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Space - After Tito's fun it might be
Rumsfeld's nightmare




May 9, 2001

LONDON - Space being space can go in all sorts of directions- Tito's pleasure trip to be followed by Richard Branson's floating hotels. But it could, if the U.S. Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, has his way, be filled with anti-satellite weapons, as the Pentagon makes sure it is in total command of not just the land beneath but also the sky above.

Rumsfeld chaired two important commissions whilst he was out of office. The first, now well known, came up with the argument that the threat of a ballistic missile attack on the U.S. was "evolving more rapidly" than had been previously thought. The second, which received much less publicity, warned that the U.S. may someday face a "Space Pearl Harbour" with a sneak attack on all America's precious communication satellites orbiting the planet. Space warfare has become "a virtual certainty", Rumsfeld argued. His conclusion, reiterated in his news conference on Tuesday, was that the U.S. must develop "power projection in, from, and through space".

The enemy is assumed, first, to be the old one, Russia, even though the Cold War and the reason for conflict are supposedly dead and buried. And, second, the new one, China, whom after years of wooing by successive American governments, both Democratic and Republican, the new Administration has now decided is enemy enough to bring about the doubling of targets for U.S. nuclear missiles. (One assumes that Richard Nixon must be turning in his grave at all this.) Added to Russia and China are the usual list of would-be rogues whom Rumsfeld fancifully imagines, despite their relatively tiny populations and paltry economies, might one day give the almighty U.S. a run for its money in space.

But as we have seen with the issue of ballistic missile defences it is Rumsfeld who has the ear of President George Bush and it is only a matter of months, in all likelihood, before the ideas of Rumsfeld's second commission are turned into another important presidential speech.

Space war has been an on and off political theme since the big American fright at the launching of the Soviet Sputnik in 1957, the first successful satellite. President Lyndon Johnson said at the time, "Out in space, there is the ultimate position - from which total control of the earth may be exercised". But in practice both the U.S. and the Soviet Union exercised great restraint and took no serious steps in space to provoke the other. Under President Ronald Reagan, however, with his Strategic Defence Initiative meant to deploy space-based weapons to shoot down incoming missiles, the U.S. was prepared to unilaterally break this mutual understanding. Fortunately, in the end, Reagan's program was blocked by a Democratic Congress.

Rumsfeld's plan is even more ambitious. It is nothing less than the total domination of space, a technological feat of no mean proportions and one demanding an astronomical budget to effect. It must be large enough and so all encompassing, argued the Rumsfeld report, that any countermeasures by other countries could be quickly nullified.

How will the rest of the world take to being dominated from above? One doesn't have to be particularly unfriendly to the U.S. to feel uncomfortable. More naturally hostile or suspicious countries could well feel they have been given no choice but to develop their own antisatellite weapons in an attempt to blind U.S. satellites, even though, since the U.S. will far outspend them, the effort would become an ever receding goal.

The consequence is plain to see: not only the demise of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty but the end of the fruitful Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties that, for all their limitations, have reduced the nuclear armouries of the superpowers; and, not least, the general weakening of world-wide non proliferation agreements and understandings. This will be the ultimate in American unilateralism.

It will not only make enemies where none exist, it will drive its Nato allies, already nervous and alarmed about the consequences of the ballistic missile shield plan, into a state of antipathy towards America.

"Man's reach should exceed his grasp or what is heaven for?" wrote the English poet, Robert Browning. But not in his wildest imagination could he have imagined that a new earthly empire at the onset of the third millennium, full of its conquest of the Soviet Union and European communism, would be eying the total military control of space to ensure that no would-be enemy - one that every one else believes doesn't exist - would be out to spring a devastating surprise attack.

Rumsfeld was worrying on television this week, in that disarmingly naïve way that even hard-nosed Americans sometimes have, about the return of the image of the "ugly American". Who will explain to him why?

I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:


Copyright © 2001 By JONATHAN POWER



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