Lost in Space: the Misguided Drive Toward Antisatellite Weapons

Courtesy Reuters

Before becoming President George W. Bush's surprise choice to run the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld chaired not one, but two, major advisory panels. Only the first of these commissions ever received much attention in the media, however. This owed, in part, to its dramatic warning: that the threat of a ballistic missile attack on the United States was "evolving more rapidly" than was previously thought by American intelligence. The commission's 1998 report, the conclusions of which caught many Americans by surprise, had powerful repercussions in Washington. And it was at least indirectly responsible for President Bill Clinton's decision to accelerate his missile defense plans.

The second Rumsfeld panel, known as the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization, released its report this January. So far, the document has received little attention. Its conclusions, however, are just as alarming as those of the first Rumsfeld report and could have an even greater impact. The study warns that the United States may someday soon face a "Space Pearl Harbor" -- that is, a devastating sneak attack against U.S. satellites orbiting the planet. The report warns that the United States is highly dependent on satellites, and that the means to disrupt or destroy its space systems have become readily accessible to countries or groups hostile to the United States. Space warfare, the commission argues, has become "a virtual certainty": "[W]e know from history that every medium -- air, land, and sea -- has seen conflict. Reality indicates that space will be no different." The report urges American leaders to reduce the country's vulnerability by developing "superior space capabilities," including the ability to "negate the hostile use of space against U.S. interests." This would require "power projection in, from, and through space" -- in other words, the development, testing, and deployment of antisatellite weapons (ASATS) based in space or on earth.

The report does not specify how exactly American superiority in space should be achieved. The details were left to

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