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The Brattleboro Reformer (Vermont)

The Final Frontier


So, after years of trying, the U.S. military finally had a successful real world test of its anti-ballistic missile defense systems.

The Pentagon claims that a three-stage missile launched from the USS Lake Erie off the coast of Hawaii on Wednesday successfully destroyed a wayward U.S. spy satellite.

The official story is that the satellite was loaded with 1,000 pounds of a dangerous chemical, hydrazine, in its fuel tank and needed to be destroyed to prevent harm to others.

The rest of the world isn't buying the explanation. They see it as a thinly-disguised attempt by the Pentagon to test an anti-satellite weapon and another example of how the United States is trying to seek military dominance in space.

It's hard to argue with that line of reasoning. When China used similar technology last year to shoot down one of its communications satellites, it was criticized by the Bush administration. Now, China has turned the tables and is criticizing the Bush administration for doing the same thing.

China and Russia have long sought an agreement with the United States to restrict the militarization of space. But the United States has claimed the right to protect its commercial and military satellites. It has refused to consider any new treaties to limit development of weapons for use in outer space. Research has been underway for years by the Pentagon on a number of space weapons designed to disable or destroy satellites.

A 1967 United Nations treaty bans weapons of mass destruction from space, but the Bush administration has not shown that it is totally committed to that pact. There have been many more indications that it is committed to deploying more space weapons. Just last week, the administration rejected a draft treaty presented at the U.N. Conference of Disarmament which would ban space weapons and prohibit attacking satellites from the ground or space.

In 2002, the United States withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty so it could deploy a missile defense shield. And in 2005, a commission led by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld concluded that there is no current treaty or agreement to stop the United States from "placing or using weapons in space, applying force from space to Earth, or conducting military operations in and through space."

Given the dominance of the United States in space, fears of a "space Pearl Harbor," as Rumsfeld's commission put it, are overblown. And, since almost every policy decision in the Bush administration comes down to who will profit from it, seven of the 13 members of Rumsfeld's commission had ties to aerospace companies that would make a lot of money if a major space weapons program came to fruition.

Just because the United States has the capability to militarily dominate space doesn't mean we should do it. If the United States intends to develop the capability to disable or destroy another nation's satellites, other nations -- particularly Russia and China -- will be encouraged to the same.

For years, space has been the place for international cooperation rather than confrontation. Continuing that cooperation means a weapons-free space environment.

It is in the best interest of our nation to work with other nations to establish an agreement that would include a ban on flight testing or deployment of space weapons, minimizing space debris and mandating international cooperation on satellite traffic management. The cost of not doing this is risking an all-out war in the heavens that no one will win.

© 2008 The Reformer

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