The Outer Space Treaty, of which Russia and China and the U.S. are parties, designates space as a global commons to be used for peaceful purposes. Indeed, the U.S., along with the UK and the Soviet Union, worked together assembling the treaty.
We might be somewhat inured to space warfare by the decades of movies and TV programs involving space warfare from Flash Gordon to Star Trek but a shooting war involving nuclear-energized space weaponry would be no movie or TV show. It would be an unprecedented calamity in which, beyond the immediate destruction and massive deaths, there would be huge amounts of radioactive debris raining down on Earth for centuries and the space above our heads littered with debris making it impossible to get up and out to explore space. – Karl Grossman, author of the books Weapons in Space and The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet and the documentaries “Nukes in Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens” and “Star Wars Returns.”
The Trump administration is pushing hard on its scheme to create a Space Force. If Trump gets his way, the heavens would become a war zone. Inevitably, there would be military conflict in space.
Moreover, space weaponry would be nuclear-powered – as Reagan’s Star Wars scheme was to be, with nuclear reactors and plutonium systems on orbiting battle platforms providing the power for hypervelocity guns, particle beams and laser weapons.
That’s what would be above our heads.
Amid the many horrible things being done by the Trump administration, this would be the most terribly destructive.
Trump announced at a meeting of the National Space Council on June 18: “I’m hereby directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces; that is a big statement.”
Vice President Pence, chairman of a newly reconstituted National Space Council, in a speech at the Pentagon on August 9, declared: “The time has come to write the next great chapter in the history of our armed forces, to prepare for the next battlefield.”
U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, introducing Pence at his Pentagon appearance, said a Space Force is needed because space “is becoming a contested-warfighting domain.” In reality, like Pence’s declaration—”Our adversaries have transformed space into a warfighting domain already”—it isn’t true.
It’s not true, in part because the Outer Space Treaty, of which Russia and China and the U.S. are parties, designates space as a global commons to be used for peaceful purposes. Indeed, the U.S., along with the UK and the Soviet Union, worked together assembling the treaty. Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966, it entered into force in 1967. It has been ratified or signed by 123 nations. It provides that nations “undertake not to place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in space in any other manner.”
The Trump administration is hanging its claim that space has become a “war-fighting domain” on a stupid act by China in 2007 of using a missile to destroy one of its obsolete weather satellites. The Chinese claimed they had notified the U.S., Japan, and other countries before they did this. And China’s Foreign Ministry subsequently insisted, “There’s no need to feel threatened about this,” and pointed out that China had long pressed for an expansion of the Outer Space Treaty to prohibit not just weapons of mass destruction but all weapons from space—something the U.S., alone among nations, had and has long opposed.
The following year, the U.S. itself used one of its own missiles to destroy a non-functioning U.S. satellite. Whether done by China or the U.S., that’s a dumb way to eliminate an old satellite – it causes significant space debris.
Beyond the intent of the Outer Space Treaty and its setting space aside as a global commons, neither Russia nor China have been interested in bringing war into space for economic reasons.
Fielding weaponry in space would be hugely expensive (considering acquisition, launch, and maintenance). It is no comparison to, let’s say, the tank-like Bradley Fighting Vehicle costing approximately $3 million. Billions and billions would need to be expended if the U.S. deploys weaponry in a Space Force with the intention of dominating the Earth from this “ultimate high ground,” as U.S. military documents refer to it.
And as Trump made clear in his June announcement, it is his intent to do so: “It is not enough to merely have an American presence in space, we must have American dominance in space.”
This will not be accepted by Russia and China and other countries. Under these conditions, they then will be up there, too, with weapons —despite their enormous reluctance through the decades to drain their national treasures on deploying weapons in space.
From Nazi rocket scientists to Reagan’s Star Wars
The notion of the U.S. moving into space with weapons goes way back, to the post-World War II years when the U.S. government brought former Nazi rocket scientists from Germany to the U.S. to use “their technological expertise to help create the U.S. space and weapons program,” writes Jack Manno, a professor at the State University of New York/Environmental Science and Forestry College, in his book Arming the Heavens: The Hidden Military Agenda for Space, 1945-1995. “Many of the early space war schemes were dreamt up by scientists working for the German military, scientists who brought their rockets and their ideas to America after the war.”
Manno has said that “control over the Earth” was what those who wanted to weaponize space sought.
