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Trump’s Space Force: Resurrecting the Perilous Plan to Militarize Space

Donald Trump’s Space Force would spur an “arms race in space” and violate the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, signed by the US, Russia, China, and 120 other nations, that designates space as a global commons to be used solely for peaceful purposes.

The TrumpVader poster.
The TrumpVader poster designed to highlight the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space’s call for an “International Week of Protest to Stop the Militarization of Space,” October 6 -13, 2018. ,Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space.

The Trump administration is pushing hard on its scheme to create a Space Force.  Last week Vice President Pence, chairman of a newly reconstituted National Space Council, in a speech at the Pentagon declared: “The time has come to write the next great chapter in the history of our armed forces, to prepare for the next battlefield.”

Pence claimed—falsely: “Our adversaries have transformed space into a warfighting domain already and the United States will not shrink from the challenge.”

Trump, who in June announced he was “directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces,” following Pence’s address Thursday promptly tweeted: “Space Force all the way!”

At the same time, signaling that the Space Force drive will be used politically, the Trump campaign organization sent out an email asking supporters to choose between six Space Force logos that were depicted. “President Trump wants a Space Force—a groundbreaking endeavor for the future of America and the final frontier,” wrote Brad Parscale, campaign manager of “Donald J. Trump for President, 2020.” “To celebrate President Trump’s huge announcement, our campaign will be selling a new line of gear.” He asked backers pick “your favorite logo.”

“This is a crucial moment where the public must stand and say ‘hell no!” said Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, on his blog. “Star Wars” isn’t “affordable, is an insane idea, and would very likely lead to WW III—the final war,” said Gagnon.

The  Global Network, based in Maine and founded in 1992, decided at its annual meeting, in June in Oxford, United Kingdom, to have the Space Force scheme be the target of its “International Week of Protest to Stop the Militarization of Space.”

It will be held between October 6 and 13 with protests and other actions against the Space Force plan happening throughout the United States and internationally. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, U.S. Chapter, is the co-sponsor.

“How in the world can our bankrupt nation afford to pay for Star Wars which the aerospace industry has long claimed would be the largest industrial project in human history?” said Gagnon. “The only way is to completely destroy social progress—cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and what little is left of the welfare program. Are you going to stand for that?”

The poster the Global Network is using for the week is headed “No Space Force” and features a dour Trump in a Darth Vader helmet. Under this are “Space for Peace” and this explanation: “Trump has announced plans for a Space Force—a separate military service which would ensure US ‘control and domination’ of space on behalf of corporate interests. China, Russia and other space-faring nations would be its targets. Under aerospace industry pressure this proposal would necessitate massive amounts of taxpayer dollars. We call it Pyramids to the Heavens.  Congress will have final approval of Trump’s proposal. The U.N.’s Outer Space Treaty and Moon Treaties declare that space must be preserved for all of humanity. Help us defeat plans to weaponize space. Work to protect social progress on Earth rather than a new arms race in space. #No Space Force.”

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If Donald Trump gets his way and there is a U.S. Space Force, the heavens would become a war zone, there would indeed be an “arms race in space,” and inevitably war in space.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis introducing Pence at his Pentagon appearance, said a Space Force is needed because space “is becoming a contested-war-fighting domain.” In reality, like Pence’s declaration—”Our adversaries have transformed space into a warfighting domain already”—it isn’t true.

That’s in part because of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 which designates space as a global commons to be used for peaceful purposes—of which Russia and China and the U.S. are parties. Indeed, the U.S. along with the U.K. and the Soviet Union, worked together in assembling the treaty.

As Craig Eisendrath, who had been a U.S. State Department officer involved in its creation noted in the 2001 TV documentary I wrote and narrate, “Star Wars Returns,” the Soviet Union had launched the first space satellite, Sputnik, in 1957 and “we sought to de-weaponize space before it got weaponized…to keep war out of space.”

Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966, it entered into force in 1967.  It has been ratified or signed by 123 nations. It provides that nations “undertake not to place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in space in any other manner.”

The Trump administration is hanging its claim that space has become a “war-fighting domain” on a stupid act by China in 2007 of using a missile to destroy one of its obsolete weather satellites. The Chinese claimed it had notified the U.S., Japan and other countries before it did this. And its Foreign Ministry subsequently insisted, “There’s no need to feel threatened about this,” and pointed out that China had long pressed for an expansion of the Outer Space Treaty to prohibit not just weapons of mass destruction but all weapons from space—something the U.S., alone among nations, had and has long opposed.

The following year, the U.S. itself used one of its missiles to destroy a non-functioning U.S. satellite.

Whether done by China or the U.S., that’s a dumb way to eliminate an old satellite—it causes significant space debris.

Beyond the intent of the Outer Space Treaty and its setting space aside as a global commons, neither Russia or China have been interested in bringing war into space for economic reasons. I’ve been researching—writing books and articles and doing television programs—on the space warfare issue for more than 30 years and have made numerous trips to Russia and gone to China, too.

Fielding space weaponry would be hugely expensive. It is no comparison to, let’s say, the tank-like Bradley Fighting Vehicle costing $3.1 million. Billions and billions would need to be expended. But the situation changes if the U.S. deploys weaponry in space with a Space Forceand with the intention of dominating the Earth from this high ground.

And as Trump made clear in his June announcement: “It is not enough to merely have an American presence in space, we must have American dominance in space.”

This will not be accepted by Russia and China and other countries. Under these conditions, they then will be up there, too, with weapons —despite their enormous reluctance through the decades to drain their national treasures on deploying weapons in space.

