorized to speak on the record was quoted in the Washington Post saying: “This policy is not about developing or deploying weapons in space. Period.” The official went on to explain that the reason no new arms-control agreements pertaining to space are needed is because there is no space arms race.
While expressing concern over what the Chinese tests suggested about arms races, the administration announced plans to plant missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic saying the installations are meant to counter missile threats posed by North Korea and Iran. Russia says those countries don’t have missiles that can reach Europe and that the installations pose a threat to Russia. Patrick O’Reilly, deputy director of the Missile Defense Agency, said the Russians could participate in the deployment program and that it did not “negate” Russia’s arsenal and “is not intended to do so.”
Speaking of the Chinese tests, Liu Jianchao, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said: “China will not participate in any kind of arms race in outer space.” If you believe him, then you may also believe Patrick O’Reilly. On the other hand. . . .