Who Wants to Weaponize Outer Space?

U.S. military hardliners are pushing for military dominance of outer space and U.S. diplomats are blocking international efforts to ban its weaponization but the Obama administration pretends that Russia and China are the problem, as Sam Husseini explains.

By Sam Husseini

The recent box-office hit “The Martian” directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon depicts crucial coordination between the U.S. and Chinese space programs, but that’s not the way it’s playing out in the real world.

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James on Wednesday at the National Press Club responded to a question about the U.S. blocking efforts by Russia, China and over 100 other countries to ensure the disarmament of outer space by alleging that China and Russia are engaging in activities in space that are “worrisome.”

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James (Photo credit: U.S. Air Force)

Secretary James stated “we don’t have weapons in space in the United States.” She then added: “Now what has been very worrisome in recent years is that some other countries around the world, notably China and Russia, are investing and they’re testing in different types of capabilities which could shoot satellites out of orbit, and do other things to our capabilities and the capabilities of allies in space, which is worrisome.” [Question at 54:00, video of event.]

James’s comments were in response to a question that I submitted citing a United Nations vote last month which was 122 in favor to 4 against disarmament of outer space. The U.S. was one of the nations voting against the resolution.

John Hughes, the president of the National Press Club and moderator of the event, in his introduction of James, noted that she was recently made “the principal space adviser with expanded responsibilities of all Pentagon space activities.” Yet, Secretary James stated that she was “not familiar” with the UN vote.

Alice Slater, who is with Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and the Abolition 2000 coordinating committee and is a leading activist on disarmament, said: “It’s hard to believe that the U.S. Secretary of the Air Force is unaware of the U.S. military program to ‘dominate and control the military use of space’ as set forth in Pentagon documents such as Vision 2020 [PDF] or that the U.S. also has tested anti-satellite weapons in space.”

Summarizing UN votes on the military use of outer space, the UN’s website states: “The text, entitled ‘No first placement of weapons in outer space,’ reaffirmed the importance and urgency of the objective to prevent an outer space arms race and the willingness of States to contribute to that common goal.” The UN summary references a “draft treaty, introduced by China and the Russian Federation. … The draft was approved by a recorded vote of 122 in favour to 4 against (Israel, Ukraine, United States, Georgia), with 47 abstentions.” Yet, James, in her National Press Club remarks, painted Russia and China as the aggressors.

But consider Secretary James’s exact words. While she says “we don’t have weapons in space,” she sets a different standard when talking about Russia and China, which “are investing and they’re testing in different types of capabilities which could shoot satellites out of orbit,” which the U.S. obviously is doing as well.

There is a race to weaponize space though it would seem Russia, China and most other nations are making moves through the UN to stop it while the U.S. government appears to be hindering that effort.

In addition to Vision 2020, the influential neoconservative Project for a New American Century also called for U.S. control of space as one of its goals: “CONTROL THE NEW ‘INTERNATIONAL COMMONS’ OF SPACE AND ‘CYBERSPACE,’ and pave the way for the creation of a new military service — U.S. Space Forces — with the mission of space control.” [archived PDF]

Slater added: “It is common knowledge that when [the Cold War was nearing its end, Soviet President Mikhail] Gorbachev and [U.S. President Ronald] Reagan met in Reykjavik and were prepared to negotiate the total elimination of nuclear weapons, except the negotiations were aborted because Reagan refused to give up his dream of a U.S. military shield in space, commonly referred to at the time as Star Wars.

“Less well known, but nevertheless true, is that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin offered [U.S. President Bill] Clinton a deal to cut our arsenals of 16,000 nuclear weapons to 1,000 weapons each and call all the parties to the table to negotiate for nuclear abolition if the U.S. would cease its plans to put missile bases in Eastern Europe. Clinton refused and Putin backed out of his offer. Shortly thereafter, [President George W.] Bush actually walked out of the 1972 Anti-Balllistic Missile Treaty and put U.S. missiles and bases in Turkey, Romania and Poland. …

“In 2008, Russia and China proposed a draft treaty to ban space weapons which the U.S. blocked from going forward in the consensus-bound committee on disarmament in Geneva. This year, the U.S. voted to abstain from a Russian proposal to ban weapons in space at the UN First Committee of the General Assembly, joining only Israel and Palau, in not going forward to support the ban.”

Here is background material relating to the questions posed to Secretary James:

I submitted in writing a couple of other questions about air wars and killer drones which were not posed to James, though several questions were asked about drones, including one about killing of civilians. Here were the questions I submitted in writing before the event:

Q: airwars.org estimates that the current bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria over the last 482 days has leveled about 8,600 strikes and killed 682 to 2,104 civilians. Do you have an estimate for the number of civilians killed by U.S. airstrikes?

