Space Force is a bad idea
Space Force is a bad idea
BY : JAY ELIAS
This past Thursday, Vice President Pence rolled out the White House’s plan for a new branch of the U.S. military, the “United States Space Force,” with the intention to “prepare for the next battlefield” — outer space. Pence went on to cite technological advancements on the part of China and Russia that threaten the vitality of U.S. satellites and other assets currently in orbit and thus, in his and the President’s view, threaten the safety of the American people.
While the precise details of what this Space Force might look like are still uncertain, Pence did give a broad-strokes outline of the intended plan to set this whole operation into motion: establish a new U.S. Space Command to helm Space Force, implement an elite group of joint war fighters specializing in “the domain of space” who can provide “space expertise,” establish a Space Development Agency which will work towards researching and advancing space-oriented technologies, and hire a single individual who will report directly to the Secretary of Defense, and oversee the establishment of the Space Force.
The U.S. most certainly has assets in space that warrant protection, and taking measures to ensure their security is vital. So vital, in fact, that we already have an organization in place that does this. It’s called the Air Force Space Command, a subdivision of the Air Force which oversees operations for everything from the Global Positioning System, to space surveillance systems, to a worldwide network of satellite tracking stations. Put simply, the infrastructure necessary for protecting our assets in space is…already there. Sean O’Keefe, who served as NASA Administrator as well as Navy secretary told Vox, that the AFSC is protecting space and that a Space Force would just be “a solution in search of a problem.”
Defense Secretary James Mattis initially opposed the idea back in 2017, but has since changed his tune. In a recent statement, he even went so far as to say that space is “becoming a contested war-fighting domain.” But with conflicting feedback from military personnel, and Congress’ input still pending, the future of a Space Force remains uncertain.
Despite the uncertainty, there are those who are just not down for the whole Space Force thing in general. According to legal expert and associate professor of international commercial law, Dr. Gbenga Oduntan, the establishment of a U.S. Space Force could very well lead to a new arms race in space. “Russia,” Dr. Oduntan stated, “has already said that they view the space force plans as a provocation,” and indeed they have. Even prior to Thursday’s announcement, Victor Bondarev, head of the Russia’s Upper House Committee on Defense and Security, made the following statement with regards to a potential weaponized U.S. Space Force:
“…If the United States withdraws from the 1967 treaty banning nuclear weapons in outer space, then, of course, not only ours, but also other states, will follow with a tough response aimed at ensuring world security.”
Bondarev refers to a UN treaty entitled “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies”, which outlines the international laws on space exploration. As grave as significant as that stipulation is, perhaps the most relevant line of this UN treaty deals not with nuclear weapons, but instead with space occupation:
“Outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”
If we can take a moment to zoom out and consider the language that’s being used in this call for a U.S. Space Force, we might re-contextualize the motives behind the initiative. Throughout his announcement, Pence routinely folds in terms like as “leadership”, “dominance”, and “supremacy” to describe America’s need for a Space Force. In some instances, these terms come directly from Trump. Like this Trump gem: “It is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space.” Where a more pragmatic leader might approach the topic of protection for space-oriented assets with the intent for preserving safety and progress, Trump, characteristically, aligns his reasoning with ego.
The concept of a U.S. Space Force is not as ridiculous as the term itself might indicate, but our reasons for establishing such an entity must extend beyond the sheer selfish desire to imprint the American name on the final frontier. If we choose to regard American supremacy as synonymous with progress, we may be wandering further away from self-preservation and straight into unnecessary conflict.