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Space Supremacy

It's the goal of America's new space policy.

11:00 PM, Nov 1, 2006 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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ON OCTOBER 18, the Washington Post reported on "the first revision of U.S. space policy in nearly 10 years." The specifics of that revision remain largely classified; however, the government did post an unclassified overview of the new policy which can be read here.

According to that document, "the President authorized a new national space policy on August 31, 2006 that establishes overarching national policy that governs the conduct of U.S. space activities." The document sets out a series of principles, goals, and guidelines that largely conform to the recommendations of the Commission to Assess United States National Security, Space Management, and Organization--otherwise known as the Rumsfeld Commission. That commission, which presented its recommendations in January of 2001, was authorized by a coalition of Republican senators who were concerned by the fact that "annual [Defense] budgets repeatedly short-change space programs," and was chaired by Donald Rumsfeld, who had become the nominee for Secretary of Defense by the time the commission's recommendations were delivered.

The ultimate goal of this new policy, as recommended by the commission more than five years ago, is to assure that the United States is able to "develop and deploy the means to deter and defend against hostile acts directed at U.S. space assets and against the uses of space hostile to U.S. interests." As General Lance W. Lord, the former commander of Air Force Space Command, told an Air Force conference in September of 2005, "Space supremacy is our vision for the future."

And space supremacy is now the official policy of the United States government. Among the principles set forth in the new document is that the United States "rejects any limitations on the fundamental right of the United States to operate in and acquire data from space;" furthermore, "the United States will view purposeful interference with its space systems as an infringement on its rights." It goes on to assert that the United States will "preserve its rights, capabilities, and freedom of action in space . . . and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests." In an outright rejection of the sovereignty of the international community in space, the new policy also states that the United States "will oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to or use of space."

THIS WAS BIG NEWS in the foreign press, where headlines characterized the policy as a new imperialism. The Independent blared "America intends to claim a new empire," and the Times of London proclaimed "America wants it all--life, the Universe and everything." The administration's domestic critics have blasted the policy as unilateral and unnecessary. Both points were made by the American Prospect's Matthew Yglesias, who wrote that,

having failed to kill Osama bin Laden, or stabilize Iraq, or resolve issues relating to Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs, the administration is preparing to tackle the pressing issue of Martian invaders. That, and also the extremely hypothetical chance that someday in the future some other country--Russia or China or India, one assumes--will find itself engaged in a struggle for space supremacy with the United States. . . . If we're worried about space at all, the thing to do is strengthen agreements among the major powers to avoid an arms race--that will make everyone happy.

The only problem is that this "extremely hypothetical" scenario is already reality. Earlier this month the Pentagon confirmed that China had tested a ground-based anti-satellite laser and had disabled a U.S. satellite in the process. There has long been speculation about China's research into high-energy laser weapons for the purpose of disrupting satellite communications, but this was the first hard proof that the Chinese were capable of deploying such a system.