The notion of the U.S. moving into space with weapons goes way back, to the post-World War II years when the U.S. government brought former Nazi rocket scientists from Germany to the U.S. to use “their technological expertise to help create the U.S. space and weapons program,” writes Jack Manno, a professor at the State University of New York/Environmental Science and Forestry College, in his book Arming the Heavens: The Hidden Military Agenda for Space, 1945-1995“Many of the early space war schemes were dreamt up by scientists working for the German military, scientists who brought their rockets and their ideas to America after the war.”

Well before Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars,” Manno writes about former German Major General Walter Dornberger, formerly in charge of the entire Nazi rocket program, who “in 1947 as a consultant to the U.S Air Force and adviser to the Department of Defense…wrote a planning paper for his new employers. He proposed a system of hundreds of nuclear-armed satellites all orbiting at different altitudes and angles, each capable or reentering the atmosphere on command from Earth to proceed to its target. The Air Force began early work on Dornberger’s idea under the acronym NABS (Nuclear Armed Bombardment Satellites).”

Then came “Star Wars.” Reagan on a visit to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, when he was its governor, met with atomic physicist Edward Teller, the “father” of the hydrogen bomb and the director of the lab, who outlined for him a plan of having orbiting hydrogen bombs that would energize X-ray lasers. “As the bomb at the core of an X-ray battle station exploded, multiple beams would flash out to strike multiple targets before the entire station consumed itself in in a ball of nuclear fire,” explained New York Times reporter William Broad in his 1986 book Star Warriors.

When Reagan became president, in the “Star Wars” design there was a shift to using orbiting battle platforms with nuclear reactors or “super” plutonium-fueled radioisotope thermoelectric generators which would provide the power for hypervelocity guns, particle beams and laser weapons.

The U.S military has been very interested in space warfare.

A U.S. Space Command was formed in 1982. “US Space Command—dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect US interests and investment. Integrating Space Forces into war-fighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict,” it trumpeted in its 1998 report Vision for 2020. The U.S. Space Command was set up by the Pentagon to “help institutionalize the use of space.” Or, as the motto of one of its units declares, to be “Master of Space.”

Vision for 2020 states, “Historically, military forces have evolved to protect national interests and investments-both military and economic.” Nations built navies “to protect and enhance their commercial interests” and during “the westward expansion of the United States, military outposts and the cavalry emerged to protect our wagon trains, settlements and railroads. The emergence of space power follows both of these models. During the early portion of the 2lst Century, space power will also evolve into a separate and equal medium of warfare.”

“It’s politically sensitive, but it’s going to happen,” remarked U.S. Space Command Commander-in-Chief Joseph W. Ashy in Aviation Week and Space Technology in 1996. “Some people don’t want to hear this, and it sure isn’t in vogue, but—absolutely—we’re going to fight in space. We’re going to fight fromspace and we’re going to fight intospace…. We will engage terrestrial targets someday—ships, airplanes, land targets—from space.”

Or as a 2001 report of a space panel chaired by then U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld asserted: “In the coming period the U.S. will conduct operations to, from, in and through space in support of its national interests both on the earth and in space.”

The link between nuclear power and space weaponry has been explicitly emphasized.

“In the next two decades, new technologies will allow the fielding of space-based weapons of devastating effectiveness to be used to deliver energy and mass as force projection in tactical and strategic conflict,” stated New World Vistas: Air and Space Power for the 21st Century, a 1996 US Air Force board report. “These advances will enable lasers with reasonable mass and cost to effect very many kills.” However, “power limitations impose restrictions” on such space weaponry making them “relatively unfeasible,” but “a natural technology to enable high power is nuclear power in space.” Says the report: “Setting the emotional issues of nuclear power aside, this technology offers a viable alternative for large amounts of power in space.”

As General James Abrahamson, director of the Strategic Defense Initiative, put it at a Symposium on Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion, “without reactors in orbit [there is] going to be a long, long light [extension] cord that goes down to the surface of the Earth” to power space weaponry.

The intense push for “Star Wars” diminished somewhat under the administration of George H. W. Bush but returned under his son, George W. Bush. Other post-Reagan presidents were in varying degrees cool on it.

And now has come Trump.

“The Pentagon is giving Trump is Space Force. Congress may take it away,” was the headline in a Vox article earlier this month. It cited Sean O’Keefe, a former NASA administrator and U.S. Navy secretary, as saying: “This is a solution in search of a problem.”

And it quoted Deborah Lee James, “the last Air Force secretary and an open critic of the Space Force idea, as saying: “Congress definitely gets a voice.”

There is some resistance in Congress. But a lot will depend, as on all things Trump, on the mid-term election in November and whether the Republican majority in Congress is altered.

We might be somewhat inured to space warfare by the decades of movies and TV programs involving space warfare—from Flash Gordon to Star Trek—but a shooting war involving nuclear-energized space weaponry would be no movie or TV show. It would be an unprecedented calamity in which, beyond the immediate destruction and massive deaths, there would be huge amounts of radioactive debris raining down on Earth for centuries and the space above our heads littered with debris making it impossible to get up and out to explore space.

In his foreword to my 2001 book Weapons in SpaceDr. Michio Kaku, the world-renowned physicist and professor at the City University of New York, wrote: “The weaponization of space represents a real threat to the security of everyone on Earth. Not only will this squander hundreds of billions in taxpayer dollars, which are better spent on education, health, housing, and the welfare of the people, it will greatly accelerate a new arms race in space, with other nations working feverishly to penetrate a U.S. Star Wars program, or to build one themselves. A whole new round of the arms race could begin….The time to stop this madness, therefore, is now, while Star Wars and affiliated programs are still in their infancy.”

[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. 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.]