Q: The Guardian reports on four former drone pilots who recently wrote an impassioned plea to the Obama administration, calling for a rethink of a military tactic that they say has “fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like Isis, while also serving as a fundamental recruitment tool similar to Guantánamo Bay … We cannot sit silently by and witness tragedies like the attacks in Paris, knowing the devastating effects the drone program has overseas and at home.” Do you have any information on the long term consequences of the US government’s killer drone program? Can you tell us what countries US drones operate in? How do you respond to their letter from the former drone pilot whistleblowers — these are people who left lucrative careers operating drones because they concluded it was morally contemptible to continue.

Neither was asked, though the moderator, Hughes, did ask a number of questions about drones and raised the issue of civilian deaths in this question:

Q: “You talked about the effort to minimize collateral damage, or civilian deaths, in this effort how satisfied are you that you’ve been able to minimize civilian deaths in this campaign? And as you step up this effort now, will the risk of more civilian deaths rise?”

Deborah Lee James: “I am satisfied that our combined efforts and the way we are approaching this campaign is unprecedented in the history of warfare in terms of the care that we take to do everything possible to try to avoid civilian casualties. Is it 100 percent? No, because there are, from time to time, terrible tragedies. But with the thousands of sorties [a deployment or dispatch of one military unit, be it an aircraft, ship, or troops, from a strongpoint] that have been flown, the fact that there have only been a handful of these incidents, I think, is almost a miracle. So I am convinced we’re doing a good job, I saw some of it in action myself when I was in the CAOC [Combined Air and Space Operations Center] and the CGOC [Company Grade Officer’s Council], and enormous care is taken.”

Here’s the full question about weaponization of space:

Q: “This questioner says, ‘One month ago at the UN there was a vote for disarmament in space. The vote was 122 for and 4 against, the U.S. was one of the four against. Why is the U.S. against disarmament in space?”

Deborah Lee James: “Well, I’m not familiar with that vote, but what I will tell you about space and the proposition of space is this — number one, we don’t have weapons in space in the United States. Number two, we’re very focused on not creating debris in space. So to back up for just a minute, if you go back 20, 30 years there were relatively few countries, and few companies for that matter, who even could get themselves to space, but flash forward to the present day and there are many more countries and many more companies. Plus there is debris in space, there is space junk. So you’ve got thousands of these pieces of material whirling around at 40 or 50 thousand miles per hour and even a small piece of debris can do some serious damage to a billion dollar satellite. So debris is bad and we want to make sure that we minimize that at all costs. Now what has been very worrisome in recent years is that some other countries around the world, notably China and Russia are investing and they’re testing in different types of capabilities which could shoot satellites out of orbit, and do other things to our capabilities and the capabilities of allies in space- which is worrisome. And so what we have said is we need to focus more attention on space, we need to invest more in space, the resiliency of space, and we need to at all times get this point across- –particularly to some of these other countries that are investing and testing in these ways — that debris is bad, that debris hurts all of us.”

Sam Husseini is communications director for the Institute for Public Accuracy. Follow him on twitter: @samhusseini.

13 comments for “Who Wants to Weaponize Outer Space?

  1. Nick
    December 6, 2015 at 22:38

    They ask about weapons and this psycho goes off about debris. What a clueless idiot.

    • Dave Huntsman
      December 7, 2015 at 14:43

      They ask about weapons and this psycho goes off about debris. What a clueless idiot.

      You don’t understand the issue, Nick. When something is destroyed or breaks up in orbit, the immediate first and foremost issue is indeed space debris, and the danger it presents to everything else up there, including but not limited to the International Space Station; reconnaissance satellites that help keep the peace; weather satellites; and under the right situations even navigation and communications systems. If memory serves, when the Chinese last conducted a single anti-satellite test, the resulting debris generated increased the orbital debris threat to low-earth orbit systems by something like 30%.

  2. Mortimer
    December 6, 2015 at 10:29
  3. Bob
    December 5, 2015 at 16:24

    AF Secretary James’ comments about “space junk” in response to the question about disarmament of space appears to be a reference to the Air Force’s “Space Fence” program; the publicly stated rationale for that program is to track debris (space junk) out of concern of damage to in-use satellites. Is she hinting that the reason for the US vote at the UN was to reserve the right to shoot down space junk?

    The Space Fence contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin in Moorestown, NJ, the same division involved in using an Aegis-equipped Navy ship to shoot down a satellite whose orbit had decayed and was re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere.

    The problem is, who’s going to police the US and make sure we only shoot down “debris” and not another country’s surveillance satellite? And are these shoot-downs going to have the same “handful” of incidents of hitting the wrong targets as our drones?

  4. Mortimer
    December 5, 2015 at 15:42
  5. Mortimer
    December 5, 2015 at 15:21

    Weapons in Space
    Karl Grossman
    Pub Date: July 2001

    Foreword by Michio Kaku
    Weapons in Space examines how the United States is forcing forward—in violation of international treaties—to militarize space. Based on excerpts from U.S. government documents, award-winning investigative journalist Karl Grossman outlines the U.S. military’s space doctrine, its similarity with the original Stars Wars scheme of Ronald Reagan and Edward Teller, and the space-based lasers, hypervelocity guns, and particle beams it plans to deploy in its mission to “dominate” earth.
    Grossman shows the intimate link between the militarization and the nuclearization of space, and follows the flow of billions of U.S. tax dollars to the corporations that research and develop weapons for space. His book explains the Outer Space Treaty and gives a history of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear power in Space: what it is doing, what it plans to do—and what the reader can do to challenge U.S. plans to turn the heavens into a war zone.

