Anti-Satellite Weapons Versus National Security: Part Two

Photograph Source: Ronald C. Wittmann – Public Domain

Click here to read part one.

Highlighting the environmental consequences of waging space wars, a researcher at the Pardee Rand Graduate School, California, in his doctoral dissertation titled “Deterring Space Wars” has also warned as follows:

“If outer space becomes an active theater of war, the impact to daily life on earth would be substantial. Unintended consequences of attacks in space are hard to contain and are not always readily reversible—debris or radiation generating attacks render specific orbits unusable, not just for the duration of the war, but for the foreseeable future. With the loss of those orbits, our lives would be very different—accurate weather maps, overhead imagery, access to breaking international news, and navigation services that guide our cars, airplanes, and ships would all disappear. Even in the absence of catastrophic attacks, war in space would have a chilling effect on commercial uses. Deploying new capability in space is risky, and war would make it infinitely more so. Space entrepreneurship would grind to a halt, denying mankind capabilities we have yet to dream of.”

Not only has the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Government of India, remained silent on the “unpredictable and dangerous consequences” (and the wider threat of a nuclear conflagration) of targeting an adversary’s satellite but also the MEA has tried to discount the adverse impact of the debris generated by the ASAT test by arguing that: “The test was done in the lower atmosphere to ensure that there is no space debris. Whatever debris that is generated will decay and fall back onto the earth within weeks.” (Para V)  Reportedly about 400 pieces of orbital debris were created as a result of India’s ASAT test. However, the MEA’s contention is under challenge. According to a report published on 09 Apr, 2019 in SpaceNews: “At least a dozen fragments from India’s March 27 anti-satellite test reached altitudes above 1,000 kilometers, meaning some debris will stay in orbit much longer than estimated by India, according to research from Analytical Graphics Inc. (AGI). One fragment was spotted at 2,222 kilometers…. The ISS [International Space Station], which orbits at roughly 410 kilometers, was among the top 60 spacecraft threatened by the debris, according to AGI.” 

Space debris is a major problem because it could trigger what is known as the Kessler Syndrome. It is a scenario in which the density of live and defunct satellites, space stations, etc., in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is high enough that collisions between objects could cause a cascade where each collision generates space debris that increases the likelihood of further collisions. The implications of such collusions are so serious that the distribution of debris in orbit could render space activities in specific orbital ranges impractical for many generations.

The Challenge

Can the ASAT weapon system protect a single Indian satellite in outer space? The answer is an emphatic NO! Then what was the purpose of this saber-rattling by the Indian Government? The theatrics on the part of PM Modi was all for domestic consumption by giving the false hope to Indians on the eve national of elections that India’s assets in space could be safeguarded by his government with ASAT weapons. The untenable claim that ASAT weapons can ensure India’s “National Security” is a complete mirage. If that is the case, why are the Chinese conducting ASAT tests? Suppose the Chinese were asked whether they are trying to safeguard their assets in space with ASAT weapons, their answer would be NO! The fact is the Chinese were compelled to carry out their ASAT test on 11 Jan, 2007 was primarily to bring the United States to the negotiating table to negotiate a ban on weaponization of space. This is acknowledged by researchers at India’s premier institute for strategic studies, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), Delhi. In an article titled “The ASAT test and China’s Space Ambitions”, which was published in IDSA’s journal on 12 Feb, 2007, it was noted as follows:

“Many experts believe that China conducted the test to compel the US administration to negotiate a treaty forbidding such weapons. Till now, the US vetoed Russian and Chinese proposals in this regard on the ground that it would restrict and violate American “freedom of action” in space. However, according to the 2004 International Union of Concerned Scientists Report, both China and Russia have pushed for an international ban on space weapons since 2002, but the US has refused to negotiate.”

This was also noted in the backgrounder titled “China’s Anti-Satellite Test”, which was published in Foreign Affairs on 22 Feb, 2007. According to it:

“Beijing has joined with Moscow in its longtime efforts to convince the United States to sign a treaty banning the deployment of weapons in space. The two nations drafted an outline presented in Geneva in 2002 that made little headway. A month after conducting the [2007] January 11 test, Beijing called for talks on a space weapons treaty.”

The said backgrounder then went on to add that: “The Bush administration has been resistant to restrictions that would limit its freedom of action or technological dominance in space.” Thus, the immediate provocation that compelled China to conduct the ASAT test in Jan 2007 can be traced to the major change in the strategic nuclear weapons policy of the United States in 2006 from Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) to Preeminence.

