REPORT ON SPACE WEAPONS MEDIA BRIEFING TRIP
Helen's Nuclear Policy Research Institute gathered key media representatives from news outlets like CNN, NBC, Space News, Reuters, Financial Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Defense Daily, Washington Post, Cape Cod Times, Toronto Globe & Mail, UPI and others, to hear the two-day briefing from scientists, policy makers, space strategists and activists. The event took place at a conference center in a beautiful rural setting where 25 briefers sat down with the 45 members of the media to discuss the latest developments in military space issues.
The event began with Gen. Charles Horner, retired former commander of the U.S. Space Command. He described his career as one of "destroying things and killing people" and told the assembled that the Pentagon does not "want to talk about space control because they are afraid of groups like you that will be protesting in the streets." He went on to defend plans for missile defense by saying that "ones [nukes] that we shoot down are going to fall on Canada" rather than the U.S.
Since World War II over $130 billion has been wasted on research and development (R & D) for the Star Wars program. The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is now spending about $10 billion a year on space weapons R & D. The Bush administration is expected to announce its new national space policy sometime in June and the New York Times reported on May 18 that the new directive will likely include language giving the Pentagon the green light to move forward with offensive technologies for military space control and domination.
Dr. Richard Garwin, Senior Fellow for Science and Technology at the Council on Foreign Relations, talked about the benefits of U.S. military control of space and said "It would be a disaster for U.S. military capability to lose our current military space resources." It was commonly agreed that the U.S. today has sole military control of space and that current Pentagon military satellites give the U.S. military the ability to wage war onto the Earth with unrivaled power. Peter Hayes, former Air Force officer, reported that nearly 70% of the weapons used in the recent U.S. "shock and awe" invasion of Iraq were guided to their targets by space satellites. Thus, he maintained, the U.S. must control the space medium.
As the public becomes more aware of U.S. plans for space dominance, the military seeks to water down some of its previously provocative language. One example is replacing the word "deployment" with the phrase "test-bedding" when describing new space weapons technologies. This will make it harder for Congress to vote against a particular program because it is sold as a benign R & D effort.
Even some people that you would consider "peace activists" support the notion of U.S. space control. Mike Moore, former Editor of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, stated he was "in favor of full spectrum dominance," but urged the U.S. not to reject the notion of treaties that could bring stability to space. Moore, and others from traditional "arms control" organizations, argued that using weapons in space would create larger space debris problems for the Pentagon, thus putting existing U.S. military space assets in jeopardy. One representative of an arms control group seemed to imply that using "reversible" anti-satellite weapons (that only temporarily blind an opponent's satellite) might be more acceptable as they leave an attacked satellite intact but inoperable, thus eliminating the debris problem.
Much time was spent debating the merits of missile defense. Will it work or not? Can a bullet hit a bullet in space or is the technology incapable of ever working? Ted Postol, Professor of Science, Technology, and National Security at MIT offered strong evidence that the missile defense "kill vehicle" could never discriminate effectively between actual warheads and dummies thus enabling any attacking nation the ability to overwhelm the system. During one back-and-forth debate on this issue (what I call "inside baseball") several arms control advocates responded to a question from missile defense proponents saying they would support the program if indeed it would work.
One program offered by many as an alternative to an unworkable national missile defense system (whose job would be to protect the continental U.S. from attack) is to build a Theatre Missile Defense (TMD), or boost-phase defense system that would have a "better chance" of performing the desired result of destroying a launched "enemy" missile. This could be done by deploying TMD systems near North Korea (who today has zero nuclear weapons capable of hitting the North American continent) and "taking out" their missiles soon after launch. Dr. Hui Zhang, a Chinese scientist now studying at Harvard University, reminded the audience that China views TMD systems as highly destabilizing and believes they are intended to negate China's current deterrent stock of 20 nuclear missiles. TMD deployments by the U.S., on Aegis destroyers, are planned in Japan, South Korea and possibly Taiwan. China has responded that TMD deployments, as well as other U.S. moves to "deny" space access to potential enemies, could force them to build more nuclear missiles.
Dr. Everrett Dolman, Professor of Military Studies at the Air Force School of Advanced Air and Space Studies at Maxwell AFB in Alabama, emphatically stated that the U.S. "will not give up its right to use force as long as it is the hegemon." Formerly on active duty in the Air Force, Dolman began his career as an intelligence analyst for the National Security Agency, and later moved to the U.S. Space Command. At one point, during a discussion about the need for a new international space treaty to prevent an arms race in space, Dolman responded derisively, "Mice always vote to bell the cat."
One of the "mice" in the meeting was Vladimir Yermakov, Senior Councellor at the Russian Embassy in Washington. (He was closely watched by an FBI agent who monitored every move he made while he was at the event.) Yermakov stated that Russia has sworn off first-deployment of weapons in space. In reference to Russia's strong support for a new, expansive space weapons treaty he said, "We fail to understand the position of the U.S. in this matter. We ask what is wrong with our approach and get no answer." He refers to the U.S. refusal to negotiate a new space treaty. The official position of the U.S., during both the Clinton and Bush administrations, has been that there is no problem and thus no need for a new treaty banning weapons in space.
On the second day of the event Loring Wirbel and I had a chance to make presentations to the assembly. Loring went first and did a fabulous job of describing how space technology today is used to coordinate virtually all warfare on Earth. He began by challenging the tendency of some "arms control groups" to offer compromises on the space weapons issue, stating they needed to strengthen themselves by developing some "outside the beltway thinking." (Loring is a long-time member of the Colorado Springs-based group Citizens for Peace in Space that was a founding member of the Global Network. He makes his living as an editorial director of a high-tech magazine and is an effective spokesman for the peace movement position that allowing a "little bit" of space weaponization will lead to more and more of it over time, thus creating the eventual spark for a dangerous new arms race.) Loring estimated that about $70 billion a year is spent on "military space" development once you factor in the combined space budgets of the MDA, the National Reconnaissance Office, the National Security Administration, NASA, and the Department of Energy (now developing the nuclear rocket).
I began my presentation by referring to the heated debate over the question whether missile defense will work or not. I proposed to widen the discussion and suggested we look at Christopher Columbus and Spain. I reminded everyone how Queen Isabella began the 100-year process of building the Spanish Armada after Columbus' "successful" return voyage from the Americas. Spain's naval armada helped create the global war system that we suffer from today, as soon thereafter all the European powers were building navies to "compete" for control and domination of the sea lanes and new territories for resources and markets. I suggested we were now debating the size of the cannon balls on Spanish armada ships rather than discussing the long-term implications of creating a new arms race in the heavens. I talked about the long-range plan of the space command to build a military highway from the Earth out to the planetary bodies and showed the cover of the congressional study called Military Space Forces: The Next 50 Years. I suggested that "missile defense" was a Trojan horse that really didn't have to work -- it had already allowed the Pentagon and the aerospace industry to move tens of billions of dollars into research and development programs for space offensive warfare -- all the while hyping up North Korea's "puny" missile capability. I talked about the mission of the Global Network to create an international citizens constituency to stop an arms race in space, and detailed the efforts of our affiliated groups across the U.S. and around the world. I shared how TMD deeply concerns our members in Japan and South Korea because they understand how this program will be a provocation to China and destabilize the Asian-Pacific region. Could it be, I asked, this is what the weapons industry really wants? A new arms race partner in China? I concluded with several solutions. I suggested that America is addicted to war and violence and local economies in the U.S. are addicted to military spending. I suggested that people want jobs, and that both Democrats and Republicans are not addressing the issue because both parties are committed to massive military spending. I called for the defunding of all space weapons R & D (something that many of the "arms control groups" will not say), and suggested our hard-earned tax dollars should be used to develop alternative sustainable technological development in a much needed conversion of the military-industrial complex. I urged religious leaders to raise the moral and ethical questions about war in the heavens and I called for more public debate about the legal question on the ownership of space as aerospace corporations make a move to grab planetary bodies for eventual "resource extraction."
I ended my presentation by quoting NASA's new director, Mike Griffin, who appeared before a Senate committee on May 12. Griffin, who worked on Ronald Reagan's SDI program in the 1980's, told Congress, "For America to continue to be preeminent among nations, it is necessary for us to be the preeminent spacefaring nation." I told the assembled room of journalists and space enthusiasts that just as nuclear weapons are today unacceptable, so too is the philosophy outlined by Mike Griffin.
Helen Caldicott took the floor after I finished and reminded us all, as she so powerfully does in these moments, that our planet is in the intensive care unit and that we must change our way of thinking if we are to save life for the future generations. She underscored that we cannot continue to play the little boys game of tit-for-tat that was so evident among many at this unique gathering.
It was an honor to have been invited to attend this event and I came away convinced that our work to keep space for peace is more important now than ever. We must step up our efforts and ensure that when Bush releases his new space policy directive in June, that it is met with a resounding global chorus that says we will not allow this plan for space warfare to go forward. We must raise our voices now.