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Time for U.S. Values for the Heavens

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Shopping alone in the red light district for a trusted partner is counterintuitive, when applied to international security issues, it becomes downright dangerous.


Last year, the United States properly condemned North Korea for testing nuclear weapons. However, when the nations of the world voted for a universal, legally verifiable prohibition against nuclear weapons tests at the last General Assembly of the United Nations, only two countries pushed the red light to vote "no," thus creating an inexplicable union between North Korea and the U.S.


Similarly, the U.S. properly condemned the recent anti-satellite weapon test by China. But, when the issue of voting on preventing an arms race in space arose in the last U.N. General Assembly, the U.S. alone entered the red light district, casting the sole "no" vote.


Explaining the vote, the U.S. Delegate to the General Assembly said, "There is no arms race in space, and no prospect of an arms race in space. Thus, there is no arms problem for the international community to address."


The dismissive assertion may have been technically correct in October 2006, as the U.S. was the only country overtly pursuing the weaponization of space. The President triumphantly asserted as much in our National Space Policy, released a few weeks later. This new policy opposes "the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access or use of space."


Combined with the U.S. Space Command's notorious Vision 2020 -- which calls for "full spectrum dominance" to ensure "global precision strike" capability by unlimited U.S. unilateral weaponization of space -- the Administration's new policy of opposing legal restrictions is tantamount to asserting U.S. unilateral claims to place kinetic kill weapons in space, advance anti-satellite weaponry, and develop and deploy laser weapons, while condemning other nations from doing the same.


The position is inconsistent with long-held U.S. values of promoting international security through the rule of law. How is it possible for our government to rely on intelligence that informs our diplomats to blindly declare, "there is no prospect of an arms race in space," while ignoring the reality that other nations will do as we do?


Fast-forward a mere three months. China's test on January 11, 2007, involved tracking a satellite target precisely, lofting its high impact kill vehicle at extremely high speeds, such that it made impact at exactly the location intended, in space. This is an advanced technical achievement, previously accomplished by Russia and the U.S. These tests alone possess the potential to destroy much of our military and intelligence capacities and render modern life, which depends on satellites for communications, entirely compromised. We must recognize the danger quickly.


With relatively low cost space weaponry, an adversary could do enormous damage to U.S. and Russian early warning satellite systems, the very safety net that monitors global nuclear weapons activities. This includes monitoring the thousands of life-ending nuclear warheads on hair-trigger alert and aimed at virtually every city in the U.S. this very minute. By blinding satellites, warning systems become useless. Subsequently, the potential launch of nuclear warheads becomes both plausible and probable. If China builds anti-satellite devices, so will we, Russia and India. Net result: greater risk of nuclear launches.


While lawful countries will advocate arms control measures, they will not do so forever if they do not see the U.S. leading and responding. China has supported a space weapons ban for decades and remains willing to do so now, despite its current unnecessary and dangerous tests.


Even the debris resulting from each new weapons test in space jeopardizes our collective futures. Recently, Theresa Hitchens, Director of the Center for Defense Information clearly stated what is at stake, "We are a step closer to the brink of losing space and reaching a point at which debris begins to self-proliferate in a chain reaction that results in levels of pollution so high as to prevent any spacecraft, at all, from being useful. That tipping point could be only one more similar test away. The fact that the Chinese test may actually have been legal should make clear to all the need to outlaw such behavior."

It is high time that the U.S. returns to its own values. We are the first country founded on confidence in the power of law. We rejected the law of power asserted by the overreaching empire of the British. Let's not let this Administration's quest for "full spectrum dominance," a radical assertion of empire, blind us to our own values and self interest. It is time to negotiate prohibitions against the arms race in space, which clearly has begun.

Jonathan Granoff is President of the Global Security Institute (GSI) and Senior Advisor of the American Bar Association's Committee on Arms Control and National Security. Further information about GSI is available at http://www.gsinstitute.org.