Page 5

Cover Story ited to the Chinese. As the costs of procuring effective ASAT weapons fall, more powers will develop and build them. It is not hard to imagine the Iranians or North Koreans capitalizing on their ballistic missile expertise to design, manufacture, and export crude ASAT missiles within the next twenty years. While space is crucial to the military, its economic importance is perhaps even greater. The growing number of commercial and governmental satellites has become a keystone of the world’s infrastructure. A high volume of longdistance communication, internet access, and broadcasting is routed through satellites. Still more reliant are personal navigation systems and commercial logistics—including those vital to commercial shipping. Likewise, weather forecasting and climatology is almost exclusively dependent on satellite information. Space-related industry accounts for an increasing proportion of our GDP; furthermore, space technology research has resulted in many valuable spin-off applications at home. Researching, developing, producing, and even owning future satellites and other space installations will be of enormous value to the American economy and consumers. The United States has a compelling interest in preventing a shooting war in space. In addition to the risks posed to our military capabilities, the perils of such conflict are threefold. First, and most frighteningly, a large-scale conflict could disable the early warning satellites that the major nuclear powers use to track intercontinental ballistic missile launches. These satellites preserve international stability by ensuring that preemptive nuclear decapitation strikes are impossible to execute. Given the high rate of false warnings from other nuclear sensors (in 1983 alone, for instance, there were 255 false warnings) and the intense stress and fear that would be manifest during a war, the loss of these satellites would significantly increase the risk of accidental nuclear war. Second, the global economy would be severely crippled by the loss of the satellites it relies upon. The immediate effect would almost certainly be a major recession, with economic growth rates mark-

edly reduced by the infrastructure loss in the long run. Finally, the widespread destruction of satellites would strew a considerable amount of “junk” all across earth’s orbit. This would make much of near earth space unusable for decades and greatly harm our ability to conduct any type of future space mission. The most important step we can take to immediately reduce our space vulnerability is to invest in both passive and active satellite security measures. Our current satellite network is highly susceptible to attack because it is comprised of easily tracked satellites with little redundancy between them. The most promising long-

its space program and recently became only the third country to put a man in orbit. Third, the perils of war, as noted earlier, far outweigh any benefits accrued by those seeking to use space for offensive advantage. It would thus be foolish to build spacebased attack platforms, or even a spacebased ballistic missile defense shield, as some have suggested. These actions would incite others to follow suit, and ultimately turn Earth’s orbit into a legitimate military target. We would be wasting considerable resources on these weapons and increasing the risk of a space war, with its attendant consequences. Nevertheless, given the immense value of our interests in space, it would be foolish not to develop the military technology to defend our orbital assets from attack. We need to develop our own laserbased ASAT weaponry in order to extend our military strength against other technologically sophisticated powers; if they can disable our satellites without fear of a similar retaliation, we will be at a lethal disadvantage. More fundamentally, we should seek to craft a mutually advantageous “ruleset” for space exploitation that all the great powers can agree to. The world needs to recognize that military competition over space resources will be entirely counterproductive, given the enormous firepower that each side can project against the others. The world’s powers have peacefully partitioned contested resources before; we can and should establish rules for space development that satisfy the needs and wants of each power. It would be hubris to believe that we have the foresight to realize what rules ought to govern space conduct decades down the line, but given the risks involved, it would be short-sighted and reckless not to begin the process now, when our options are open and future patterns of conflict and cooperation have yet to be settled. Afp

“Military competition over space resources will be entirely counterproductive, given the enormous firepower that each side can project against the others.” term solution is to replace them with a large network of cheaper, stealthy microsatellites, which would be extremely difficult to disable. Moreover, the government must mandate that commercially operated satellites have increased redundancy and survivability. Private satellite operators will be loath to pay for the additional expense, but their services have become a vital public good that we cannot afford to leave vulnerable. In the long-term, American space policy must be predicated on three planks. First, like all areas of critical value, space will eventually become militarized, if only defensively. World powers will not be content to permit assets crucial to their economic and national security to lie vulnerable to enemy attack, for, as elsewhere, force of arms is the final law in space. Nevertheless, neither the placement of offensive weapons in space nor the destruction of satellites and other space installations is inevitable. Such actions would be both very costly and highly visible, so the potential for successful multilateral arms control is significant. Second, any policy that relies on space supremacy will be foiled, as the United States will not be able to maintain hegemony in space. China, India, and others have the will and the economic capacity to match American space prowess in the future; China, for instance, has invested substantially in

April 2008

Joshua may be reached at jehtwo@princeton.edu

5

April 2008 Issue  

AFP's April 2008 print edition

April 2008 Issue  

AFP's April 2008 print edition

Advertisement