Friday, March 1, 2024

Quote of the Day (Jeffrey Lewis, on the Coming Military Challenge in Space)

“China, India, Russia, and the United States have all conducted antisatellite tests that created large amounts of debris. If they continue to conduct these tests, or if other countries follow suit, then the debris problem will continue to worsen, posing threats to both satellites and human crews in space. And antisatellite weapons are just the beginning. There are so many new actors in space. More than a dozen countries have the ability to launch satellites into orbit, including India, Iran, Japan, South Korea, and even North Korea. Add to that the private space launch companies owned by billionaires, like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin. New technologies, such as autonomous proximity operations, also allow for the development of small satellites that can rendezvous in orbit with other satellites—to inspect them, fix them, or even damage them. The orbital environment is changing rapidly. Increasingly we need rules, as well as the ability to understand our interests in the broad context of common interest among all spacefaring states to maintain the orbital environment. These rules must address military activity in space. Yet the international community was unable to agree on even a voluntary code of conduct.”— Arms control blogger and scholar Jeffrey Lewis, “2022: A Space Emergency,” The American Scholar, Spring 2022

Such is my curiosity that over the last few years, my propensity to buy reading matter, only to lay it aside for when I have more time, has grown apace. I must admit that, nearly two years ago, when I saw the “War and Space” cover headline for the Spring 2022 issue of The American Scholar, it all sounded like Flash Gordon stuff to me—or, maybe more appropriate, “Star Wars.”

I am sure that all too many Americans, still reeling from COVID, inflation, and the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, felt similarly.

Buy now, the Space Defense Force that Donald Trump pushed into being while in the White House is going to be tested in a major way by Vladimir Putin.

For reasons best known to himself, Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, released a statement two weeks ago on a “serious national security threat” that some thought might be a nuclear weapon, while others believed the weapon might be nuclear-powered but not a nuclear warhead.

The next day, the White House said the Russian system under development was a space-based anti-satellite weapon. Its use would violate the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which bans weapons of mass destruction in space.

Little of this should have come as such a shock because it was widely reported at the time, but the current prospects for nuclear terror, as Lewis notes, were laid two decades ago, when the administration of George W. Bush withdrew from the ABM Treaty, signed by Richard Nixon in 1972, which limited missile defenses.

Lewis’ article reinforces my conviction that a crisis is simply a problem worsened into potential catastrophe by officeholders through perpetual procrastination.

You may remember—or maybe you won’t—that the successful launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957 and the possibility that the Soviet Union was leapfrogging the US in the technological superiority behind military systems boosted momentum for the creation of the National Air and Space Administration and more spending for science education in the National Defense Education Act the following year.

We will see whether Putin’s statements since the Turner disclosure—a denial that Russia intends to deploy outer-space weapons, coupled with a confirmation that its “strategic nuclear forces are in a state of full readiness"—are enough either to boost science education again or to disenthrall Rep. Turner, his Capitol Hill colleagues in his party caucus, or the party leader who once told reporters he accepted the assurances of Putin rather than the word of his own intelligence agencies.

No comments: