Outside View: Space race warnings

By ANDREI KISLYAKOV, UPI Outside View Commentator  |  June 5, 2008 at 9:05 PM
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MOSCOW, June 5 (UPI) -- The Americans seem determined to flood outer space with weapons. In early April U.S. Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Henry Obering again called for the early deployment of space-based missile defense systems, a universal means of hitting either ground or space targets.

His Russian counterpart and longtime opponent on this issue, Space Forces Commander Col. Gen. Vladimir Popovkin, responded in late May, warning for the umpteenth time: "We are against any deployment or placement of weapons in outer space, as it is one of the few realms where frontiers do not exist. Militarization of outer space will disrupt the current balance in the world."

The Russian general is seriously worried that space-based attack weapons could increase the risk of igniting hostilities on the ground.

Putting the long-distance dispute between the two generals aside, let us recall that the defensive doctrines of most industrialized countries are space-oriented. Satellite systems are involved in every aspect of an industrialized country's activity, warfare included. The majority of modern weapon systems, both nuclear and conventional, include space-based components.

Russia is behind the United States in development and deployment of space-based systems. The figures are far from encouraging. A total of around 500 American and 100 Russian satellites currently are orbiting the Earth. The U.S. military satellite fleet is more than four times the size of Russia's, and some of the orbiting Russian satellites are inoperable.

The Americans also have the Navstar Global Positioning System, which has been working successfully already several years. Russia's equivalent, the widely publicized GLONASS, is undergoing its initial deployment, with only 12 operable satellites presently in orbit, compared with 31 American ones.

Obviously the Pentagon can afford to speak of space-based weapons deployment, possessing such impressive assets.

Now back to Col. Gen. Popovkin's idea that space-based weapons could spark a war. He says that present space systems and complexes are very sophisticated and susceptible to failures, and "in such cases, I cannot guarantee that a failure was not caused by hostile action."

Is this statement logical? Surely it is. Strategic nuclear stability -- that is to say, a high-degree guarantee against a surprise nuclear missile strike -- depends on the trouble-free operation of early warning and intelligence satellites. If a satellite fails with another country's attack weapons deployed in orbit, there will be an increase of mistrust, which could lead to a military disaster.

Besides, it is well known that tests involving satellite destruction result in a growing amount of orbital debris, which is difficult to counter. According to NASA and the U.S. Air Force, China's anti-satellite weapon tests in January 2007 left up to 2,000 baseball-sized fragments orbiting at altitudes of 120 to 2,340 miles above the Earth. High speed makes these fragments extremely dangerous for man-made space objects.

An international treaty banning weapons from outer space certainly would help avoid more such trouble, or at least minimize the risks. Yet the United States sticks to the opinion that such an agreement would be impracticable.


(Andrei Kislyakov is a political commentator for RIA Novosti. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.)


(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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