The United States will use military force in space to protect satellites and other space systems from attack by hostile states or terrorists, the Bush administration’s senior arms-control official said yesterday.
Robert Joseph, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said in a speech outlining a new White House space policy that free access to space is a “vital” U.S. interest and that the Bush administration opposes new agreements that would limit U.S. space defenses.
“To ensure free access to space … we must continue to develop a full range of options to deter and defend against threats to our space infrastructure,” Mr. Joseph said in a speech to the George C. Marshall Institute, a private think tank.
The United States will “oppose others who wish to use their military capabilities to impede or deny our access to and use of space,” he said. “We will seek the best capabilities to protect our space assets by active or passive means.”
“No nation, no non-state actor, should be under the illusion that the United States will tolerate a denial of our right to the use of space for peaceful purposes,” he said. “We reserve the right to defend ourselves against hostile attacks and interference with our space assets,” he said.
U.S. officials said the comments are an indirect warning to China, which has fired a ground-based laser gun at a U.S. satellite that passed over its territory — an event viewed as one sign of Beijing’s efforts to develop space arms that can blind or destroy systems.
Mr. Joseph said yesterday that a number of nations are developing weapons to “counter, attack and defeat U.S. space systems.” He did not name the countries. Asked after the speech about the Chinese laser incident, he declined to comment.
“In view of these growing threats, our space policy requires us to increase our ability to protect our critical space capabilities and to continue to protect our interests from being harmed through the hostile use of space,” he said.
The United States has become very reliant on the use of satellites for civilian communications as well as military command and control, with a large portion of government communications transiting space.
The White House announced in October that President Bush authorized a new national space policy, the first since 1996, that states that the United States is committed to the peaceful use of space and rejects any nation’s attempts to claim sovereignty over it.
The policy also views any attempt to interfere with space systems as an infringement on the right of free passage in space, and describes space capabilities as “vital” to national interests.
Mr. Joseph said yesterday that space should be regarded similarly to open seas where free navigation is a right.
“If these rights are not respected, the United States has the same full range of options — from diplomatic to military — to protect its space assets as it has to protect its other critical assets,” he said.
“There is also a broad range of means, both passive and active, by which space assets may be protected or the effects of the loss of their services minimized,” he said.
Alternatives include non-space backup systems, satellites with onboard subcomponent replacement parts, satellite maneuvering systems to avoid threats, electronic and other system security, data encryption, and communications frequency shifts.
Mr. Joseph said the United States needs to use space systems as part of a strategy to manage crises, deter conflict or “if deterrence fails, prevail in conflict.”
Both Russia and China have sought to introduce arms-control agreements at the United Nations designed to limit U.S. space weapons or defenses, and the Bush administration opposes the proposed agreements and talks.
Mr. Joseph said the Outer Space Treaty has been a long-standing and effective tool to guide international cooperation in space. New international agreements are “unnecessary and counterproductive,” he said.
“We do not need to enter into new agreements; rather we should be seeking to gain universal adherence to existing agreements, including the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, and we should concentrate our efforts on real threats, such as those to the nuclear nonproliferation regime which, as a consequence of actions by Iran and North Korea, are under great strain,” Mr. Joseph said.