Rejecting the Rule of Law


The most important lesson one can acquire about US foreign policy is the understanding that our leaders do not mean well. They do not have any noble goals of democracy and freedom and all that jazz. They aim to dominate the world by any means necessary. And as long as an American believes that the intentions are noble and honorable, it’s very difficult to penetrate that wall. That wall surrounds the thinking and blocks any attempt to make them realize the harm being done by US foreign policy.

— William Blum, former member of the US State Department, author of Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions since World War II[i]

More than 5,000 satellites have been launched into orbit since the space age began[ii]. Today, eleven countries have space launch capability, with over sixty countries operating about 1,100 active satellites orbiting the earth providing a constant stream of data and information relied upon for critical civilian communications as well as for military operations by some.[iii]   As we grow ever more dependent on the ability of these satellites to perform their essential functions without interruption, there are growing concerns that this useful technology is giving rise to a new battleground in space for the purpose of sabotaging or destroying the vital services our space-based communications now provide.

The US and Russia have been testing anti-satellite technology (ASAT) since the space age began, and have even contemplated using  nuclear tipped ballistic missiles to destroy space assets.    In 1967, the US and Russia  realized it would be in their interest to support the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which banned the placement of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in space, although they failed to ban the use of conventional weapons in space.   And in 1972 they agreed to sign the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) to slow down the space race and the ability to harm each other’s assets in space.  Unfortunately, George Bush walked out of the ABM treaty in 2002, and the race to weaponize space was on once again in full force.  China is getting into the act too, having launched, in 2007, a device which destroyed one of its aging weather satellites orbiting in space.   The US followed suit in 2008, destroying a non-functioning satellite, while both nations denied any military mission for their acts, claiming they were merely trying to destroy outdated satellites that no longer functioned.

With the proliferation of military spacecraft such as imaging and communications satellites and ballistic missile and anti- missiles systems which often pass through outer space, there have been numerous efforts in the UN Committee on Disarmament (CD) to outlaw the weaponization of space through a legally binding treaty.    But the United States is having none of it.  In the CD, which requires consensus to take action, the US has been the only nation to block every vote to begin negotiations on such a treaty, with Israel generally abstaining in support.   Russia and China actually prepared a draft treaty to ban weapons in space in 2008, but the US blocked the proposal, voting against it each year thereafter when it was reintroduced for consideration, saying the proposal was “a diplomatic ploy by the two nations to gain a military advantage”.[iv]

While continuing to block a legally binding treaty to ban weapons in space, the US has recently begun to work with a group of nations in a new initiative that began in the European Union in 2008, proposing a “Code of Conduct  for Outer Space Activities“  which would lay out a non-binding set of rules of the road for a safer and more responsible environment in space.  Some of its key objectives are to mitigate damage to satellites that could be caused by space debris orbiting the earth,  to avoid the potential of destructive collisions, and to manage the crowding of satellites and the saturation of the radio-frequency spectrum, as well as to address direct threats of hostility to assets in space. [v]   At first, the US rejected any support for the Code, but has now agreed to participate in drafting a new version based on the third iteration from the European Union.   Obama’s Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Rose Gottemoeller, acknowledged in 2012 the necessity for a Code to deal with orbital debris and “other irresponsible actions in space”,  while at the same time, noting that,

It is important to clarify several points with respect to the code. It is still under development, we would not subscribe to any code unless it protects and enhances our national security, and the code would not be legally binding. [vi]

In addition, the US is insisting on a provision in this third version of the Code of Conduct that, while making a voluntary promise to “refrain from any action which brings about, directly or indirectly, damage, or destruction, of space objects”, qualifies that directive with the language “unless such action is justified”. One justification given for destructive action is “the Charter of the United Nations including the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense”, thus lending legitimacy and codifying the possibility for warfare in space as part of the Code’s established norm.  And while the Charter of the United Nations prohibits aggressive action by any nation without Security Council approval unless a nation acts in self-defense, we know there have been numerous occasions where nations have by-passed the Security Council to take aggressive action, often protesting they were acting in self-defense.   Instead of banning ASAT development and warfare, this Code justifies such warfare as long as it’s done, individually and collectively, under the guise of “self-defense”.   Thus despite lacking the force of law that would be established with a legally binding treaty, this new US version of the Code creates, as the norm it is proposing, a possibility for space warfare.