From ‘MAD’ to Preeminence                                   

Two articles that were published in 2006 in two of the most prestigious U.S. journals – International Security and Foreign Affairs – should serve as eye opener to all concerned people. The article in International Security (Vol.30, No.4, Spring 2006) is titled “The End of MAD” and the one in Foreign Affairs (Vol.85, No.2, March/April 2006) is titled “The Rise of U.S. Nuclear Primacy”. The two articles – one a detailed one and the other essentially a shorter version of the same – were written by Keir A. Lieber, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame (Indiana) and Daryl G. Press, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. Sixty years after the debate began in the United Nations for banning atomic weapons, the two authors had uncovered plans about the U.S. Administration’s preparations for a preemptive nuclear strike on Russia and China.

One cannot dismiss the assertion as merely wacky hallucinations of a couple of lunatics. The fact that these articles were actually published in the said journals is what gives the assertion credibility. International Security is brought out from Cambridge, Massachusetts and is considered “America’s leading journal of security affairs”. It was founded in 1976 and edited at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University – an elite institution in the U.S. Similarly, Foreign Affairs, which is considered “America’s most influential publication on international affairs”, is brought out from New York by the Council on Foreign Relations, one of USA’s foremost “Think-Tanks” that was founded in 1921. The shocking disclosure through the said articles in the said journals could also be a reflection of the fact that such wild ideas are currently being freely dabbled by a sizable section of the “Think-Tanks” in the U.S.

The salient points of the article in Foreign Affairs are as follows:

(a)  “For almost half a century, the world’s most powerful nuclear states have been locked in a military stalemate known as mutual assured destruction (MAD). By the early 1960, the nuclear arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union had gone so large and sophisticated that neither country could entirely destroy the others’ retaliatory force by launching first, even with a surprise attack. Starting a nuclear war was therefore tantamount to suicide.”

(b)  “Today, for the first time in almost 50 years, the United States stands on the verge of attaining nuclear primacy. It will probably soon be possible for the United States to destroy the long-range nuclear arsenals of Russia or China with a first strike.” (p.43)

(c)  “This dramatic shift in the nuclear balance of power stems from a series of improvements in the United States’ nuclear systems, the precipitous decline of Russia’s arsenal, and the glacial pace of modernization of China’s nuclear forces.”(p. 43)

(d)  “According to our model, such a simplified surprise attack would have a good chance of destroying every Russian bomber base, submarine, and ICBM.”(p.48)

(e)  “Moreover, our model indicates that all of Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal would still be destroyed even if U.S. weapons were 20 percent less accurate than we assumed, or if U.S. weapons were only 70 percent reliable, or if Russian ICBM silos were 50 percent “harder” (more reinforced, and hence more resistant to attack) than we expected. (Of course, the unclassified estimates we used may understate the capabilities of U.S. forces, making an attack even more likely to succeed.)” (p.48)

(f)   “China’s nuclear arsenal is even more vulnerable to a U.S. attack. A U.S. first strike could succeed whether it was launched as a surprise or in the midst of a crisis during a Chinese alert. China has a limited strategic nuclear arsenal.” (p.48)

(g)  “Motivations are always hard to pin down, but the weight of the evidence suggests that Washington is, in fact, deliberately seeking nuclear primacy. For one thing, U.S. leaders have always aspired to this goal.” (p.50)

(h) “The current and future U.S. nuclear force, in other words, seems designed to carry out a preemptive disarming strike against Russia or China.”(p.51)

(i)  “The intentional pursuit of nuclear primacy is, moreover, entirely consistent with the United States’ declared policy of expanding its global dominance.” (p.52)

(j)   “Washington’s continued refusal to eschew a first strike and the country’s development of a limited missile-defense capability take on a new, and possibly more menacing, look. The most logical conclusions to make are that a nuclear-war-fighting capability remains a key component of the United States’ military doctrine and that nuclear primacy remains a goal of the United States.”(p.53)

The article is also significant for the fact that it evoked a response from the U.S. Administration. In a slipshod response titled “Just the Facts” in Foreign Affairs (Vol.85, No.5, September/October 2006), Peter C. W. Flory, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy, stated as follows:

