U.S., China, Russia Play Power Politics in Space

U.S., China, Russia Play Power Politics in Space

The Bush administration recently published an unclassified version of its new National Space Policy. Like the 2005 National Defense Strategy and the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review, the new policy stresses the vital interest of the United States in remaining a major space power. Although it acknowledges the value of international cooperation in space and the right of "free passage" for all countries' satellites and other space-based objects, the policy reaffirms the intent to protect U.S. space capabilities by all available means.

The new policy will likely intensify Chinese and Russian fears that the United States intends to deploy weapons in space such as interceptor missiles, orbiting lasers, and massive metal rods that could rain down upon earth-based targets (nicknamed "metallurgical nukes" by Chinese defense analysts and "rods from god" by their more religious American colleagues). In particular, Chinese and Russian officials have expressed alarm that the United States want to acquire the means to orchestrate attacks in space against Chinese and Russian reconnaissance satellites and long-range ballistic missiles, whose trajectory takes them through the lower atmosphere. For several years, the Chinese and Russian delegations to various U.N. disarmament meetings have jointly proposed opening negotiations on preventing the militarization of space. Although the Bush administration has consistently denied accusations that it plans to deploy offensive weapons in space, U.S. representatives cast the sole vote against such U.N. proposals in October 2005 and November 2006. Department of Defense budget documents indicate that the Pentagon expects to spend $500 million in fiscal year 2008 for a Space Test Bed to conduct research on space-based ballistic missile defenses.

In response, the Chinese and Russian governments have issued broad threats intended to dissuade the United States from actually deploying -- as opposed to researching -- weapons in space. For example, in 2005 China's U.N. ambassador warned that China might reconsider its arms control and nonproliferation policies if the United States militarized space. That same year, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov threatened retaliation against any country that deployed spaced-based weapons. After the new U.S. space policy became public, Vladimir Popovkin, the commander of Russian Space Forces, said Russia "must be ready to take adequate offensive and defensive measures" if other countries were to develop and deploy space-based weapons.

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