- The Washington Times - Monday, October 2, 2000

In his Sept. 6 address to the U.N. Millennium Summit in New York, Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the United Nations to sponsor an international conference on "preventing the militarization of space."

Then on Sept. 18, in an address to the U.N. Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, the representative of China attacked the United States for planning to discard the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty and deploy a national missile defense, which he said would start an arms race in space.

It is no coincidence that both Russia and China are opposing weapons in space. The United States lead in advanced space technologies is great and growing, and Moscow and Beijing are trying to level the playing field through arms control. But this is nothing new. Soviet rulers Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko all conducted campaigns to ban weapons in space. As early as 1981, the Soviets tabled a draft treaty in the U.N. to ban weapons of any kind in outer space.

In 1983, the Union of Concerned Scientists proposed a treaty banning attacks on "space objects." Later that year, Moscow took the cue and submitted a similar draft treaty in the United Nations. The Soviets then had an operational anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon and the U.S. did not. The Kremlin wanted a treaty to preserve the status quo in space.

Moscow's efforts were supported by a long list of U.S. arms control groups. Working together, they convinced the Democrat-controlled Congress, including Rep. Al Gore, to pass legislation banning flight tests of the U.S. ASAT then under development. Unable to conduct realistic tests, the Air Force canceled that program in 1988. An Army ASAT effort began under President Bush, but it has been all but killed by President Clinton in reaction to a 1997 letter of protest from Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

The possibility that the United States might withdraw from the ABM Treaty and deploy missile defenses has revived the arguments against weapons in space. The ABM Treaty bans missile defense weapons or components in space. This is important to Russia and China in that it prohibits the U.S. from using satellites to defend against their missiles. But because almost any weapon in space would have some ABM capability, it also prevents this country from developing, testing or deploying virtually any kind of space weapon.

Moscow, which no longer can afford to compete with the U.S. and Beijing, which fears this country will block its plans to seize Taiwan, are working hard to line up support in the United Nations against what Beijing calls U.S. plans to dominate the world. Since only a few countries have the technology or funds needed to build space weapons, it is an easy vote for the have-not majority in the U.N. to oppose the U.S. on this issue.

The Clinton administration aggravated the problem in 1997 when it signed documents with Moscow clarifying that the ABM treaty's ban on space weapons includes lasers and other new technologies, and adding a ban on space weapons capable of intercepting theater ballistic missiles. The administration has not submitted the 1997 ABM treaty agreements to the Republican-controlled Senate, which strongly supports development of a space-based laser, because they would be rejected.

Space control opponents want to ban more than weapons. The Chinese representative in Geneva replied to a U.S. statement that a land-based national missile defense does not include space weapons by complaining that it does include space weapon systems. This subtle distinction apparently refers to satellite-based sensors for missile warning and tracking, which will be a very important part of any missile defense.

This campaign to ban space weapons is nothing less than an attempt to severely restrict the weapons the U.S. can develop and deploy to defend this country in the 21st century. Russia and China are trying to constrain U.S. power through arms control, with the support of U.N. members that resent the dominant U.S. position in the world and have nothing to lose, and groups in this country that believe the best defense is no defense.

Today, information transmitted instantaneously by satellite is driving the global economy. As the world's leading space nation, the U.S. needs the ability to protect its interests in space, just as Britain's worldwide interests needed the Royal Navy for protection in an era of seaborne commerce.

Mr. Clinton has been pandering to Moscow and Beijing, and his party's left wing, on this national security issue. The next president should reject any attempt, in the United Nations or elsewhere, to ban space weapons.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide