Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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Location: Bath, Maine, United States

With a new administration in Washington it will be a challenge to get the 'liberals' to hold Biden-Harris to the few 'progressive promises' they made during their campaign. Biden is bringing back many of Bush & Obama's neo-cons to head his foreign policy. I'll be on this case without hesitation.

Friday, May 25, 2012

ARE SPACE TREATIES NO LONGER NECESSARY?


  • I am at the Toronto, Canada airport waiting for my flight back to Portland, Maine.  The plane is delayed for several hours.  It is probably because so few people were going to be on it.  When I flew here there were five passengers on the tiny propeller plane that only had seats for 18.  When I checked in at the Portland airport I asked for an aisle seat and was told all the seats are in the aisle.
  • The space roundtable conference I attended in Waterloo (one hour from Toronto) during the last two days was an interesting mix of folks.  Twenty of us sat around the table inside what used to be a Seagram whiskey distillery now turned into an office building.  Wooden whiskey barrels remain stacked in the thick wooden supports that reach toward the ceiling.  A very interesting place.  Project Ploughshares, one of the sponsoring groups, has their office in the building.
  • There were folks there representing the Pentagon, Canadian Foreign Affairs, the Chinese and Indian governments, as well as European satellite operators, the European Space Policy Institute, space academics, space policy scientists, former diplomats, and a handful of concerned citizens with interest in space issues.  Only two activists types were there as speakers - Ray Acheson from the WILPF project Reaching Critical Will and myself.
  • The bottom line is that the U.N.'s Conference on Disarmament, that handles the negotiations on nuclear disarmament and the proposed treaty called Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS), has been stalled for nearly 20 years.  No serious movement is happening thus PAROS is going no where.  Some suggest various reasons for the frozen negotiations but we know that the U.S. and Israel have essentially been blocking PAROS for years.
  • As a result many in the diplomatic field are pushing a space Code of Conduct which focuses on establishing space rules of the road to promote safety for all space users.  This approach essentially circumvents the treaty process as it avoids the domestic complications of having treaties ratified by government legislative bodies.  It also severely hampers the pressing negotiations on key issues like what is a space weapon and should we ban them or not.  I am not against a Code of Conduct in space per se but it feels to me that effectively removing the United Nations from the space treaty process serves the interests quite nicely of the Pentagon and the military industrial complex. (The U.S. will work with other nations to develop an international Code of Conduct for outer space, but only if the code does not hinder U.S. national security efforts, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced on Jan. 17, 2012.)
  • One issue that emerged while I was in Chicago for the anti-NATO protests was the serious allegation that NATO expansion into the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Asia-Pacific is a key way that the U.S. and European allies are developing an "international" war making body that can get around the "sticky" process of having to get U.N. agreement on military interventions.  When I add NATO expansion to the current reality of avoiding serious U.N. negotiations I see a dangerous pattern emerging.
  • One space legal academic, with a long history of working at the Pentagon, talked about this being a "new period in history" where treaties might not be the way things work anymore. Her words reminded me of hearing former Navy war college instructor Thomas Barnett's presentation some years ago on C-SPAN where he was introduced as former Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld's "strategy guy".  In his three-hour power point Barnett suggested that the U.S. would not do treaties any more because they would restrict Pentagon ability to intervene when and where it wished.  I'll never forget his words, "Adolph Hitler never had to ask permission to invade another country and neither will we."
  • During my talk I suggested that U.S. space policy (and current "missile defense" deployments that are increasing the encirclement of Russia and China) had to be viewed in the context of growing global competition for declining resources.  The Pentagon and NATO, I suggested, have become the military arm of corporate globalization.  I also suggested near the conclusion of the meeting that rather than spending all of our time playing "junior negotiator" (trying to come up with the best plan and language to make the Code of Conduct a reality) that we might think about doing some careful planning about how we can bring the global public into these space technology issues so that they could play some significant role in determining how their collective tax monies are spent.  Shouldn't the public be in on this historic space debate?  Was not a particularly popular suggestion. (My speech at the event can be read by clicking here.)
  • Just what kind of space program should all of our countries be creating anyway?  What kind of seed should we carry with us into space? Do we really need so many countries spending massive funds to go to the Moon and Mars?  Do so many nations really need to launch rockets that each punch a hole in the ozone layer?  Should we continue to militarize space and continue the slippery path to space weaponization?  Should we turn over space to the nuclear industry?  Should we give up on the idea of creating a PAROS Treaty?
  • As Noam Chomsky says, "How can you expect the people to react to something that they don't know anything about?"  Most people around the planet are worrying about surviving wars, growing global poverty and the coming ravages of climate change.  But each day new nations, many who have massive poverty in their midst, are spending huge amounts of money to get into the space technology game because they don't want to be left behind.  It's in the interest of the U.S. and the aerospace industry to keep the U.N. from having successful negotiations on questions like PAROS and updating space law which would further define just who owns the planetary bodies and can control them for resource extraction.  As long as the U.S. is king of the space hill it wants to limit any restrictions on its ability to "maneuver".  Better we just get everyone to agree to a few rules of the road which keeps things in check while the U.S. (and chosen allies) make their move to control and dominate space.

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