US declares vital interest in space

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

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The United States considers space capabilities ... vital to its national interests. Consistent with this policy, the United States will: preserve its rights, capabilities, and freedom of action in space; dissuade or deter others from either impeding those rights or developing capabilities intended to do so; take those actions necessary to protect its space capabilities; respond to interference; and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests...

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Proposed arms control agreements or restrictions must not impair the rights of the United States to conduct research, development, testing, and operations or other activities in space for U.S. national interests...

President Bush has declared space to be essential to US defense in a new National Space Policy document published on September 14. Not only has the United States declared that it has rights in space, but also said it will "deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U. S. national interests". The policy states that presence in space takes its place alongside sea and air power in the defense of the country. The US has announced officially that it is using space for surveillance and monitoring activities, including observing natural disasters on Earth, and it intends to develop the commercial potential of space.

The new policy was agreed upon in August but the document was not released until October. In September, the BBC reported that the US Missile Defense Agency had announced the successful test firing of an interceptor missile from California which hit a target missile launched from Alaska. This followed the test firing of ballistic missiles by North Korea in July.

The success of this US interceptor missile launch is the fifth out of eight attempts and the first to use the facilities at the Vandenberg base. In the last two attempts, in December 2004 and February 2005, the interceptor missiles failed to take off. This whole program is reported to have cost $100 billion since 1983. The system employs radar and satellites to locate the target missile and to direct the interceptor towards it. The programme is not without its critics.

Reactions to the policy

The BBC reports Tony Snow, White House spokesman as saying, in response to questions about the militarisation of space, "The notion that you would do defense from space is different from that of weaponisation of space. We're comfortable with the policy".

Theresa Hitchens, director of the Centre for Defense Information, has a different opinion from Mr. Snow. She said; "While this policy does not explicitly say we are not going to shoot satellites or we are going to put weapons in space, it does, it seems to me, open the door towards that. This is a much more unilateralist vision of space. The United States in this policy seeks to establish its rights but fails to acknowledge the rights of other countries in space, where the Clinton policy was very careful to acknowledge the rights of all nations in space." Hitchens said

Marine Corps General Cartwright, interviewed by Inside Pentagon, 18 October, was asked about allegations that China had tested the means of destroying American satellites, said "...we really haven't seen that". He likened the US role as that of enforcing the rule of the road in space. He pointed out that 16 or more countries can operate 10 or more satellites and that seven of these countries, China, Russia, India, South Korea, Indonesia, Brazil and Japan, are not members of NATO. He said that, "unfortunately, we anticipate some will challenge the free use of space."

Mikhail Margelov, Chairman of the Russian Federation Council's foreign affairs committee, is reported by RBC News as saying that the new policy "... may instigate Russian and joint Russian-US space exploration projects". Russia and America had been cooperating in space for years and it was not in the interest of the USA to sever those relations".

Having reported the new policy, the Taipei Times recollects that "Before becoming Bush's secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld had warned against a "Space Pearl Harbor" and insisted US interests needed to be better protected".

Under the headline "America wants it all - life, the Universe and everything", Bronwen Maddox in The Times describes the new space policy as "comically proprietory in tone" and reports that America has rejected talks proposals by 160 other states for a ban on an arms race in space - (the vote in the UN was 160-1). The project is described as having a "breathtaking cost". The policy does, however, highlight the vulnerability of military, commercial and personal data links that use satellites in space.

The difference between this policy and that of the President Clinton is highlighted in "DefenseTech.org" by the headline "Bush: Space is for Soldiers". It is pointed out that in the previous space policy the emphasis was on international security and cooperation, the new policy includes the following: "Proposed arms control agreements or restrictions must not impair the rights of the United States to conduce research, development, testing and operations or other activities in space for U.S. national interests".

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