The U.S. plan for a Space Force risks escalating a 'space arms race'

August 10, 2018 by Steven Freeland, The Conversation

The US wants a ‘Space Force’ to be the sixth branch of the US military. Credit: Shutterstock/Carlos Romero
,United States Vice President Mike Pence has confirmed overnight plans to create a "Space Force" as the sixth branch of the US military.

He repeated comments from President Donald Trump, who had said that "American dominance in space" was imperative.

Earlier this year, Trump said: "Space is a war-fighting domain, just like the land, air and sea."

These are deeply concerning sentiments coming from (arguably) the most powerful men on Earth. They risk irrevocably skewing the conversation about away from what it is, to something it should not be, thus distorting the reality of what space largely represents.

We need space

Of course space is strategic, and has always been so – but perhaps in different ways depending on one's perspective.

Our dependency on space assets has been driven both by the growth of the commercialisation of , but also its increasingly important security and military significance.

As regards the latter, space has in the past been characterised many times as "congested, contested, and competitive". It's a description put forward by analysts and (primarily) military commentators who then go on to postulate that war in space is inevitable.

No doubt there are concerns about the impacts of compromised satellite networks on terrestrial military and security activities. But after all that space gives us in terms of improving the lives of so many people, is that to be its defining feature – as a platform for military conduct?

I offer a different perception of the strategic implications of space – one that is equally plausible and much more in accordance with existing law and practice.

Considerations for space

While space is competitive, complex and challenging, it is also many other things. It is cooperative, collaborative, collective, and commercial. These are equally important strategic considerations for the whole of humanity, let alone for Australia.

Undoubtedly space is increasingly a dual-use area—where satellites at the same time offer commercial services to civil and military customers. This raises some interesting questions about the possible classification of certain satellites as legitimate targets of war.

But blithe assertions about the inevitability of war in space risk becoming self-fulfilling and self-defeating prophecies.

They represent an increasingly loud voice that threatens to drown out other, more rational ones. They ignore the uniqueness of the space domain and the peaceful purposes and common interest doctrines that underpin it.

A threat of an arms race in space

The fear is that rhetoric like that coming from those raising the inevitability of space war will fuel a race to the bottom, as all major (space) powers dedicate even more energy towards an arms race in space.

This also gives rise to the creeping colonisation of space around claims regarding resource exploitation and possible attempts by countries to establish systems to protect themselves against their vulnerabilities by denying access to space for others.

To ignore this and simply to try to argue that the legal framework supposedly supports war in space relies on an overly simplistic assertion that what is not expressly prohibited (by the treaties and international law) is permitted.

It is crucial that the underlying principles of space law and the practice of States in interpreting those principles continue to apply to preserve space for the "benefit and in the interests of all countries". This is specified in the Outer Space Treaty, to which virtually all space-faring nations, including the major powers, are bound.

The international rules that govern space dictate responsible behaviour, freedom of access but not lawlessness, and an adherence to well-established international principles and norms of behaviour that serve us well.

Properly respected, these allow for and encourage inspiration and optimism, innovation and development, commerce and science, notwithstanding the pressures of increasing commercialisation.

A militaristic view of space threatens the existing legal regime and can thwart the opportunities for all of us.

The humanity of space

In the end, we must not lose sight of the humanity of space and the need to use it for peaceful purposes underpins our very future. The existing rules recognise and reinforce these imperatives.

Thinking of space as a place to conduct war, dangerously jolts the conversation about space and gives rise to consequences that are too terrifying to contemplate. Asserting the inevitability of war in space simply argues that we should move down that untenable path.

Every effort must be made by all sectors of society to recalibrate those conversations. The countervailing voices must be heard. There are so many positive aspects to how space should be viewed. This is supported by law and practice.

Ironically, a good starting point could also be drawn from the words of President Trump himself: "In every way, there is no place like space."

Let's ensure that we keep it that way and avoid making the same horrible mistakes that we have made here on Earth.

Explore further: Trump wants a Space Force, but Pentagon has different idea

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5 / 5 (1) Aug 10, 2018
The cost of fuel, oxygen, raw materials, processing will be staggering to keep a military presence in space.
unless you use robots...

The picture is a copy of the Battlestar Galactica's fighter plane, ripoff!
1 / 5 (1) Aug 11, 2018
'Cant we all just... get along?' Ahaahaaaaa
1 / 5 (2) Aug 11, 2018 many trillion in debt?
How exactly is the US going to fund this? Oh right: defund science, education and healthcare...the usual.
not rated yet Aug 11, 2018

"Trump's proposal derives from a growing debate inside military and political circles about how to best meet the threat posed to American space assets by potential enemies: Russia and China, to be precise... have been creating the weapons to achieve an orbital Pearl Harbor, the destruction of satellites that provide the military with communications, navigation, and intelligence capabilities it will need in a war. After years of neglect, the current administration is pouring resources into a fevered attempt to play catchup before it's too late."

-How are they funding their programs?

Perhaps if NATO members paid their fair share there would be more money to do this. After all, comsats and GPS benefit euros as much as anyone else.
not rated yet Aug 11, 2018
otto, you haven't met a putin- inspired lie that you aren't enthusiastic about repeating.

The bogus dumpster tweets another flight of fancy and vp pennyante is there to add his insipid delusion for bringing the apocalypse.

Master Pimp putin manipulating his whores trumpenella and pennyweight with a recap of the same strategy the United States used to bring down the Soviet Union into economic ruin.

And you sucker collaborators fall for it! What pathetic dweebs you are.
5 / 5 (3) Aug 11, 2018
The lucky Andromedians who are not detained are all looking on in bemusement

Knowing Trump, I can see border controls over American space where all satellites stop in orbit and show their papers before there allowed passed, any aliens sneaking through the porous vacuous space fence, Trump will set up vacuous space detention centres detaining all aliens without passports - there will be aliens who have come all the way from the Andromeda galaxy without a hitch who made that fatal mistake of flying through American space who are detained indefinitely as spies from Andromeda

This vacuous space that has not seen a single sole in multitudes of 15biliions of years is having to deal with a whole plethora of problems with people seriously injuring themselves clambering over space fences and border patrols guarding this minute spec of vacuous vacuum and the lucky Andromedians who are not detained indefinitely are all looking on in bemusement!
not rated yet Aug 12, 2018
Perhaps if NATO members paid their fair share there would be more money to do this.

That's not how NATO works. The members have to spend the money on their -own- military, not into some common pool, or paying the US government anything.

The money goes indirectly to the US arms industry, because NATO members have to buy NATO compatible weapons and machinery, but that doesn't pay for any sort of space war because it's essentially private profit.

The cry about NATO members paying their share is about the US waging wars in the name of NATO and demanding other countries to contribute to those wars, whereas in reality the other NATO countries aren't obligated to pay anything. The US is spending a disproportionate amount of money in NATO because of conflicts that have nothing to do with, say, Belgium not spending a large enough portion of their budget on their own defence forces.
not rated yet Aug 12, 2018
Space armies are a futile endeavour, because space is so big, empty, and hostile, and you don't have enough fuel or time to get anywhere.

Shooting at someone with ballistic weapons in space is an excercise in sharpshooting over 1000 mile distances, where a speck of dust inside the gunbarrel means your aim goes a mile off. Lasers likewise suffer from focusing issues, and suck up huge amounts of energy you don't have.

You're vasty more likely to die of a simple accident or malfunction than enemy fire, and once you're up there, anyone can shoot you down with a simple shrapnel gun, and there's no way to dodge it because you can't make S-turns in orbit.

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