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China joins the battle for space.

On January 11,537 miles above our heads, a rocket collided with an aged weather satellite, demolishing it completely. As shards of debris floated through space, the world learned that China possessed anti-satellite technology.

Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the National Security Council, had the first official word from Washington on the Chinese test, saying it was "inconsistent with the spirit of cooperation that both countries aspire to in the civil space area."

"How lame is that?" asks Michael Krepon, author of Space Assurance or Space Dominance and the co-founder of the Henry L. Stimson Center. The United States is in no position to "put China in the dog house," he explains, because of Washington's own military doctrine to dominate space as the next frontier. The Pentagon has grown increasingly dependent on satellite technologies for military operations. And the Bush Administration has abrogated international treaties to pursue a hugely expensive missile defense system that seems aimed at China and Russia as much as North Korea.

This U.S. aggressiveness was the "primary driver" of Chinas decision to test anti-satellite technology, Krepon says.

But Chinas test only emboldened the hardcore advocates of missile defense in the United States.

The "argument to prevent weaponization of space is really silly," says Hank Cooper, who led the Strategic Defense Initiative under Reagan and who chairs the promissile defense research organization High Frontier.

Representative Duncan Hunter, the Republican from California who is exploring a run for the Presidency, urged Bush in a January 31 letter to prepare for a "new era of military competition in space" in the wake of the Chinese test.

Frida Berrigan is a senior research associate at the World Policy Institutes Arms Trade Resource Center and co-author of the forthcoming "Complex 2030: The Costs and Consequences of the Plan to Build a New Generation of Nuclear Weapons. "

That preparation is well under way. In August 2006, the Bush Administration unveiled its National Space Policy. It advocates establishing, defending, and enlarging U.S. control over space resources, argues for "unhindered" rights in space, and asserts that "freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power."

As the policy's introduction states: "In the new century, those who effectively utilize space will enjoy added prosperity and security and will hold a substantial advantage over those who do not." China, Russia, and other nations heard the loud clang of a gauntlet being thrown down.

This policy builds on ealier documents like the 1998 U.S. Space Command's Vision for 2020, which articulated a mission of "flail spectrum dominance," insisting that "space superiority is emerging as an essential element of battlefield success and future warfare."

At the moment, the Bush Administration's rhetoric, vision, and plans are far ahead of the resources being devoted to space weapons technology. In his recently announced budget, Bush allocated nearly a billion in funds specifically for space-based weapons programs. "Within a $500 billion budget, $1 billion is chump change," says Theresa Hitchens, the director of the Center for Defense Information. She adds that it's mostly for basic technology and research. "I'm sort of surprised that the investment is so small when the rhetoric is so big."

But even small investments reveal the intentions of the Bush Administration. "The United States has a space weapons program. They can't deny it," says Victoria Samson, a colleague of Hitchens's at the center. Samson points to the Missile Defense Agency's request for $10 million for something called the Space Test Bed in the 2008 budget. Samson describes the Space Test Bed as the "home to space-based interceptors, the first official space weapons system of the Bush Administration." Projected through 2013, the budget for the development of the Space Test Bed totals $290 million.

If this investment is relatively modest within the whole military budget, it dwarfs what other countries devote to military space projects. When looking at all the U.S. government's spending on military-related space activities--not just space weapons--the Stimson Center found that the U.S. spends almost 90 percent of the world's total. It's difficult for Washington to maintain, then, that it is using space for "civil" purposes.

China's successful test against a satellite points up the vulnerability of the U.S. military--and economy. More than 800 satellites orbit the globe; half belong to the United States. Russia operates eighty-nine, China owns another thirty-five, and the rest are divided among states and commercial ventures. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists' database of satellites, one-fourth of U.S. satellites are owned by the military. But the military's reach goes far beyond that. Samson points out that "80 percent of military communications go over civilian satellites."

The U.S. military is space-dependent. "We have the most highly informationalized military in the world," says Hitchens. Satellites are not just used to guide bombs and missiles to their targets or collect intelligence data, but to arrange for supply replenishment, relay orders, and to network the military across great expanses. David Wright, co-director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' Global Security Program, notes that up until China's January 1l th test, the United States exercised clear dominance in space. Washington and Moscow tested a small number of anti-satellite weapons in the 1970s and '80s, but both sides have largely abided by a moratorium since the United States destroyed a satellite in 1985. U.S. supremacy, says Wright, meant that "we did not have to think much about what other countries were doing and wanted to do in space."

The Chinese test changed all that--and not just for the military. Satellites do more than facilitate war fighting. Industrialized societies and globalized economies are completely dependent on them as the engine behind many daily activities: predicting weather, fighting floods, anticipating forest fires, delivering sophisticated international communication, and making rapid financial transactions.

Satellites are as vulnerable as they are integral. The technology to shield satellites does not exist or is prohibitively expensive, and you don't need a high-tech rocket to take one out. "In space, a marble can constitute a space weapon," quips Krepon. And thanks to the Chinese test, there are many more marbles-or chunks of debris--than ever before. It is this debris, more than any anti-satellite weapon, that poses a threat today.

Chinas test may "double the density of debris larger than one centimeter in that region for at least five years," report Wright and Wang Ting of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Once debris is introduced in space, it "creates more debris colliding with other objects," Wright explains. "Some altitude bands are already above the critical threshold."

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty, ratified by ninety-eight nations, including the United States, Russia, and China, requires that nations not interfere with other countries' space operations and consult with them if such interference might occur.

The Chinese test is a "violation of the spirit (if not the letter)" of the treaty, says Hitchens.

Today, there is an effort under way to ban space weapons. At the United Nations' 2002 Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, Russia and China began working to prevent the deployment of "any kinds of weapons" in space or resort to force or the threat of force against space objects.

Even after its test, China claimed to still be interested in a weapons ban in space. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told the press, "Since other countries are opposed to weaponization of space and an arms race in space, then let us join hands to realize this goal."

But the Conference on Disarmament functions by consensus and has not been able to overcome U.S. objections, which come in the form of repeated denials.

As Robert Luaces, U.S. alternate representative to the U.N. General Assembly, explained recently: "One, there is no arms race in space. Two, there is no prospect for one. Three, the U.S. will protect its access to, and use of, space."
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Author:Berrigan, Frida
Publication:The Progressive
Date:Apr 1, 2007
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