“The essay by Keir Lieber and Daryl Press (“The Rise of U.S. Nuclear Primacy,” March/April 2006) contains so many errors, on a topic of such gravity, that a Department of Defense response is required to correct the record.”(p.149)

It cannot be the policy of the U.S. Administration to respond to every error-prone article. It is obvious that the article has, indeed, touched on the raw nerve of the U.S. Administration, which has forced it to deny the charge about its aggressive intent. According to Peter Flory:

“Publicly available facts contradict Lieber and Press’ thesis that the United States is pursuing a first-strike strategy…. This administration has continued the policy of previous administrations in that it does not rely on the ability to conduct a nuclear first strike to ensure the survival of the United States.” (p.150)

Nobody had advanced the argument that the U.S. is relying on the ability to conduct a nuclear first strike “to ensure the survival of the United States”. On the contrary, the argument, which has been advanced, is that, by relying on its ability to conduct a nuclear first strike, the U.S. is developing the capacity to ensure that its adversaries do not survive. Moreover, the truth is that, even in the absence of the classified information that is not available publicly, just the “publicly available facts” only confirm Lieber and Press’ assertion. As Lieber and Press, in their rejoinder to Peter Flory’s criticism, which was published in Foreign Affairs (Vol.85, No.5, September/ October 2006), have pointed out:

“…a recently declassified White House memorandum from 1969 reveals that the nuclear war plan at the time included five options for a full-scale nuclear attack, three of which were explicitly preemptive. The document even refers obliquely to the possibility that the United States might have considered launching a nuclear attack without a preceding period of tensions in order to take the Soviets completely by surprise. (The document is posted on the Internet at” (p.156)

The said White House Memorandum, which is dated 08 Nov, 1969 and which was declassified on 04 Dec, 2004, effectively nails Peter Flory’s lie that the U.S. Administration had never pursued a nuclear first strike strategy. Unfortunately, this document has since been removed from the Internet. Therefore, attached hereto is a similar document titled “History of the Joint Strategic Planning Staff: Background and Preparation of SIOP-62”. Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) was the United States’ highly secret general plan for waging nuclear war from 1961 to 2003 before it was replaced by “Operation Plan (OPLAN) 8044”. SIOP-62 states in a cold and calculated manner as follows:

“Specific objectives of the policy were to destroy or neutralize Sino-Soviet Bloc strategic strike force and major military and government control centers, and to strike urban-industrial centers to achieve the level of destruction indicated in Study 2009…. At the initial meeting of the staff six days later intelligence presented a working list, known as the National Strategic Target Data Base (NSTDB) of about 4000 targets.”

Just fifteen years after the unwarranted and senseless atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and unrepentant about the devastation those attacks caused, the U.S. military was all prepared to obliterate 4000 targets, including urban-industrial centres, across Soviet Union and China with far more powerful nuclear weapons unmindful of the extent of death and destruction such an attack would let loose. Such was the mindset within the U.S. military at that time and now. No wonder that President Eisenhower, in his farewell address to the nation on the eve his retirement from office, thought it prudent to warn his people that the U.S. military-industrial-complex posed a grave threat to democracy in the United States. In that speech, President Eisenhower had warned:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted.”

Unfortunately, President Eisenhower’s warning has turned out to be prophetic. As is evident from the policies pursued by the United States for the last 56 years, the unbridled power of the military-industrial-complex in the U.S. has been steadily growing ever since the assassination of U.S. President John Kennedy. Apart from the exposure by Keir Lieber and Daryl Press, important military planning documents, such as the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR, submitted to the U.S. Congress on 31 Dec, 2001); the Air Force Space Command’s Strategic Master Plan FY04 and Beyond (SMP, released on 04 Nov, 2002); and the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR, released on 06 Feb, 2006) shed additional light on the U.S. Administration’s aggressive intent.

