Osama in Space


If there was any doubt that the world has shifted back into a Cold War paradigm, then the USA’s new National Space Policy dispels it, once and for all. The policy, which was signed into effect by President George W Bush last October, states:

The United States will preserve its rights, capabilities, and freedom of action in space … and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to US national interests

The United States rejects any claims to sovereignty by any nation over outer space or celestial bodies, or any portion thereof, and rejects any limitations on the fundamental right of the United States to operate in and acquire data from space

The United States considers space capabilities including the ground and space segments and supporting links vital to its national interests. Consistent with this policy, the United States will: preserve its rights, capabilities, and freedom of action in space; dissuade or deter others from either impeding those rights or developing capabilities intended to do so; take those actions necessary to protect its space capabilities; respond to interference; and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to US national interests

The question is who would want to ‘limit’ US access to or use of space? Which adversary would they wish to deny ‘the use of space capabilities hostile to the United States interests’? Who would want to claim sovereignty ‘over outer space or celestial bodies’? Could it be: a) Osama bin Laden; b) Iran; c) Lindsay Lohan; or d) China?

Yes, you guessed it. And it’s clear from this document that the United States and China are in one hell of a strategic tussle. The National Space Policy is replete with hints that the Pentagon is ready to make space the ‘final’ frontier.

Some of this has to do with scientific advancement like the Moon having a particle, Helium-3, that can help in the future development of nuclear fusion but mostly, it has to do with the space program of US’s ‘peer competitor’ China, and the so-called threat of Chinese ‘asymmetrical warfare’ that might possibly bring down or impede American satellites and weapons during warfare. The idea being that the Chinese are using ‘commercial’ or lunar technology for military applications in space, thus challenging US military supremacy there.

Former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in ‘The Report of the Commission To Assess United States National Security and Space Management and Organisation’  also warned of a possible space ‘Pearl Harbor’ and recommended a range of options to protect US hegemony in space hypothetically, China may take out US satellites in the event of war, say, or conflict over Taiwan. The problem with this logic is that, while China may be able to attack a US satellite, the vast inventory of US space and military technology would then rain down on them leaving the peer competitor with very little option other than surrender.

But that hasn’t stopped the Pentagon planners. Space is now closer to being ‘weaponised,’ and so is Star Wars (literally). The question, of course, is how far the Chinese have advanced with their anti-satellite weapons. The interviews I have conducted suggest that the idea that China is even close to challenging US military supremacy is somewhat fanciful. Most estimates have China trailing US technology by up to 20 years. However, as one Washington insider puts it:

So there is perhaps a little bit of paranoia about what China is up to, but as the saying goes, sometimes a little bit of paranoia is good because sometimes they are after you.

It is also a paranoia that works well for the Pentagon and the bi-partisan policy that wishes to extend US hegemony well into the mid-21st century when the Chinese economy is set to outstrip the United States to become the world’s largest economy.

Thanks to Sharyn Raggett

The obvious question is whether it is in China’s interest to start a war with the US thus disrupting its own economic development.

The Chinese are building naval facilities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma. But is that any serious challenge to the US naval bases throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans, including Japan, Guam and Diego Garcia, to name just a few? Hasn’t the encirclement of China in Asia (through the US ratcheting up of military and diplomatic relations with Asian countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Japan and Australia) proved the superiority of US military and diplomatic power in Asia?

The answer is that this is a new Cold War that is also economic in nature and being fought out in Africa, the Pacific and South America as well as Southern and Central Asia. The only way to ensure that the ‘peer competitor’ is economically contained is to keep good watch on its trading partners, and those that can give it crucial energy supplies.

During the last Cold War, Russia bought influence through local political Parties and financial support. It is no different today, with China buying influence with the cold hard cash it offers for valuable resources. The major difference between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ Cold Wars is the globalised economy so there may be growing tensions but the reality of economic ‘interdependence’ means that everyone from New Delhi to Caracas is praying for peace, while shareholders and executives worldwide are happy to see good times last, even if ‘war’ stocks (gold, uranium) are surging.

However, Aaron Friedberg, former National Security Advisor to US Vice President Dick Cheney had this to say when I asked him whether economic inter-dependence would prevent any conflict between the US and China:

I don’t think a blossoming economic relationship, in itself, is a guarantee of peace Now there is a two-sided military competition underway it’s limited and constrained compared, for example, to the Cold War military competition between the Soviet Union and America, but it’s underway and it’s serious and it’s accelerating

There are those that choose to argue that ‘terrorists’ and the ‘axis of evil’ are the real forces behind America’s foreign policy, but Syria, Iran or North Korea are not even close to China’s military capability, while terrorists are incapable of threatening the overwhelmingly dominant (and extremely sophisticated) US space-based military arsenal.

For those who are still skeptical, in next week’s article I will briefly examine other factors that have illuminated the real focus of US foreign policy.

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