communications in and out of the Persian Gulf region.
Weaponisation of space
While space has become an increasingly important arena for military operations, countries have not yet placed weapons in space or developed weapons which would fire into space. Thus, for the moment, space is non-weaponised. However, this situation may soon change. A number of countries, including Russia, China and the US, are reported to already be developing anti-satellite weapons.
In January 2001 The Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Managament and Organisation, chaired by Donald Rumsfeld, now US Secretary of Defense, recommended that "the US Government should vigorously pursue the capabilities called for in the National Space Policy to ensure that the President will have the option to deploy weapons in space to deter threats to and, if necessary, defend against attack on US interests."
Even before the Commission had been established, the US was conducting research and development in anti-satellite weapons, space based earth-strike weapons, and deployment of support systems. In preparation for the deployment of anti-satellite weapons, for example, the US has deployed a Space Surveillance Network which detects, tracks, identifies and catalogs all space objects in case the US finds it "necessary to disrupt, degrade, deny or destroy enemy space capabilities in future conflicts"
The US Space Command's plans for the development of space-based and space directed weapons are laid out in its 1998 Long Range Plan. The integrated system of surveillance, navigation, communication, and attack capabilities are being developed in order to "protect military and commercial national interests and investment in space," and "to deny others the use of space, if required."
Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space
The US Space Command notes that space is the new frontier - that "space is a region with increasing commercial, civil, international and military interests and investments." And that "the threat to these vital systems is also increasing." The response of the US is to plan, research, develop and deploy weapons systems to protect US interests and infrastructure in space.
The effect of this approach will likely be an arms race in outer space as other countries move to protect their interests against possible attack from the US. The alternative approach is to develop multi-laterally negotiated controls on weapons in space through a new space treaty. Such a treaty would:
Ban the testing, production, deployment or use of weapons in space;
Ban the testing, production, deployment or use of earth-based weapons which operate into space;
Require the notification of all planned space activities;
Establish monitoring and verification procedures;
Include procedures for resolving conflicts regarding military use of space and enforcement mechanisms for violations of the treaty.
The United Nations has adopted a number of resolutions calling for negotiations to prevent an arms race in outer space. China has proposed the establishment of an ad hoc committee in the Conference on Disarmament to negotiate a treaty prohibiting the weaponisation of outer space.
Other countries, including Pakistan, have supported the proposal, noting that there are plans for space weaponisation, including elements of Ballistic Missile Defense programs, and that prevention of an arms race in outer space through an agreed treaty would be preferable to trying to pull back such developments after they occurred.
The CD, which functions by consensus, has been unable to move forward on China's proposal because of the opposition of some countries, primarily the US which claims that there is not an arms race in outer space and thus there is no need for such negotiations.
Peaceful use of outer space
Technological developments in space have opened opportunities for many benefits to humanity including global communication systems and geological and meteorological information. The global reach of space lends itself to the development of international systems thus increasing global cooperation and decreasing nation-state based systems and nationalism. In addition, the communication and verification capabilities offered by space systems make more possible the negotiation of verifiable disarmament treaties. The view of earth itself from outer space presents a perspective of our planet as a unified, interconnected and unique kernel of life, which like a spaceship, should not be fought over or destroyed by the folly of war. Thus, space in the 21st Century offers an opportunity to move towards a world of common security and disarmament rather than one of conflict and more arms races.