Well before Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars,” Manno wrote about German Major General Walter Dornberger, formerly in charge of the entire Nazi rocket program, who “in 1947 as a consultant to the U.S Air Force and adviser to the Department of Defense…wrote a planning paper for his new employers. He proposed a system of hundreds of nuclear-armed satellites all orbiting at different altitudes and angles, each capable of reentering the atmosphere on command from Earth to proceed to its target. The Air Force began early work on Dornberger’s idea under the acronym NABS (Nuclear Armed Bombardment Satellites).”
Then came “Star Wars.” Reagan on a visit to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, when he was its governor, met with atomic physicist Edward Teller, the “father” of the hydrogen bomb and the director of the lab, who outlined for him a plan of having orbiting hydrogen bombs that would energize X-ray lasers. “As the bomb at the core of an X-ray battle station exploded, multiple beams would flash out to strike multiple targets before the entire station consumed itself in in a ball of nuclear fire,” explained New York Times reporter William Broad in his 1986 book Star Warriors.
When Reagan became president, there was a shift in the Star Wars design to use orbiting battle platforms with nuclear reactors or “super” plutonium-fueled radioisotope thermoelectric generators which would provide the power for hypervelocity guns, particle beams, and laser weapons.
The link between nuclear power and space weaponry has been explicitly emphasized.
The U.S military has long been very interested in space warfare.
A space command was formed within the Air Force in 1982. The U.S. Air Force Space Command was set up by the Pentagon to “help institutionalize the use of space.” Or, as the motto of one of its units declares, to be “Master of Space.”
Since 1985 there have been attempts at the UN to expand the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 to prohibit not only nuclear weapons but all weapons from space. This is called the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) treaty and leading in urging its passage have been Canada, Russia, and China. There has been virtually universal backing from nations around the world for it. But by balking, U.S. administration after administration has prevented its passage.
Although waging war in space was hotly promoted by the Reagan and Bush administrations and ostensibly discouraged by the Obama administration and Clinton administration, all U.S. administrations have refused to sign on to the PAROS treaty.
And all along the military has been gung ho on space warfare: A 1996 U.S. Air Force board report, New World Vistas: Air and Space Power for the 21st Century, explained that advances in new technologies “will enable lasers with reasonable mass and cost to effect very many kills.” Says the report: “Setting the emotional issues of nuclear power aside, this technology offers a viable alternative for large amounts of power in space.”
The U.S. Space Command, in its 1998 report Vision for 2020, trumpeted dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect US interests and investment” and “integrating Space Forces into war-fighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict.”
And now there is Trump’s Space Force. Will we allow it?
With the Trump administration, more than non-support of the PAROS treaty, there is now a drive by the U.S. to weaponize space. Bruce Gagnon of Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space said, “I think his proposal indicates that the aerospace industry has taken full control of the White House and we can be sure that Trump will use all his ‘Twitter powers’ to push this hard in the coming months.”
Trump has ordered the Pentagon to take several steps toward the creation of his space plan, but to actually take the final step to create Space Force as a new branch of the military service, he needs congressional approval. For that and the militarization of space, in general, it will depend on the grassroots – how much a public pressure can be brought to bear to prevent the weaponization of space and instead keep the heavens for peace.
Karl Grossman has been writing articles for national and international publications, books, and documentaries on U.S. efforts to weaponize space ever since Ronald Reagan began his “Star Wars” schemes. For 25 years, he has been the host of the nationally aired TV program, Enviro Close-Up. He is a professor of journalism at the State University of New York, College at Old Westbury and has given presentations focusing on energy and environment in the U.S., at the UN, and around the world. He has a website and blogs at karlgrossman.com.
 As Craig Eisendrath, who had been a U.S. State Department officer involved in its creation noted in the 2001 TV documentary I wrote and narrate, “Star Wars Returns,” the Soviet Union had launched the first space satellite, Sputnik, in 1957 and “we sought to de-weaponize space before it got weaponized…to keep war out of space.” tinyurl.com/yaufp73h
 I base this belief on my 30 years of space warfare research and on numerous trips to Russia, and my experience in China.
 Jack Manno interview for my book Weapons in Space.
Editor’s Note: Sometimes referred to as the “U.S. Space Command”, it was conceived of as a subcommand of the Air Force and not a separate dedicated branch of the military equivalent to the Air Force itself, or the Army, or Navy, as Trump has proposed for the Space Force today. Additionally, all other branches of the military, as well as some government agencies, have been conducting space projects and using military and intelligence satellites.
Note: This article is published in the print edition of the WAMM Newsletter, Volume 36, Number 5, Fall I edition. Go to here to see more WAMM newsletters.
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