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Seeking New World Vistas: The Militarization of Space.

Seeking New World Vistas: The Militarization of Space. By Roger Handberg. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000. 304p. $62.50.

Space is a seductive place, where technology-induced vistas often blur the policy vision of earthbound military planners, scientific explorers, or commercial entrepreneurs. This is the message that beams down from Roger Handberg's book on space militarization. He leads the reader through the twists and turns of technology, law, and policy, through the bureaucratic labyrinth of the U.S. military and space industrial complexes. In the end, one is faced with the same imponderables that confronted President Clinton in deciding whether to deploy the National Missile Defense (NMD) system. Like an astute player on fourth down, he punted that space football to his successor, and the Handberg volume gives you the Monday morning quarterback advantage.

Handberg provides a brief history of space policy, segmented by technology digressions that help capture the flavor of the current policy environment. These background factors heavily influence the bureaucratic politics dominating space militarization debates. Military space policy, on the macro level, involves a debate about the intrinsic contradiction in attempting to mold dual-use (military-civilian) technologies to fit military objectives.

Perhaps the most pervasive example is the wildly successful global positioning satellite (GPS) system, which originated with experiments in the 1960s. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) deployed some of its 24-satellite flotilla in 1990-91 in time for combat testing during the Gulf War. Even only partially deployed, GPS made a direct technology hit during Desert Storm. But the ancillary damage to military exclusivity was widespread; anecdotal stories abound of parents rushing to the local electronics stores to buy off-the-shelf GPS receivers so their soldiering children could guide their hummvees back to home base during blinding dust storms. The dual-use applicability--and profitability--of GPS has wrenched its control out of the hands of DOD designers and operators. In effect, due to its civilian and commercial appeal, GPS is becoming another Internet.

Just as the Internet represented a paradigm shift in networking architectures that continues to shape information-intensive societies and economies alike, Handberg raises the question of whether the outer space region performs an analogous task for global military configurations of power in general and for U.S. strategic doctrine in particular. The Internet obliterates the informational concept of distance, and Handberg wonders whether mastery of space will erase the concept of territory, enabling the U.S. military establishment to confront threats in a world that is "becoming a much more politically fragmented place with security threats becoming both more diffuse and very specific in certain regions" (p. 5). Space, in this regard, constitutes the ultimate high ground for the military establishment skillful enough to master it.

The basic seduction of space is the possibility of developing and using the perfect weapon, capable of "antiseptic" destruction of subnational or terrorist enemy threats without the messy political costs of noncombatant tragedies broadcast on CNN. Perhaps even more seductive is the prospect of constructing a global defensive shield against missile or aircraft attacks by rogue nations. Handberg astutely observes that the history of military space is littered with failed weapons, strategies, and paradigms. So what drives the current space military debate? He clearly locates decision making deep within the DOD corridors, as space architects battle it out with rogue commands that threaten to usurp long-range plans.

The latter chapters delve deeply into bureaucratic politics, detailing agency attempts to herd a workable ballistic missile defense proposal into their deployment corral. The problem is, very few are willing to bet the farm on an untestable and perhaps unreliable defensive technology. From the earliest Nike-Zeus systems through the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) to the current crop of NMD proposals, the technology of hitting a bullet with a bullet in the fog of war is a dicey undertaking at best, and a disaster even with a 90% + success rate. Nevertheless, the dream persists that it can be done, which fuels the bureaucratic battles among space architects, space commands, and stove piped systems.

The Gulf War was the first "space war." Widespread integration of space-based systems greatly enhanced the ability of Desert Storm forces to carry out missions and achieve objectives at minimum cost of lives and material. Whatever the final assessment of the Patriot's effectiveness as an antimissile weapon, the Desert Storm experience compelled a fundamental rethinking of U.S. space strategy, which Handberg identifies as taking place on two levels. The first is the theory-rich development of military doctrine and policy, and the second entails the applications-oriented process of deciding which missions are most appropriate for space-based systems.

According to Handberg, on the first level there are four chief mission components for space-based systems: space force support, space force enhancement, space force applications, and space control. These missions are juxtaposed against four doctrines of action on the second level: space sanctuary (preserving space for free overflight and surveillance), survivability (a force enhancement tool), control (actual U.S. control of the outer space region), and high ground (space as the dominant theater of military operations). Handberg locates current U.S. military space policy within the sanctuary and survivability schools of thought, corresponding to prevalent "political and military needs." Whether the four missions move out to the control and high ground applications will depend largely on the technological and economic feasibility of future systems to make orbital access cheaper (control) and on the prevailing world security climate for the United States (high ground). Another and perhaps more crucial factor is whether these missions match programmatic and budgetary needs of the agencies that advocate them.

Handberg warns about the stealthiness of the space militarization issue and its proclivity to slip beneath the political radar screen. The debate is directed by bureaucratic infighters versed in the technologese that quickly alienates the uninitiated. Although the book attempts to impart a detail-rich view of the space militarization policy process, what emerges is a comprehensive but somewhat bewildering view of a policy morass, which just might be an apt description of current realities. Handberg advocates an open public debate about what the "new world vistas" mean for the ability of the United States and other countries to confront the diffused yet specific threats in the coming decades with military space infrastructures. Whether the vista matches the vision is anyone's guess.

Larry Martinez, California State University, Long Beach
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Martinez, Larry
Publication:American Political Science Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2001
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