August 11, 2001
In their July 22 meeting in Genoa, Italy, President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to consider the topics of national missile defense and further cuts in nuclear arsenals. While discussion is preferable to confrontation, agreement here is by no means assured. Russia wants to continue to have some influence over future U.S. missile defense developments.
Consequently, it might be willing to amend the ABM Treaty to give it a handhold for the future. But it has instead become clear that the administration’s goal is to end the the ABM Treaty, not to amend it. This goal contravenes the pledge of the U.S. government and 186 other governments at the May 2000 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference to preserve and strengthen the ABM Treaty ”as a cornerstone of strategic stability.”
Whatever the outcome of the ABM Treaty, U.S. moves on missile defense will trigger two crucial developments. First, China would not be a party to any U.S.-Russia understanding. Although missile defenses as now planned probably would not work, Chinese military planners have to assume they might work someday and could nullify China’s own nuclear deterrent. This will increase China’s nuclear arsenal far beyond current modernization plans. In a chain reaction, this development will stimulate increases in the Indian and Pakistani arsenals.
The second crucial development is the expansion of the Bush missile defense system to outer space. On July 17, Robert Snyder, executive director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, announced that the administration’s missile defense project includes funds for space-based lasers and interceptors. This would be the decisive step in the arming of space–now an open realm for all. Not only China and Russia but nearly the entire world community opposes this. The norm against the weaponization of space and for keeping armed conflict out of space and ensuring its peaceful use by hundreds of communications and imaging satellites, is very strong. Breaching that norm will elicit even more adverse reaction worldwide than the Bush administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty. Why is the administration going out of its way to add this highly sensitive issue to the already vigorous controversy over national missile defense?
The 1967 Outer Space Treaty is based on ”the common interest of all mankind in the progress of the exploration and use of space for peaceful purposes” as ”the province of all mankind.” Compare that vision with the U.S. Space Command’s Long-Range Plan and Vision for 2020 https://web.archive.org/web/20020203042914/https://www.spacecom.af.mil:80/usspace/LRPTOC.htm). In this plan, the United States pursues unilateral total domination of land, sea, air, cyberspace and outer space through weapons and sensors that would come from proposed sea, land, air and space-based missile defense systems. Once a stealth effort led by a tight band of zealots in the Defense Department, the weapons labs and U.S. Space Command, this strategy is now championed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and is becoming embedded in U.S. security policy.
The rushed deployment of a costly and almost certainly unworkable national missile defense system makes no sense. But it does make sense if the underlying motive is to use the missile defense issue as grounds for moving to the weaponization of space and ultimately to its domination.
Repeated UN resolutions calling for the prevention of space weaponization have been nearly unanimous and without any no votes. Recognizing this fact, the United States, backed by only two small client states, has dared only to abstain. The community of nations will not tolerate one country’s dominance of a weaponized space. Political and ultimately military challenges will certainly be mounted to contest U.S. dominance.
Not only is this very bad for our security, it contradicts our identity as a nation. Our country was founded in response to the actions of an over-reaching, hegemonic empire. In placing weapons over everyone on the planet, the United States is in peril of over-reaching itself.
Retired ambassador Jonathan Dean, a longtime State Department arms control negotiator, is now adviser on international security issues, Union of Concerned Scientists. Jonathan Granoff is president of the Global Security Institute and chairman of the American Bar Association Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament.