FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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satellite, while both nations denied any military mission for their acts, claiming they were merely trying to destroy outdated satellites that no longer functioned.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

 

 

More articles by:

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

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Peter Crowley
Outsourcing Still Affects Us: This and AI Worker Displacement Need Not be Inevitable
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
David Yearsley
Bass on Top: the Genius of Paul Chambers
Elliot Sperber
Eddie Spaghetti’s Alphabet
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail