"Fear will keep them in line- fear of this battlestation."
This line is also what ran through my head when I read this news about the newest iteration of U.S. space policy.** I will allow the article to summarize:
The US has claimed "dibs" on the Universe with its new space policy. The document, signed by President Bush, was released on a Friday, just before a long weekend in the States. This, in itself has caused a bit of a stir, but not more so than the tone and content of the document.
In it, the US government allocates itself rights to access and use space without anyone else getting in its way. It also sets security at the heart of the space agenda, frequently citing its right to use space as part of its national defence.
Significantly, however, it does not commit to restrict, or even to join talks about restricting the development of space-based weapons. This is despite a UN vote last year in which 160 nations voted in favour of such talks.
The first bullet point outlining the principles of the programme sets the tone for the rest of the document:
"The United States is committed to the exploration and use of outer space by all nations for peaceful purposes, and for the benefit of all humanity. Consistent with this principle, 'peaceful purposes' allow US defence and intelligence-related activities in pursuit of national interests."
The document then warms to its military theme. The first fundamental goal of the programme is not given as being to explore the solar system or better understand the Universe, but:
"[To] strengthen the nation's space leadership and ensure that space capabilities are available in time to further US national security, homeland security, and foreign policy objectives."
So, it appears that the ongoing militarization of U.S. culture is being extended, once again, to space. We're heading back into the days of the Strategic Defense Inititative and when the U.S. seriously considered placing nuclear missiles on the moon as a retaliation weapon against the Soviet Union.***
Realistically I have only limited objections to placing weapons in space. Sure it's dangerous and raises tensions but, that said, once you have ICBMs and hydrogen bombs, additional weaponry starts to become icing on the cake. I have to admit, a military space program might well help develop the technologies necessary for peaceful, productive use of near-Earth space. Since I think we as a species will have to expand to other worlds and, eventually, star systems if we are to survive, I'm generally in favor of such technology. Finally, we just can't beat the costumes that will come with such bold leadership.
No, my real issue with this is as follows: we have no serious adversaries on the state level. We're (relatively) friendly with Europe, China doesn't have the capability to reach us except with ICBMs.**** Russia is effectively bankrupt and the Arab world isn't exactly a military powerhouse. No, the folks we have to fight right now are, at best, decentralized terrorist cells operating both in rural areas of rogue states***** and within our own cities. So, can someone tell me exactly what fucking good orbiting particle beam weapons and kinetic bombardment systems are going to do against that? What are we going to do, level a block of New York because a terrorist cell MIGHT be set up there? More to the point, what possible use would orbital weapons be for fighting groups that really demand the use of infantry and deep-cover agents?
There might be a lot of things we could do with this expanded presence in space, but I don't think any of them have to do with fighting terrorism.
What's the real purpose then? I'm not sure- but I'm fairly certain I'm not gonna like it.
* Yes, that is his actual title.
** I think this space policy will strike Tom in particular as unexpected and ill advised.
*** No, seriously, this was discussed. We also thought about nuking the moon as a demonstration of our power. That reminds me of something, come to think of it...
**** Which is, frankly, enough.
***** Whatever the hell a "rogue state" is in a world of unhindered U.S. unilateralism.
As a side note: Special thanks to Bookmobile for bringing this to my attention.