July 6, 2010 | WebMemo on Space Policy
A close examination of the White House’s National Space Policy released on June 28 reveals that national security is subordinated to policies for seeking cooperation, transparency, and most of all, arms control agreements regarding space systems and operations. Putting arms control at the center of the National Space Policy carries the direct risk of the U.S. losing its military and intelligence advantages in space and increasing the effectiveness of the “anti-access” strategies of U.S. adversaries.
Further, Congress—and the Senate in particular—needs to keep a close watch on the Obama Administration’s space arms control initiatives. The Obama Administration will most certainly be tempted to pursue this arms control agenda in ways that effectively circumvent the Senate’s constitutional role in consenting to the ratification of international agreements that should be concluded as treaties.
National Security in Space
The national security aspects of the National Space Policy make up only a portion of the document. This is appropriate. Clearly, policies related to civil and commercial space activities play an essential role in the broader policy. What is inappropriate is that the national security requirements are not identified as the most important aspects of the policy and that the provisions that are related to national security—specifically regarding military and intelligence capabilities—are given a lower priority than pursuing international cooperation, transparency, and arms control.
Specifically, the aspects of the National Space Policy that are relevant to national security start with the following:
Only later are specific national security guidelines provided, the responsibilities for which are divided between the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence. They include:
The Dangerous Implications of Misplaced Priorities
As inappropriate as it is for President Obama to downplay the importance of national security in the National Space Policy, it is not surprising. During his presidential campaign, Obama famously promised not to “weaponize” space. Given that space has been weaponized since the dawn of the space age, his promise clearly meant that under his leadership the U.S. would move toward de-weaponizing and de-militarizing its uses of space. Such a policy, unfortunately, will force the U.S. in the direction of giving up its dominant position in terms of military and intelligence space capabilities, which provides the U.S. with enormous advantages over the enemy in the conduct and support of military operations.
The National Space Policy shows that President Obama intends to use the tools of transparency, cooperation, and space arms control to fulfill this ill-advised campaign promise. This intention is made all the more clear by his decision last year to agree to a negotiating agenda at the United Nations Conference on Disarmament that includes an item on space arms control. Accordingly, the National Space Policy states, “The United States will consider proposals and concepts for arms control measures if they are equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhance the national security of United States and its allies.”
The logic of putting a higher priority on de-weaponizing space and achieving that end through arms control points in the direction of very dangerous outcomes for the U.S. For example:
Bush Was Right About Space
Space arms control is a dubious undertaking. It is hard to imagine any significant space arms control step that will be, in the words of the new National Space Policy, “equitable [and] effectively verifiable, and enhance the national security of United States and its allies.”
This was the conclusion of the Bush Administration in its August 2006 National Space Policy. The Bush Administration was right, and President Obama, his campaign commitment notwithstanding, should have left well enough alone.
Baker Spring is F. M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.