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Masters of Space: Deep Space Strategy in the Age of Trump

Image Source: United States Space Force – Public Domain

The United States “must be capable of winning wars that extend into space,” asserts a just-released “Defense Space Strategy” report. It is the first space strategy document issued by the U.S. since President Donald Trump, after declaring that the U.S. must achieve “dominance in space,” signed a measure this past December authorizing establishment of a Space Force.

The U.S. space strategy is highly aggressive.

“The Department of Defense is embarking on the most significant transformation in the history of the U.S. national security space program,” the report says. “Space is now a distinct warfighting domain, demanding enterprise-wide-changes to polices, strategies, operations, investments, capabilities, and expertise for a new strategic environment.”

“The Department,” it continues, “is taking innovative and bold actions to ensure space superiority and to secure the Nation’s vital interests in space now and in the future. Establishing the U.S. Space Force as the newest branch of our Armed force and the U.S. Space Command as a unified combatant command, as well as undertaking significant space acquisition reform across the DoD, has set a strategic path to expand space power for the Nation. It is a path that embraces space as a unique domain of national military power that, together with the other domains, underpins multi-domain joint and combined military operations to advance national security.”

A rationale for the strategy is the claim in the report that “China and Russia each have weaponized space as a means to reduce U.S. and allied military effectiveness and challenge our freedom of operation in space.”

However, China and Russia, for decades now, have sought to expand the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, put together by the U.S., the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union and now signed on to by most nations on Earth, declaring space a global commons to be used for “peaceful purposes” and outlawing weapons of mass destruction in space. China and Russia along with U.S. neighbor Canada have been seeking to widen that to ban all weapons in space under a Prevention of an Arms Race in Space (PAROS) treaty. But the U.S. has voted no to the proposed PAROS treaty, affectively vetoing its enactment at the United Nations.

The new U.S. Defense Space Strategy is “aggressive,” said the Russian foreign ministry in a statement following the report’s release on June 17th. “This document confirms the aggressive course by Washington in the space sphere,” it said.

“Space is seen by the U.S. side as an arena of war,” it continued, calling this a “destructive” approach which “provokes an arms race in space.”

“Russia holds the diametrically opposing position, giving priority to using and study space only for peaceful purposes,” said the Russian foreign ministry statement.

Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space  commented that “this ‘new’ Pentagon Space Strategy is really nothing new. At least since the 1997 U.S. Space Command’s ‘Vision for 2020’ report, Washington has been declaring that it will ‘control and dominate space’ and ‘deny other nations access to space.’ The big difference is that in 1997 there were actually no real competitors to U.S. in space as the former Soviet Union had recently collapsed and China had not fully grown into the economic and military rival it is today.”

As for the PAROS treaty, “the idea” has been “to close the door to the barn before the horse gets out.” But the U.S. during “both Republican and Democrat administrations” have taken the position: “There are no weapons in space—we don’t need a new treaty.”

“Of course, this is disingenuous and this blocking posture is largely motivated by the aerospace industry which views space as a vast new market for profit,” said Gagnon. “The nuclear industry similarly views space as we see the current drive to ‘privatize’ space so wealthy resource extraction corporations can ‘mine the sky.’ They are planning nuclear-powered mining colonies on celestial bodies and nuclear-powered rocket engines providing heavy lift capability to get to Mars and beyond.”

He said, “The aerospace industry has long maintained that an arms race in space, ‘Star Wars,’ would be the largest industrial project in human history. Some years back the aerospace publication, ‘Space News,’ ran an editorial stating that the industry needed to come up with a ‘dedicated funding source’ to pay for all its desired projects in space.” It said, Gagnon related, that the aerospace corporations were “sending their vast team of lobbyists to Washington to defund the ‘entitlement programs’ that officially are Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and what is left of the social safety net.  The industry is like a pirate—grabbing the national treasure chest so they can be the ‘Masters of Space.’”

“So what are Russia and China to do? We know that whomever controls space will control the planet below and also be able to control the pathway on and off the planet. Moscow and Beijing have requested new treaties, asked for stability, and warned that they cannot allow the US to ‘control and dominate’ space,” said Gagnon. “So today we hear the Pentagon screaming that Russia and China are now trying to dominate space and that the Pentagon needs even more of our tax dollars to ‘defend’ the heavens from these ‘existential enemies.’ The plan is in motion, the U.S. is leading the pack to weaponize space, and ever so ‘innocently’ accuses its primary competitors of doing what Washington itself is doing. Thus, we are on the edge of a cliff and the aerospace industry is pushing the whole planet into a chaotic abyss.”

To challenge this, “to beat this insane and provocative plan,” said Gagnon, “we must starve the beast. We can do that by fighting for social progress—programs like health care for all and funding to deal with our real problem today called climate crisis.”

The “Defense Space Strategy” report also declares: “Great power competition defines the strategic environment. Space is both a source of and conduit for national power, prosperity, and prestige. As a result, space is a domain that has reemerged as a central arena of great power competition, primarily with China and Russia. More than any other nation, the United States relies on space-based capabilities to project and employ power on a global scale. Today, U.S. reliance on space has increased to the point where space capabilities not only enhance, but enable our way of life and war of war.”

It says: “The creation of new space-focused organizations in DoD offers an historic opportunity to reform every aspect of our defense space enterprise. The USSF [U.S. Space Force], the newest branch of the Armed Forces, will bring unity, focus, and advocacy to organizing, training, and equipping space forces.”

Under a heading “Strategic Approach,” the report says the Pentagon will “pursue the following prioritized lines of effort….1) Build a comprehensive military advantage in space. 2) Integrate military spacepower into national, joint, and combined operations. 3) Shape the strategic environment. 4) Cooperate with allies, partners, industry, and other U.S. Government departments and agencies.”

“Specific objectives,” the report continues, “include: Build out the U.S. Space Force. Develop and document doctrinal foundations of military spacepower. Develop and expand warfighting expertise and culture.”

In its “Conclusion,” the report says: “Successful implementation of this strategy requires embracing space activities as a unique source of national and military power and incorporating the principles of joint warfare into space operations.”

For more information see the Beyond Nuclear handbook, The U.S. Space Force and the dangers of nuclear power and nuclear war in space.

More articles by:

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, and is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet, and the Beyond Nuclear handbook, The U.S. Space Force and the dangers of nuclear power and nuclear war in space. 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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