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Sunday, November 07, 2004

Reading the tea leaves on weapons in space 

The Arms Control Association November newsletter contains several ariticles about weapons in space, a great concern of Canada given the US pressure to sign on to the missle defense system.
Centre for Defense Information missile proliferation expert Theresa Hitchins writes about recent US space weapons policy, and finds cause for concern: "Officially, the National Space Policy promulgated by President Bill Clinton in 1996 still stands, a policy that had previously been interpreted as eschewing the deployment of anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons and weapons in orbit, reflecting more than 40 years of informal restraint both by Republican and Democratic administrations . . . Meanwhile, there has been a steady trickle of lower-level military planning and doctrine documents that seem to codify U.S. intentions to develop, deploy, and eventually use space weapons. The most recent is the Air Force’s Aug. 2 “Counterspace Operations Doctrine.” This precedent-setting document outlines Air Force guidelines for conducting ASAT operations, possibly pre-emptively, against satellite systems being used by enemies, whether they be dedicated military satellites; those with primarily commercial functions; or those owned and/or operated by third parties, whether governments or commercial entities . . . One possible conclusion from reading the tea leaves, however, is that the White House and Pentagon are engaged in a clever political effort to avoid a controversial public argument on space weapons by reinterpreting Clinton-era policy or practice behind closed doors, that is, to reorient U.S. space policy in secret . . . the Clinton policy . . . stresses the peaceful uses of space and downplays military applications, it also leaves the door open for the employment of ASATs for national security reasons . . . Although vague, the 1996 policy was widely interpreted at the time as stressing a deterrent approach, while refraining from any first deployment of ASAT systems or space-based weapons for striking targets on earth . . . the Clinton administration was viewed as politically hostile even to the development of space weapons, particularly those that could be seen as having offensive attributes. Clinton canceled a number of research and development programs . . . the Bush administration has allowed a wide array of space weapons-related technology developments to go forward at the Pentagon. . . . The most recent Air Force planning document, the “Strategic Master Plan for FY 06 and Beyond” published in October 2003, maintains that national space policy actually requires the development and “deployment as needed” of “negation” capabilities to counter enemy space assets. It goes on seemingly to move the goalposts on when a presidential decision would be required. Although the Clinton policy can be read as requiring a presidential approval for deployment, the Air Force now insists presidential approval is not required for deployment but only to approve actual use of ASAT systems . . . With regard to space-based strike weapons, rather than repeat the Long Range Plan’s assertion that such systems are “not consistent with national policy,” the Strategic Master Plan states that such weapons are allowable under international law but that “our nation’s leadership will decide whether or not to pursue the development and deployment.” . . . As a unilateral move by the United States to deploy space weapons would come fraught with a variety of risks to national and global security, it is about time there was a public debate."
(Thanks to Antiwar for the link that led me to this site.)

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