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Arming the Heavens

Why we must oppose US weapons in space.

By Mel Hurtig 26 Jun 2006 | TheTyee.ca

Mel Hurtig is the National Chairman of the Committee for an Independent Canada and is the founder and former Chairman of the Council of Canadians. Among his many bestselling books is Rushing to Armageddon: The Shocking Truth About Canada, Missile Defence and Star Wars.

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Inviting an accidental doomsday?

Three terrible dangers face the world.

The first, global warming, has received much attention, if only relatively modest political action so far.

The second threat is the very real and increasing dangers of nuclear proliferation, and the dangers of terrorists acquiring nuclear materials and weapons. The collapse of the May 2005 non-proliferation talks, mostly due to U.S. intransigence, is a tragedy. And, despite the importance of nuclear proliferation, I doubt if one in a thousand are even aware of or concerned with the issue. The Bush administration failed to send a single high-ranking official to the May talks, even though they were held in New York with 153 nations in attendance.

The third issue, the weaponization of space, may represent the greatest and most urgent danger for the future and the survival of our civilization.

When we talk about the weaponization of space, we're not simply postulating about something that might happen in the distant future. There is already an abundance of irrefutable evidence that the United States intends to place weapons in space, beginning as early as 2008.

Here's a recent quote from the New York Times, May 3, 2006:

The Bush administration is seeking to develop a powerful ground-based laser weapon that would use beams of concentrated light to destroy enemy satellites in orbit.

The largely secret project, parts of which have been made public through Air Force budget documents submitted to Congress in February, is a part of a wide-ranging effort to develop space weapons, both defensive and offensive.

Some Congressional Democrats and other experts fault the research as potential fuel for an anti-satellite arms race that could ultimately hurt the U.S. more than others because the United States relies so heavily on military satellites.

The Air Force has pursued the secret research for several years. In January 2001, a commission led by Donald Rumsfeld warned that the American military faced a potential "Pearl Harbor" in space and called for a defensive arsenal of space weapons.

There is zero question that the U.S. plans to "control space" and plans to "deny others the use of space" for any purpose the U.S. now opposes, or might oppose in the future.

Both the Russians and the Chinese understand that although they strongly oppose the weaponization of space, they will have no choice but to deploy their own offensive and defensive space weapons, regardless of the potentially cataclysmic consequences.

Even though ultimately the U.S. would be infinitely more secure by joining with other nations in opposing space weaponization, the military-industrial complex in the U.S. has grown so powerful in Washington that rationality relating to perceived threats from China no longer exists, and growing administration paranoia reigns supreme.

The China syndrome

While Russia once again is considered a threat in the Pentagon, it is Beijing that is the focus of growing fears in Washington.

The result now is rising tensions in all three countries and plans for large new military expenditures and deployments. There is no longer a potential for a horrendously expensive new arms race. It's here already. The potential for a disastrous conflict over Taiwan is real and increasing.

In a widely circulated article in Foreign Affairs during the 2000 U.S. presidential campaign, George W. Bush's then foreign adviser, one Condoleezza Rice, warned that China, even six years ago, presented a danger to U.S. interests, and that the U.S. must prevent China's rise as a regional power.

In the spring of last year, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, of all things, complained about China's military buildup, suggesting that clearly this will be threatening to the U.S. (Rumsfeld somehow neglected to mention that total U.S. military spending in 2006 will be $562 billion, over eight and half times China's military spending.)

Meanwhile, as has been widely reported, the Bush administration is doing everything it can to curtail Chinese influence in Asia, while the U.S. Defense Department is expanding and enlarging the American military presence in areas adjacent to China.

In a February, 2006 Pentagon document, a long-standing U.S. position is repeated. The United States "will attempt to dissuade any military competitor from developing disruptive or other capabilities that could enable regional hegemony or hostile action against the United States" and China is clearly identified as the greatest threat.

New arms race

What are the implications according to Mr. Rumsfeld's Pentagon? No question. The U.S. must and will develop new weapons systems to guarantee American victory in a major all-out military confrontation.

In the words of Peace and World Security Professor Michael T. Klare of Hampshire College in Massachusetts:

Preparing for war with China, in other words, is to be the future cash cow for the giant U.S weapons-making corporations in the military-industrial complex (and it) will be the prime justification for the acquisition of the costly new weapons systems such as the F-22A Raptor air-superiority fighter, the DDX destroyer, the Virginia-class nuclear attack submarine and a new inter-continental penetrating bomber.

