Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Weapons in Space..

Spacing Out By The Editors National Review Online Almost 20 years to the day after the U.S.-Soviet summit in Reykjavik, where Mikhail Gorbachev desperately but unsuccessfully tried to persuade Ronald Reagan to abandon the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Bush administration released a revised National Space Policy (NSP). The document, whose unclassified portion was made public on October 6, commits the United States “to the exploration and use of outer space by all nations for peaceful purposes.” It also promises to “deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests.” Because America relies so heavily on satellites for national security, economic activity, and scientific research, these are important priorities. Yet a domestic coalition of liberals and peaceniks that has consistently opposed ballistic-missile defense since the early days of SDI is trying to make the NSP controversial. The Center for Defense Information, whose board of advisers includes such military experts as Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s and the actor Paul Newman, has condemned the new document for its “tonality.” They must resort to such trivialities because the substance of the latest NSP isn’t much different from the version issued by the Clinton administration in 1996. This earlier document called for “assuring that hostile forces cannot prevent our own use of space” and “countering, if necessary, space-systems and services used for hostile purposes.” Although the Bush administration has done some updating and rewriting, it has essentially affirmed a policy that has been in place for a decade.What’s really going on here is a conflict of visions between hawks who recognize the importance of space power in the 21st century and doves who think international treaties restricting America’s technological advantages in space would make the world safer. They are no fringe movement: At the United Nations last year, 160 countries called for negotiations on a proposal to ban weapons from space, and the United States was the only nation to vote against it. An administration led by John Kerry might have acted differently: Kerry has called space weapons “very disturbing” and has indicated that he favors a ban on them. This would be devastating to American interests. For one thing, ICBMs are space weapons. As they travel from their launch pads to their destinations, they leave the earth’s atmosphere. Likewise, anti-ballistic missiles, such as those currently deployed in Alaska and California, are meant to intercept ICBMs in space — they don’t merely travel through space, but actually engage their targets up there. Eliminating these would hobble the United States in its effort to protect itself from the likes of North Korea, which of course would pay no attention to what any treaty said. Sharper differences will emerge upon the arrival of weapons that don’t spend just a few minutes zipping through space on their way to targets. A truly robust system of national missile defense eventually may demand the deployment of space-based interceptors and lasers. Moreover, foes of the United States are sure to develop anti-satellite technologies whose purpose is to cripple our indispensable national-security hardware. It may make sense to give satellites the power to take evasive actions, including, perhaps, the ability to defend themselves with weapons. Yet a treaty written by European diplomats and Chinese Communists could very well eliminate this option before it’s even technologically feasible. We’d be much better served by a new kind of Monroe Doctrine that permits foreign powers to use space for commerce and science but denies them the ultimate high ground for military adventurism. Such a debate is only a few years away. For now, however, the NSP takes a commonsense approach to the last frontier. Reagan didn’t let Gorbachev tie his hands in 1986; we shouldn’t let the enemies of American space power limit our options now.

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