The Next Frontier: Trump and Space Weapons

Photo by Marc Nozell | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Marc Nozell | CC BY 2.0


It is highly likely that the Trump administration will move to have the U.S. deploy weapons in space. If this happens, it will be profoundly destabilizing, setting off an arms race and, also likely, leading to war in space.

For decades there’s been interest by U.S. administrations—the Reagan administration with its “Star Wars” plan a leading example—in placing weapons in space. But that has alternated with some administrations more-or-less opposed, the Obama administration an example.

Still, no matter the administration, since work at the United Nations began in 1985 on a treaty seeking, as its title declares, the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space, the U.S. has not supported it. Canada, Russia and China have been leaders in urging passage of this PAROS treaty, and there has been virtually universal backing from nations around the world. But by balking, U.S. administration after administration has prevented its passage.

With the Trump administration, more than non-support of the PAROS treaty is probable. A drive by the U.S. to weaponize space appears in the offing.

The weaponization of space has long been sought by the U.S. military. The U.S. Air Force Space Command and U.S. Space Command (now merged into the U.S. Strategic Command) have repeatedly described space as the “ultimate high ground.” There has been continued development of space weapons.

Atomic physicist Edward Teller, the main figure in developing the hydrogen bomb and instrumental in founding Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, pitched to Ronald Reagan, when he was governor of California visiting the lab, a plan of orbiting hydrogen bombs which became the initial basis for Reagan’s “Star Wars.” The bombs were to 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 journalist William Broad in his book Star Warriors.

Teller’s orbiting H-bomb scheme, code-named Excalibur, was finally dropped, in part, according to Broad, because another Reagan advisor, Army Lt. General Daniel O. Graham, felt the U.S. “public would never accept the placement of nuclear weapons in space.”

So there was a shift on “Star Wars to battle platforms having nuclear reactors or “super” plutonium-fueled radioisotope thermoelectric generators on board that would provide the power for hypervelocity guns, particle beams and also laser weapons.

What kind of space weaponry might scientists and the military sell Trump on?

“Under Trump, GOP to Give Space Weapons Close Look,” was the headline of an article last month in Roll Call, a reliable 61-year-old Washington-based media outlet. The article said “Trump’s thinking on missile defense and military space programs have gotten next to no attention, as compared to the president-elect’s other defense proposals….But experts expect such programs to account for a significant share of what is likely to be a defense budget boost, potentially amounting to $500 billion or more in the coming decade.”

Intense support for the Republican president’s plans is anticipated from the GOP-dominated Congress. Roll Call noted that Representative Trent Franks, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and an Arizona Republican, “said the GOP’s newly strengthened hand in Washington means a big payday is coming for programs aimed at developing weapons that can be deployed in space.”

It quoted Franks as saying: “It was a Democrat mindset that caused us to step back from space-based defense assets to ostensibly not ‘weaponize space,’ while our enemies proceeded to do just that, and now, we find ourselves in a grave deficit.”

As to what space weapons the Trump administration might be interested in, the website Blasting News in an article last month—headed “Donald Trump administration to develop space weapons”—pointed to what has been called “rods from God.” This piece opened with: “One of the significant changes that the incoming Trump administration is contemplating in defense is the development of space-based weapons.” It said “another approach the incoming administration will look at will be space-based weapons that could strike targets on Earth. One idea that has kicked around for decades is a system that would consist of a tungsten projectile and a navigation system. Upon command, these ‘rods from God’ as they are poetically called would re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and would strike a target, even one in a superhardened underground banker, at 36,000 feet per second, obliterating it.”

As an op-ed piece by two “senior Trump policy advisors” titled “Donald Trump’s ‘peace through strength’ space vision” in Space News in October said, the Trump administration will “lead the way on emerging technologies that have the potential to revolutionize warfare…

Trump’s priorities for our military space program are clear: We must reduce our current vulnerabilities and assure that our military commands have the space tools they need for their missions.”  The op-ed was by Robert Walker who as a congressman chaired the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee and is now chairman of the Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Committee and Peter Navarro, a professor of business at the University of California-Irvine.

Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space says: “While the specifics are yet to be fully known about Trump and Republican Congress plans for space weapons, there are some very disturbing initial recommendations that have been surfacing.” For 25 years, the Maine-based network has been THE organization working internationally on these space issues.

Gagnon continued: “Suggestions to increase Pentagon spending to put ASAT (anti-satellite) weapons in space are probably the most disturbing because these systems indicate the mindset that a full-blown war in space is in the thinking of some now coming to power. This not only could lead to total global war but the devastation in space would seal the fate for future generations as massive fields of space debris would destroy any hopes for space travel or exploration.”

“Republican leaders are suggesting that expanding so-called ‘missile defense’ (MD) systems, currently being used to encircle Russia and China, are in order including a massive increase in Navy Aegis destroyers outfitted with MD interceptors. MD is a key element in Pentagon first-strike attack planning and would obviously lead to counter measures by Moscow and Beijing.”

“The world does not need a new arms race in space—especially when we should be using our resources to deal with the real problems of climate change and growing poverty due to increasing economic divide,” said Gagnon.

“The enormous cost of a Trump-led arms race in space is certainly causing the aerospace industry and their investors to salivate at the thought of increased profits. But the real issue to be considered is how a Trump administration would pay for what the Pentagon once described as the most expensive industrial project in human history. Trump has already declared that he intends to reduce taxes on corporations. Would this mean that Medicare and Social Security would be on the chopping block in order to pay for war in space?”