Even now, the U.S. Navy is upgrading its presence in the Western Pacific to six aircraft carriers and 60 per cent of its submarines will be in the area, and the U.S. has been conducting its largest military maneuvers near China since the end of the Vietnam War. Klare continues:

From Beijing's perspective, the reality must be unmistakable: a steady buildup of American military power along China's eastern, southern, and western boundaries.

China...has always responded to perceived threats of encirclement in a vigorous and muscular fashion...Beijing will (respond) with a military buildup of its own.

What is happening in Washington now is almost beyond belief. The embarrassing downgrading to "official visit," instead of a state visit, of President Hu Jintao's trip to Washington was a serious loss of face for President Hu. The same neocon theocons who brought us Iraq planned the event and are now clearly dedicated to and relishing a China-U.S. confrontation.

Dangerous prize: oil

Anyone considering a potential for conflict between the U.S. and China must consider the principal reason the U.S. invaded Iraq: oil. And anyone considering oil must regard recent American warnings to China not to attempt to secure more oil supplies in the future as the height of the most arrogant hypocrisy.

The U.S. now uses just over 20 million barrels of oil a day. China consumes about 6.5 million. Keeping in mind China's 1.3 billion population, and that it is now the second-biggest consumer of oil in the world, and considering its real annual GDP growth of about 9 per cent, plus the fact that within a very few years China's number of automobiles will be almost 100 times what it was in the mid-to-late 1980s, the New York Times suggests that by 2030 the country will have more cars than the U.S. The Times puts it well:

The United States doesn't have the right to tell a third of humanity to go back to their bicycles...Asking other countries to lay off the world's oil supply so America can continue to support its gas-guzzling Hummers doesn't really cut it.

The bottom line here? It's not just Taiwan that could provoke a deadly confrontation between the world's major superpower and a rapidly emerging new giant superpower. Oil and other resources are bound to pose significant dangers to peace.

Last month, American generals invited representatives of 91 countries to discuss the U.S. war on terrorism. China, which borders on so many countries involved in terrorist activities, was not invited to the meeting. But the intentional snub was carefully noted. The Pentagon regards China as a "strategic competitor." Obviously, for the U.S., more important in the war against terrorism are the likes of Albania, Tonga and Tajikistan.

Russians ramp up

A few words about Russia.

Last month, the Kremlin chief of staff accused the United States of planning "a whole arsenal of new destabilizing weapons."

Meanwhile, for over a year, Russia has been claiming unrivalled success in the development of new missiles capable of penetrating any missile shield. The new Topol-M and Bulava ballistic missiles are each equipped with six nuclear warheads, and Russia has reaffirmed plans to maintain a minimum of 2000 warheads for as far as one can speculate into the future.

The head of the top Russian missile-design centre, Yuri Solomonov, says Russia will soon unveil plans to adapt the new Bulava missile for both land-based strategic use and for its nuclear submarines.

Not to be ignored are the many and increasing signs of unprecedented Russian and Chinese military, economic and political cooperation.

Both countries are firmly opposed to the weaponization of space. Both have pleaded many times for an effective anti-weapons-in-space-treaty.

And both will certainly respond with their own space weapons when the U.S. forces them to do so.

Misguided weapons

Well, of course, the greatest irony of all in the U.S. policy is that placing weapons in space will seriously reduce U.S. security rather than increasing it, just as the invasion of Iraq substantially increased the potential for future attacks on the U.S., rather than increasing so-called "homeland" security.

A further irony is that by withdrawing from the existing international agreements such as the 1972 ABM Treaty and by failing to support or actively block effective agreements on non-proliferation, fissile materials, nuclear testing, the development of space weapons, and other international agreements, the U.S. rather than increasing protection for the American people, is actually increasing the danger of attacks.

Yet another further irony is that there is an abundance of scientific documentation showing that space weapons are not only terribly expensive, but are at the same time vulnerable to far less costly countermeasures.

For the Rumsfelds, the Cheneys, the White House and Defense hawks, it is inevitable that space will be weaponized, so the U.S. "had better be the first" in this "ultimate high ground" battlefield of the future.

This means deploying anti-satellite weapons, sensors and lasers and hit-to-kill weapons, plus space to ground weapons including powerful, enormously destructive lasers, so-called tungsten "rods or god," etc. It means satellite jamming and destruction and the disruption of communications.

For the Pentagon, space superiority will be essential and of the utmost importance in the battles of the future.

Accidental doomsday

Four respected American space weapons experts, Bruce M. DeBlois, Richard L. Garwin, Scott Kemp and Jeremy C. Maxwell note that:

In a recent space war game, U.S. commanders found that preemptively deploying or denying an opponent's space based information assets could lead to a rapid escalation into full scale war, even triggering nuclear weapon use. As one "enemy" commander commented: "If I don't know what's doing on, I have no choice but to hit everything, using everything I have."

...war through accident, misunderstanding, or the action of a third party (would be a grave danger without) multilateral agreements on space.

Space weapons, paradoxically, seem more likely to imperil than to protect overall U.S. military capability.

Not to mention the overall safety of millions of men, women and children around the world.

Stop for a moment to contemplate the meaning of a decision to "hit everything" and "use everything."

The deployment of space weapons will be certain to inflame, will immediately produce dangerous instability and feelings of vulnerability that other nations will feel must be addressed. As DeBlois, Garwin, Kemp and Maxwell suggest, the best strategy for the U.S. would be:

An aggressive campaign to prevent the deployment of weapons by other nations which might best be implemented as a U.S. commitment not to be the first to deploy or test a space weapon or to further test destructive anti-satellite weapons. A treaty would have the added benefit of legitimizing the use of sanctions or force...

Harper's shift

Well, this is very nice, except for one problem. It will never happen as long as George W. Bush is President of the United States. And, it will never happen even with a Democrat is the Oval Office, so long as the military-industrial complex continues to finance a corrupt, undemocratic American electoral system. The failure of efforts to reform elections and election financing in the U.S. is a tragedy, not only for that country, but a real potential tragedy for all of mankind. If the U.S. proceeds with its plans to weaponize space, the chances of a cataclysmic nuclear holocaust will be real and not far over the horizon.

Canada's position on the weaponization of space has been clear for over 30 years. Canada has not only been strongly opposed to the weaponization of space, but has long been a leader among nations in this opposition.

The question for Canadians now is what will the Harper government do in response to the dangerous American plans? Given Harper's desire to move closer to the Bush administration, given his decision to further integrate Canada's military with the U.S. military as we have already seen with the renewal and expansion of NORAD, given the government's dedication to helping the U.S. out in Afghanistan, given the governments desire to revisit the question of missile defence, is there much doubt that Canada's opposition to U.S. plans for the weaponization of space will be muted, if not entirely non-existent?

So to summarize:

A citizens' revolt

Bleak? Yes.

Realistic? Unfortunately yes.

The question, the paramount question, is do we want to save this planet, save our families and our friends, save our civilization, or are we going to allow the Strangelovean madman in Washington to destroy the world?

Can anything be done? Perhaps.

What can we do if we can't rely on our political leaders, or on a conservative media increasingly owned and controlled by wealthy right-wing plutocrats?

I can think of only one thing we can try, a people's revolt employing the internet.

In Canada in 2004, we used the internet to dramatically turn around the debate about Canada's participation in the absurd American missile defence plan. Through the wide dissemination of authoritative scientific information, in a few months we turned the public opinion polls around from roughly 65 per cent in favour to 65 per cent opposed. We had press conferences featuring our own Canadian experts, and we brought in respected experts from outside the country. We provided such an abundance of valuable information that citizens were previously not aware of, that the growing passion and anger across the country left the Martin government with little choice.

Even though the Liberals fully intended to join in with the Americans, even though our defence minister was sent down to Washington to inform Donald Rumsfeld that they could count on Canada, the growing strongly-opposed to polls forced Ottawa to change its mind with an election on the horizon and with more and more Liberal MP's now opposed. Yes, there were a few books, lots of speeches, and articles supporting our position, but the single most effective tool we had was the internet and the information we provided Canadians across the country via the net.

Organize in cyberspace

With so many peace, disarmament, environmental and other groups to call on, a properly organized viral internet campaign could force even the Harper government to renew our long-standing Canadian strong opposition to the weaponization of space.

A long shot? You bet.

Could it succeed? Absolutely

Citizens won't be able to rely on our current government leadership in Canada or the U.S. for us to win this one. We have to do it ourselves. Canada could lead the way.

I wish we could rely on our politicians, but we can't.

Perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps there's a better idea.

If there is, I'd certainly like to hear about it.

Bombs Away, a youth-driven campaign of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, opposed the Liberal government's aim to join the U.S. effort to weaponize space. Their web site is here.

This article is drawn from an address given yesterday by Mel Hurtig to the World Peace Forum in Vancouver. Hurtig is the National Chairman of the Committee for an Independent Canada and is the founder and former Chairman of the Council of Canadians. Among his many bestselling books is Rushing to Armageddon: The Shocking Truth About Canada, Missile Defence and Star Wars, which the Globe and Mail review called "perhaps the most important book published in Canada this year."  [Tyee]

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