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Commission Warns U.S. Space Assets Vulnerable

Wade Boese

Tasked with reviewing the organization and management of U.S. national security-related space activities, a congressionally mandated commission issued a report January 11 faulting the government for neglecting U.S. space capabilities. The commission warned that U.S. space assets are vulnerable and recommended that Washington develop additional space capabilities for deterrence and defense—possibly including space-based weapons.

The 13-member "Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization," headed by Donald Rumsfeld until he was nominated to serve as defense secretary on December 28, noted that the United States is "more dependent on space than any other nation." This dependence, the commission reported, makes the United States an "attractive candidate for a 'Space Pearl Harbor.'" As evidence, the commission cited, among other examples, a Chinese news article that Beijing is exploring strategies to defeat the U.S. military in a high-tech and space-based war.

Because of U.S. dependence on space, the commission said Washington must remain engaged in shaping the rules and regulations for space use, cautioning that the United States should be leery of any agreement that could, even if unintentionally, restrict U.S. space activities. While the commission acknowledged the "sensitivity" surrounding weapons in space, it declared that ignoring the issue would be a "disservice." The commission further believed that conflict in space is a "virtual certainty" and that the United States should "vigorously pursue" capabilities to guarantee the option of deploying space weapons if necessary. China, Russia, and other countries are currently pressing for negotiations on preventing an arms race in outer space at the UN Conference on Disarmament, an effort Washington is opposing.

In addition, the report said the United States should review "existing arms control obligations in light of a growing need to extend deterrent capabilities to space." The 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty proscribes the development, testing, and deployment of space-based systems or components for defending against strategic ballistic missile attacks.

The commission, comprised of several retired U.S. military officers who previously held space-related commands, spent six months assessing U.S. space activities. Much of the commission's report focused on critiquing U.S. government management of its space activities, concluding that current responsibility for space issues is spread too broadly, leading to insufficient attention, direction, and funding of U.S. space programs. As a remedy, the commission called on the president to make space a national priority and for the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence community, as first steps, to better organize their space commands to improve "responsibility and accountability."

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