Towards Total Domination

The U.S. National Space Policy, which was authorized by the U.S.  President on 31 Aug, 2006 and which is ostensibly intended to govern the conduct of U.S. space activities, is yet another policy document that has very grave implications as is evident from portions of it, which are quoted below:

(a)  “The United States will oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to or use of space. Proposed arms control agreements or restrictions must not impair the rights of the United States to conduct research, development, testing, and operations or other activities in space for U.S. national interests;” [Section 2, para 6] and

(b)  “…the Secretary of State and other heads of departments and agencies…shall: … Develop capabilities, plans, and options to ensure freedom of action in space, and, if directed, deny such freedom of action to adversaries;” [Section 5, para10] (Emphasis added)

The tenor of the U.S. National Space Policy itself is an expression of extreme arrogance on the part of the U.S. Administration. Without giving any guarantee that the U.S. would not carry out any activity in outer space that is hostile to the interest of other nations, the U.S. has the temerity to state that, if necessary, it could “deny such freedom of action to adversaries.” Besides, it is audacious enough to suggest that arms control agreements should not impinge on the right of the U.S. to effectively weaponize space! In short, the U.S. National Space Policy of 2006 grossly contravenes the ‘Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and other Celestial Bodies’ (Outer Space Treaty of 1967) that was adopted by the UN General Assembly vide Resolution No. A/RES/21/2222 on 19 Dec, 1966 and to which the U.S. is a signatory. For example:

Article I states that:

“The exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all [h]mankind.”

Article II states that:

“Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”and

Article IX states that:

“In the exploration and use of outer space … States Parties to the Treaty shall be guided by the principle of co-operation and mutual assistance and shall conduct all their activities in outer space … with due regard to the corresponding interests of all other States Parties to the Treaty.” 

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 has clearly stipulated that space activities have to be carried out “for the benefit and in the interests of all countries”; that “Outer space… is not subject to national appropriation”; and that “In the exploration and use of outer space… States Parties … shall conduct all their activities in outer space … with due regard to the corresponding interests of all other States Parties to the Treaty.” The U.S. has no compunctions in overlooking all such commitments.

The voting in the UN against weaponization of space reveals the fact that the U.S. is completely isolated on the issue. The UN First Committee adopted the resolution on Prevention of Arms Race in Outer Space (Resolution No. A/RES/61/58) on 06 Dec, 2006 with the support of 178 member states, with only the U.S. opposing it and Israel abstaining. As is evident from the voting pattern, even Israel, USA’s most trusted ally, did not think it prudent to support the U.S. on this highly contentious issue. USA’s determined bid to militarily dominate outer space has very grave implications for all humankind. If the adventurous move is not nipped in the bud, the potential danger is that almost all humanity, including the vast majority of U.S. citizens, could become subservient to the dictates of USA’s military-industrial-complex. These were the circumstances that compelled China to carry out the ASAT test on 11 Jan, 2007, in a bid to bring the United States back to the negotiating table to ban all anti satellite weapon systems.

Unfortunately, the situation has not changed for the better in the last thirteen years; instead it has only gone from bad to worse. Therefore, the challenge before the rest of humanity is to bring the United States to the negotiating table to negotiate an equitable treaty to ban weaponization of outer space. It is the intransigence of the United States and its insatiable obsession to dominate the world, which is the root cause of the threat of weaponization of outer space, which is a major problem confronting humanity today.

There are two draft treaties, namely, the draft treaty on Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) and draft treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and of the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects (PPWT), which are currently pending before the UN’s Conference on Disarmament in this regard. It is the United States, which is the main stumbling block in the adoption of theses draft treaties (that may require some further refinement). As Project Ploughshare, a Canada based NGO, which works to advance policies and actions to prevent war and armed violence and build peace, had pointed out as early as 2009:

“The draft Treaty on Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and of the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects (PPWT) (CD 2008), jointly introduced to the Conference on Disarmament (CD) by Russia and China in 2008, constituted a welcome step toward the non-weaponization of space. It was—and continues to be—the most promising proposal to fill the normative void in the current space security treaty regime.”

It is in India’s best interests to ensure the speedy adoption of these treaties with necessary changes. On the contrary, far from ensuring “National Security”, every attempt at developing and deploying different types of ASAT weapons would only deepen distrust between nations. Any attack on an adversary’s satellite would tantamount to declaration of war. The resulting disruption of communication systems would set off panic reactions leading to all out war by using all types of weapons at one’s disposal, which would push humanity towards doomsday in the form of mutually assured destruction of not only the confronting parties but also of the passive onlookers. Thus, the disruptive power of Anti Satellite weapons is such that they are antithetical to “National Interest” and “National Security” of every nation in every way. Therefore, the sooner the world prohibits ASAT weapons the better!


N.D. Jayaprakash is Joint Secretary, Delhi Science Forum and Co-Convenor, Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti (Coalition for supporting the Cause of the Bhopal Gas Victims).