It is true that our presidents and political leaders look up at the stars as we all do. But there is one important difference. In their eyes all that vast and dark space becomes a nation’s agenda, an ultimate goal for more control and power. To justify this statement, we need to remember Lyndon Baines Johnson, 36th President of the United States. During the Space Race he said that:
There is something more important than the ultimate weapon and that’s the ultimate position. The position of total control over the Earth that lies somewhere in outer space.
In these words also lies the sense of how political and military space objectives are being built in the minds of our leaders. So it is no wonder that nations try to conquer the space above us and find that ultimate position that L. B. Johnson was talking about. However, at this point of time there are only three nations (USA, Russia and China) that can lift a man into space and bring him safely back to Earth. In this small group the U.S. has the leading position and the biggest experience of flying into space. This fact is enough to make its position exceptional among all other countries.
There are thousands of satellites, orbiting the Earth. Most of them are controlled by the U.S. and all of them are vulnerable to military attack from Earth. This has led the U.S. to a desire to protect its space capabilities, and to be able to deny the use of similar capabilities to potential adversaries in the event of conflict. Therefore, this subjects us to an assumption that U.S. domination in space will increase its military aggression in space. For this to find out we need to study U.S. evolution of space-power and understand the historical background that can lead us to some preconditions of its current doctrine which is our second main target. We will also touch on the theoretical concepts of space policy and space strategy that can be further used to analyze US space actions. But first things must come first.
Every strong space nation has its own space doctrine. To review the evolution of the US space doctrine, I am going to look at M. V. Smith’s Ten Propositions Regarding Spacepower which is a remarkable study of space power from the perspective of an Air Force officer. Smith argues that three distinct geopolitical events shaped American space-power doctrine: (1) Cold War, (2) Operation Desert Storm and (3) joins control doctrine. The first – the Cold War – enticed America into space as a means to spy on the Soviet Union, which also drove America’s early support for space treaties that ensured freedom of access to space. The second event, he argues, was Operation Desert Storm, which demonstrated the military capabilities of space in conventional warfare. This event occurred in the waning days of the Cold War, when nuclear tensions were greatly reduced. Since that time, the U.S. military has freely sought to exploit space systems as a means of enhancing terrestrial war fighting. Finally, the general joins control doctrine advocates who favor developing the capability to use force (when required) to secure American access to space and to deny the same to an adversary.
I would summarize U.S. evolution of spacepower in the following three stages. First stage was to enter the space and to catch up with its only rival in space – the Soviet Union. Afterwards, when the Americans took the leading position in this competition, they wanted to make it useable mostly for enhancing military operations on ground (e.g. Operation Desert Storm) and threatening rivals of its achievements in space (e.g. Reagan’s “Star Wars”). And the final stage is the military control of space which is currently under a controversy that can lead to two possible outcomes: peaceful partnership or more aggression and power and finally weaponization of space.
Smith himself presents the most pessimistic view on this issue, pointing out that wherever mankind goes, weapons follow. To his mind, weaponizing space is inevitable. Although reasons exist for not weaponizing space, but they fail to take into account the technological imperative that often drives human behavior in ways frequently beyond rational thought. When weapons will appear in space is anybody’s guess, but political and military pragmatists must assume that someone will put them there and plan accordingly.
To make things even more clear we need to understand not only the evolution, but also the concept of space strategy. Obviously, there is knowledge of how power can be gained in space. Therefore, we will take a look at E. C. Dolman’s book Astropolitics presenting a unique concept of control of space that can help create military space policy and strategy. Of course, there are other related studies, but this is one of the first major analysis of space geopolitics.
Dolman defines astropolitics as “the study of the relationship between outer space terrain and technology and the development of political and military policy and strategy”. In this study he applies traditional mackinderian discipline of geopolitics. Following Halford Mackinder’s approach, Dolman divides our solar system into four regions: (1) terra (Earth and space to a point just below sustained, unpowered orbit); (2) terran space (lowest viable orbit to just beyond geostationary altitude); (3) lunar space (just beyond geostationary orbit to just beyond lunar orbit); and (4) solar space (everything else in the solar system) (pp. 69–70). All spaceflight must traverse Low-Earth Orbit (LEO). Dolman identifies this orbit as the first and most important astropolitical strategic narrow. And he says that:
Who controls Low-Earth Orbit controls Near-Earth space. Who controls Near-Earth space dominates Terra. Who dominates Terra determines the destiny of humankind.
That’s why the ultimate strategy for any country seeking for more space power would be to control the first astropolitical narrow or LEO. It seems that LEO for Dolman is the Johnson’s ultimate position. At least it is true from a geopolitical point of view.
Dolman advocates three immediate steps for the United States: (1) withdraw “from the current space regime and announce it is establishing a principle of free-market sovereignty in space”; (2) use “its current and near-term capabilities to seize military control” of LEO; and (3) establish “a national space coordination authority” to “define, separate, and coordinate the efforts of commercial, civilian, and military space projects”.
It is important to emphasize that the ultimate goal of astropolitics and Astropolitik according to Dolman is not the militarization of space. Rather, the militarization of space is a means to an end, part of a longer-term strategy. The goal is to reverse the current international malaise in regard to space exploration, and to do so in a way that is efficient and that harnesses the positive motivations of individuals and states striving to improve their conditions. It is a neoclassical, market-driven approach intended to maximize efficiency and wealth.
