ASAT Ban Aimed at Presenting US as Defender of Sanctity of Space Which It Surely is Not

Published by Sputnik News, 20 April 2020

Vice President Kamala Harris announced on 19 April Washington’s commitment to a ban on anti-satellite missile testing (ASAT) while visiting Vandenberg Space Force Base and called upon others to jump on the US bandwagon. What’s behind the Biden administration’s space initiative?

“I would say that the US is insincere when it suggests a ban on ASAT testing,” says Bruce Gagnon, director of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space. “If Washington was serious about banning offensive military operations in space then why has the US government for at least the last 25 years refused to negotiate at the UN a binding treaty to ban all weapons in space? Each year Russia and China have introduced such a global ban treaty on any and all kinds of weapons in space. The official statement by the US has long been – ‘There is no need for a new treaty to ban all weapons in space because there are none in orbit now. There is no problem.'”

The scholar notes that while Vice President Harris denounced Russian and Chinese ASAT tests as “reckless and irresponsible,” she apparently forgot that “especially since in early 2008 the Pentagon launched Operation Burnt Frost that used a Navy guided missile cruiser to launch an SM-3 missile into space which knocked down a non-functioning National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) satellite”.

The US destroyed the NRO on 20 February 2008 under the pretext of “safeguarding human lives” by preventing uncontrolled reentry into Earth’s atmosphere by the defunct satellite. Remarkably, eight days earlier, China and Russia introduced a draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects (PPWT) to the Conference on Disarmament (CD), the world’s permanent multilateral disarmament treaty negotiating body. On 29 February 2008, the CD discussed the draft. However, the US dismissed the proposal, dubbing it “a diplomatic ploy by the two nations to gain a military advantage”.

“[The US’ 2008 ASAT] test proved that Navy warships could use the SM-3 missile as an anti-satellite weapon,” says Gagnon. “Once again the US shows the world its ‘do as I say’ exceptional attitude, while Washington does as it wishes and lectures other nations about what they should do.”

US’ Space Dominance & Lucrative Aerospace Industry

The US has long been seeking “dominance” in space and developing various space weapons technologies, highlights Gagnon. The US created fully capable direct ascent anti-satellite weapons as early as 1963, several short years after the USSR’s launch of Sputnik on 4 October 1957. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the US found itself as the sole military force in space.

In 1997 the US Space Command (USSPACECOM) outlined the “Vision for 2020” strategy, which sought the nation’s continued preeminence in space. Decades later, on 17 January 2022 the US-led NATO released its “overarching” space policy saying that any space-based attack on an ally could trigger the alliance’s collective defence policy under the bloc’s Article 5.

“The recent creation of the Space Force by the US was soon thereafter followed by an announcement by the Pentagon that the first offensive Space Force programme had been created – a satellite jamming device aimed from the ground that would shut down an adversary’s space satellite during times of war using a beam of directed energy,” Gagnon stresses.

According to the scholar, the non-binding ‘norms of conduct’ or space ‘rules of the road’ proposed by the US are “window dressing to divert attention away from its own blatant refusal to hammer out an internationally recognised treaty at the UN to make it illegal for any nation to develop, test and deploy weapons in space.”

Gagnon argues that Washington “has no intention to honour any binding treaties that would limit these offensive space weapons programmes.”

“The aerospace industry has long boasted that the arms race in space will be ‘the largest industrial project in human history’,” the think tank director says. “Thus the industry views serious proposals for space ban treaties as key obstacles that must be defeated. It is my belief that the ‘norms of conduct’ for space are merely strategic diversions by the US to get others to sign such ‘non-binding’ agreements in order to create the image of Washington as a defender of the sanctity of space which it surely is not.”

GOP & Dems as Bad and Good Cops

The Biden administration’s move to ban ASAT was most likely triggered by the fact that the US is losing its continued preeminence in space, according to the scholar.

“While the US had ‘dominance’ in space technology it was satisfied to be the one and only nation with ASAT capabilities,” he says. “But once Russia, China and India had developed similar capabilities to knock a competitor’s satellite out of space, the Pentagon began to worry.”

Gagnon suggests that the US Department of Defence does not rule out that in times of hostilities other countries could put US ‘space assets’ in jeopardy. “Thus Washington is attempting to take the public relations ‘high ground’ by announcing non-binding rules of the road for space,” the scholar notes.

However, the White House’s move has already prompted a great deal of criticism from the right side of the US political aisle. The Republicans argue that “this decision creates more opportunities for China and Russia to hold our assets in space at risk”. “The Democrats and Republicans like to play ‘good cop-bad cop’ for the entertainment of American voters,” says Gagnon. “But in the end they always find consensus when it comes to developing military programmes that give the US the ability to claim dominance on the land, the sea, the air above our heads, or in outer space.”

See: Original Article