    “Karl Grossman has been the leading journalist unraveling the complexities and wickedness of the new Star Wars scenarios, which would threaten all life on Earth with a new nuclear arms race, lateral proliferation of nuclear weapons, and inevitable nuclear winter. I strongly suggest therefore that this book be read by all people who have some investment in the continuation of life on this planet.” —Helen Caldicott, president emeritus, Physicians for Social Responsibility

    “Darth Vaders Death Star was a work of fiction, but as Karl Grossman reveals, there is a real Federation (an alliance of military-industrial forces) that is quietly plotting the takeover of space. These dark forces are planning to seize and control space—the ultimate strategic high ground. The laser guns, particle beam accelerators, and plutonium-powered orbiting reactors of the original Star Wars system are still on the drawing boards (and some already are on the launch pads). Over the past decade, no one has done more to expose and challenge this one-sided race to arm the heavens than Professor Grossman. When the ultimate history is written of the battle to keep weapons out of space, Karl Grossman deserves to be saluted as the Luke Skywalker of investigative journalism.” —Gar Smith, editor, Earth Island Journal

    “The consequences of the proposed National Missile Defense, designed to enhance the United States first strike capability, are alarming enough: nuclear conflict, more likely, a new nuclear arms race, the destruction of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Yet it is just the precursor to the even more frightening scenario that Karl Grossman sets before us: an all powerful United States using space to dominate a unipolar world to further its own interests. Real security is mutual and will be based on trust and equality in a mulitpolar world. None of us will be free until we are all free.” —Dave Knight, chair, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, United Kingdom

    KARL GROSSMAN has specialized in investigative reporting for more than 35 years. Honors he has received include the George Polk, the James Aronson, and the John Peter Zenger Awards. His reporting on the use of nuclear power and plans to deploy weapons in space has been cited six times by Project Censored. Grossman is the author of many books, including The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet and Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power.
    Grossman is a professor of journalism at the State University of New York, Old Westbury, where he teaches investigative reporting. He lives in tranquil Sag Harbor, New York.


  6. Joe Tedesky
    December 5, 2015 at 02:53

    I always put ‘cleaning up outer space’, under Infrastructure Projects.

  7. Obama scares me
    December 5, 2015 at 02:39

    Actually all of Washington scares the crap out of me. Whenever my cable and internet go out at the same time, I now fear that either i) the earth has been hit by a solar mass coronal ejection or ii) World War III has begun and all electronic communications have already been shut down. I immediately pick up the land line telephone receiver and turn on the radio to see if Armageddon is on its way. Not yet, though Obama seems to be working on it. Our great “peace-loving” American leaders tend to elicit such paranoia in their helpless game pieces such as you and me with their endless warmongering and bellicose rhetoric. One day they will push it too far and all life will end on this rock.

  8. Dave Huntsman
    December 4, 2015 at 19:33

    I’m a littler disturbed at the tone in this article; though it’s also unfortunate that the US’s lead military space official wasn’t even familiar with the UN vote and couldn’t explain the reasons for it. But as someone who has been in the (civilian) side of the government space effort for 40 years, let me guess as one thing: The Russians and the Chinese don’t seem to have any plans to actually BASE weapons in space; that requires more tech, money, and capability then they’ll have for the foreseeable future. But as James’ implied, they continue to research – and, test – weapons based on the ground, that could rapidly be used in space – and if I’m not mistaken, the Russian/Chinese proposal that the author of this article seems to automatically believe in the goodness of, just forgets to cover those weapons adequately.

    Space is not separate from the situation on Earth. From a security standpoint, you’ve got to cover them together; to pretend to cover only one aspect might give a good feeling – which is what the Russians and Chinese are playing to – but they have a hidden agenda behind it. I believe this article is an example of this website, once again, emotionally opining on subject matter that they haven’t taken the time to research at all.

    Dave Huntsman

    • Roberto
      December 5, 2015 at 00:49

      It’s all about who has the engineers.

    • Roberto
      December 5, 2015 at 00:49

      It’s all about who has the engineers.

    • Not impressed
      December 5, 2015 at 02:26

      If America were so pure of heart, why did they not simply add restricting such research activities to the Russian/Chinese proposal? The answer is obvious, America wants to deploy weapons in space to dominate the planet. Note the PNAC document claimed that the US should CONTROL space, not just utilise it.

  9. dahoit
    December 4, 2015 at 16:01

    Full Spectrum Dominance!How come we are losing,on all fronts?
    A colossal waste of humanity,all this crap.
    The dark ages redux.

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