Dolman’s strategy is very delicate in terms of the space weaponization issue which is inevitable to Smith as result of pragmatic policy towards the space. Smith says that pragmatic politicians carry weapons whereever they go and Dolman adds to this that they carry the weapons, but don‘t show them outright. However, they both agree that space weaponization is going to happen. To find out more we need to analyze current U.S. space policy.
U.S. reestablished its ambitions in weaponizing space in 2001 when a Space Commission led by Donald Rumsfeld released U.S. space security policy review. The main goal of that commission was to revise U.S. space security program and to address any issues and means to eliminate them. The commission reported that U.S. government was not ready to counter military threats in space and that these threats are a historical inevitability.
The whole idea of controlling the space was not new to Rumsfeld’s commission. In fact, the goal of U.S. superiority in space has been developed by every national space policy doctrine since Eisenhower. However, Rumsfeld’s committee made one step forward by making it clear that U.S. should expand its operations in space and even use force if necessary. Commission argued that U.S. has the largest number of any kind of devices in space that are vulnerable to enemy attacks (e.g. ASAT Anti-satellite weapons on the ground). The commission also stated that
The U.S. is more dependent on space than any other nation. Yet the threat to the US and its allies in and from space does not command the attention it merits.
The U.S., argues Rumsfeld, cannot allow its rivals to obtain asymmetric military superiority.
One of the most popular quotes from the Space Commission was that the U.S .could face a „space Pearl Harbor”. For this reason the Commission encouraged U.S. government to prepare a plan how to counter attacks in space. The Space Commission concluded that „it is possible to project power through and from space in response to events anywhere in the world. Having this capability would give the United States a much stronger deterrent and, in a conflict, an extraordinary military advantage.“
The second document I would like to point out here is The National space policy plan (Oct., 2006) that claims the right of the United States to “deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space” and at the same time to “dissuade or deter others” from developing similar capabilities to deny US access to space, and asserts the right to unimpeded use of space as a U.S. right, not an international right. It was mentioned that this plan might contravene the 1967 Outer Space Treaty that prohibits weapons of mass destruction either in orbit or celestial-based. US has been ignoring any international efforts to prohibit weaponization of space. In the same month U.S. at the UN General Assembly voting against arms race in space was the only country to cast its vote against such prohibition. Anybody might think that in this way the U.S. is trying to withdraw from the current space regime as stated by Dolman.
Tom Barry makes an interesting note that the “October release of the National Space Policy comes on the heels of a report by the “Independent Working Group on Missile Defense, the Space Relationship, and the 21st Century,” which is a misnamed task force assembled by various right-wing policy institutes.” They call themselves Independent Working Group as having no role in the U.S. space policy. The group’s members and sponsors include many key figures and institutions that advocate a more aggressive nuclear weapons and space weapons policy. No matter what they represent, it looks like space militarization issue has reached a point when not only the military, but also scientific community is pushing for space weapons. So it will be very interesting to find out whether space weaponization initiative will remain at stake with a new president at office.
So far these institutes claim that within three years, a space-based missile defense system should be tested. Also US should deploy 1,000 Brilliant Pebbles-like space-based interceptors. And because of the centrality of space to U.S. national security, efforts to counter U.S. primacy in space via restrictive legal regimes should be rejected.
The task force claims that the 21st century maintenance of the “U.S. lead in space may indeed be pivotal to the basic geopolitical, military, and economic status of the United States. Consolidation of the preeminent U.S. position in space is akin to Britain’s dominance of the oceans in the 19th century.” An improved report was also released in 2007. It states again that “space represents an arena of crucial importance to the United States for civil, commercial, and national security purposes.” As such, it is essential that the United States to be able to use space for missile defense.
Another interesting point is the commercialization of space assets. Commercial space assets make all actors space powers. The advent of commercial vendors selling military-related space products has created a new form of mercenary. The types of asymmetric advantages the superpowers once enjoyed because of their space prowess is quickly eroding because anyone who is able to pay the price can receive certain kinds of space support. Military and law-enforcement planners must take into account the potential for any opponent to exploit these commercial services. In the light of global fight against terrorism the U.S. might be afraid of commercial space initiative and control. Rumsfeld’s commission in its recommendations also stressed the dangers of commercial sector in space which would have no regulations in early years of space utilization.
It doesn’t seem to me that the everyday growing human presence in space will dispense with weapons and security projects for balancing power in space. As soon as we see more assets in space that are of a vital importance to the countries on the ground, there will be a need for the same security guarantees as we have now on the ground.
All these facts support the idea that the U.S. is seeking to finally step into the third stage – military control of space – of its evolution of space strategy. This is current tendency that of course later may change in one way or another. But other countries are already preparing their own military responses to the U.S. controversial plans and in the global scale we can see that a new defence system is growing. Later it might be too late for the US to go back. New programs include development of ASAT weapons on the ground and later in space. It can be predicted that during the upcoming decade we will see ASAT weapons in the international arena. They will be announced as legitimate means to counter hostile US satellites in space. International institutions may develop an ASAT non-proliferation agreement which can become another problem in the international relations arena.
Finally, several countries, such as Russia and China, have already developed counter-space weapons that directly threaten U.S. space operations. 48 Other states are likely to proliferate these or similar weapons in the coming decades. In sum, the U.S. military increasingly relies upon space assets. Therefore it is in their interest to protection them from enemy attack. At the same time, the U.S. has an interest in denying adversaries the ability to exploit their own space assets to gain advantage over them.