Our world deserves better!

Alice Slater is NY Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and serves on the Council of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space



Alice Slater is a founder of Abolition 2000, which works for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. 

Weekend Edition
October 9-11, 2015
Binoy Kampmark
Waiting in Vain for Moderation: Syria, Russia and Washington’s Problem
Paul Edwards
Empire of Disaster
Margaret Knapke
These Salvadoran Women Went to Prison for Suffering Miscarriages
Cesar Chelala
The Perverse Rise of Killer Robots
Halyna Mokrushyna
On Ukraine’s ‘Incorrect’ Past
Walter Brasch
Mass Murders are Good for Business
William Hadfield
Sophistry Rising: the Refugee Debate in Germany
Christopher Brauchli
Why the NRA Profits From Mass Shootings
Pete Dolack
There is Still Time to Defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Andre Vltchek
Stop Millions of Western Immigrants!
Dave Lindorff
America’s Latest War Crime
Ann Garrison
Sankarist Spirit Resurges in Burkina Faso
Cesar Chelala
The Perverse Rise of Killer Robots
Franklin Lamb
Official Investigation Needed After Afghan Hospital Bombing
Linn Washington Jr.
Wrongs In Wine-Land
Charles R. Larson
Prelude to the Spanish Civil War: Eduard Mendoza’s “An Englishman in Madrid”
October 08, 2015
Michael Horton
Why is the US Aiding and Enabling Saudi Arabia’s Genocidal War in Yemen?
Ben Debney
Guns, Trump and Mental Illness
Pepe Escobar
The NATO-Russia Face Off in Syria
Yoav Litvin
Israeli Occupation for Dummies
Lawrence Davidson
Deep Poverty in America: the On-Going Tradition of Not Caring
Thomas Knapp
War Party’s New Line: Vladimir Putin is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
Brandon Jordan
Sowing the Seeds of War in Uruguay
Binoy Kampmark
Imperilled by Unfree Trade: the TPP on Environment and Labor
John McMurtry
The Canadian Elections: Cover-Up and Steal (Again)
Anthony Papa
Coming Home: an Open Letter to 6,000 Soon-to-be-Released Drug War Prisoners From an Ex-Con
Ramzy Baroud
Listen to Syrians: The Media Jackals and the People’s Narrative
Norman Pollack
Heart of Darkness: A Two-Way Street
Gilbert Mercier
Will Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite Militias Defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq?
John Stanton
Vietnam 2.0 and California Dreamin’ in Ukraine
William John Cox
The Pornography of Hatred
October 07, 2015
Nancy Scheper-Hughes
Witness to a Troubled Saint-Making: Junipero Serra and the Theology of Failure
Luciana Bohne
The Double-Speak of American Civilian Humanitarianism
Joyce Nelson
TPP: Big Pharma’s Big Deal
Jonathan Cook
Israel Lights the Touchpaper at Al-Aqsa Again
Joseph Natoli
The Wreckage in Sight We Fail To See
Piero Gleijeses
Cuba’s Jorge Risquet: the Brother I Never Had
Andrew Stewart
Do #BlackLivesMatter to Dunkin’ Donuts?
Rajesh Makwana
#GlobalGoals? The Truth About Poverty and How to Address It
Joan Berezin
Elections 2016: A New Opening or Business as Usual?
Dave Randle
The Man Who Sold Motown to the World
Adam Bartley
“Shameless”: Hillary Clinton, Human Rights and China
Binoy Kampmark
The Killings in Oregon: Business as Usual
Harvey Wasserman
Why Bernie and Hillary Must Address America’s Dying Nuke Reactors
Tom H. Hastings
Unarmed Cops and a Can-do Culture of Nonviolence