“Russia and China for years have gone to the UN pleading with the U.S. to seriously enter negotiations for a treaty to ban weapons in space—the idea being to close the door to the barn before the horse gets out,” Gagnon said. “During Republican and Democrat administrations the U.S. has blocked the development of such a forward-thinking treaty maintaining that there is ‘no problem.’ The military-industrial complex, which views space as a new profits arena, has ensured that the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space treaty negotiations were dead on arrival.”

“Russia and China will be left with only one option—they will have to respond in kind as the US attempts to ‘control and dominate space’ as is called for in the U.S. Space Command’s planning document Vision for 2020.” Gagnon went on. “The world can’t afford a new arms race nor can the public allow the Trump administration to squander the national treasury on the foolish notion that the U.S. will be the ‘Master of Space.’” [“Master of Space” is the motto of the 50th Space Wing of the U.S. Air Force Space Command.] “The time to speak out against war in space is now—before more money is wasted and the shooting starts.”

I’ve been writing for many years about space weaponry (including in my book Weapons in Space) and on television (including writing and narrating the documentaries Nukes in Space: the Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens and also Star Wars Returns. I’ve given talks across the U.S. and world.

In Weapons in Space, I relate a 1999 presentation I gave at the UN in Geneva. The next day, a vote was to be held there on the PAROS treaty. On my way to observe the vote, I saw a U.S. diplomat who had been at my presentation and had not been happy with it. We approached each other and he said he would like to talk to me, anonymously. He said, on the street in front of the UN buildings, that the U.S has trouble with its citizenry in fielding a large number of troops on the ground. But the U.S military believes “we can project power from space” and that was why the military was moving in this direction. I questioned him on whether, if the U.S. moved ahead with weapons in space, other nations would meet the U.S. kind igniting an arms race in space. He replied that the U.S. military had done analyses and determined that China was “30 years behind” in competing with the U.S. militarily in space and Russia “doesn’t have the money.”

Then he went to vote and I watched as again there was overwhelming international support for the PAROS treaty—but the U.S. balked. And because a consensus was needed for the passage of the treaty, it was blocked once more.

And this was during the Clinton administration.

In 2001, with the election of George W. Bush, space weaponization was again on high-boil rather than the low-boil it was during the Clinton time.

That’s when I began work on the TV documentary Star Wars Returns which can be viewed here.

And that year, too, I gave a presentation before members of the British Parliament in London. In it I outlined the just-released plan of the Space Commission led by then U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. I noted how it asserted: “In the coming period the U.S. will conduct operations to, from, in and through space in support of its national interests both on the earth and in space.” I pointed out how it urged the U.S. president to “have the option to deploy weapons in space.”

I quoted from the U.S. Space Command’s Vision for 2020 report’s speaking of “dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect U.S. interests and investment. Integrating Space Forces into warfighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict.”

“What the U.S. is up to,” I said, “will destabilize the world.”

I suggested the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, signed by nations all over the world—including the U.S.—“be strengthened to ban all weapons in space.” It simply prohibits weapons of mass destruction. “Verification mechanisms should be added,” I said. “And space be kept for peace.”

The rapid boil that the push for space weaponry was on during the Bush administration returned to a low boil with Obama. However, from the outset, it wasn’t full opposition. Moments after Obama was sworn in in 2009, the White House website displayed a policy statement about the new administration seeking a “worldwide ban on weapons that interfere with military and commercial satellites.” This was widely interpreted as meaning an end to U.S. efforts to place weapons in space. As Reuters reported: “President Barack Obama’s pledge to seek a worldwide ban on weapons in space marks a dramatic shift in U.S. policy.”

But the statement was soon removed from the website and attributed to a junior staffer.

The Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space will be holding an annual conference and protest between April 7th and 9th of 2017 in Huntsville, Alabama—an appropriate place. As the organization notes in its announcement, the U.S. Army’s Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville “was the place where after World War II Nazi rocket scientists were brought by the U.S., using their technological expertise to help create the U.S. space and weapons program.”

Professor Jack Manno of the State University of New York/Environmental Science and Forestry College, wrote 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.”

“It was like a professional sports draft,” relates Manno. Nearly 1,000 of these scientists were brought to the U.S., “many of whom later rose to positions of power in the U.S. military, NASA, and the aerospace industry.” Among them were “Wernher von Braun and his V-2 colleagues” who began “working on rockets for the U.S. Army,” and at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville “were given the task of producing an intermediate range ballistic range missile to carry battlefield atomic weapons up to 200 miles. The Germans produced a modified V-2 renamed the Redstone….Huntsville became a major center of U.S. space military activities.”

It still is.

Manno in his 1984 book wrote: “The real tragedy of an arms race in space will not be so much the weapons that evolve—they can hardly be worse than what we already have—but that by extending and accelerating the arms race into the twenty-first century the chance will have been lost to move toward a secure and peaceful world. Even if militarists succeed in arming the heavens and gaining superiority over potential enemies, by the 21st century the technology of terrorism—chemical, bacteriological, genetic and psychological weapons and portable nuclear bombs—will prolong the anxiety of constant insecurity. Only by eliminating the sources of international tension through cooperation and common development can any kind of national security be achieved in the next century. Space, an intrinsically international environment, could provide the opportunity for the beginning of such development.”

For my Weapons in Space, Manno said in 2001 that “control over the earth” is what those who want to weaponize space seek. He said the Nazi scientists are an important “historical and technical link, and also an ideological link….The aim is to…have the capacity to carry out global warfare, including weapons systems that reside in space.”

And now a Trump administration is ahead. And so is the likely arming of the heavens—unless we stop it, and we must. Connect with the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space.

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Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

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