PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT BOULDER
RUMSFELD NOMINATION SHOULD SPARK SPACE WEAPONS DEBATE
Throughout the 20th century, in times of peace, U.S. military researchers
were busy inventing new weapons for the next war. The new Secretary of Defense,
Donald H. Rumsfeld,seems determined to lead us into the 21st century under the
banner of "While you have peace on earth, prepare for war in space."
As he takes office, we should demand a public debate on his favorite cause, the
militarization of space. Otherwise, we may plunge blindly into the era of space
warfare that Pentagon-paid scientists are already planning.
The wizards of military technology have always flourished in times of relative
tranquility. From 1871 to 1914, Europeans enjoyed a peace that many believed
would last forever. Hence their shock when they discovered, on the battlefields
of World War I, the horrors of tanks, machine guns, submarines, and poison gas.
After the war, the shock waves reached the U.S. American leaders signed a treaty
outlawing war in 1928. By 1935, thousands of young men had added their names
to a formal pledge never to take up arms again. Newspapers were filled with attacks
on "the munitions makers."
Meanwhile, devotees of aerial warfare were hard at work, promoting a new kind
of warfare: aerial bombers carrying massive bombs, and massive aircraft carriers
launching deadly fighter planes. There was little public debate about, or even
notice of, these new weapons systems. Only sci-fi devotees even imagined the
discoveries that were paving the way for the most massive bombs of all. When
public debate erupted after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was too late.
In the post-cold war era of peace, weapons development continues at the nation's
nuclear laboratories, where they plan to test the next generation of bombs on
computers rather than under the ground. But who's paying attention?
The real challenge with both nuclear and conventional weapons is figuring
out where to use them and making sure they hit their intended targets. The mavens
of military might think that they'll solve this by turning to the final frontier,
space and the virtual frontier of computer technology. They have a passionate
booster in Donald Rumsfeld.
The Air Force’s Space Command boasts that it can develop computerized satellites
that will tell U.S. commanders everything that is happening, at every moment,
everywhere in the world. They also promise that these satellites will guide U.S.
weapons precisely to the target every time. They have already spent billions
of dollars preparing for he militarization of space. But they want much more.
We already have more destructive power than any one nation, or the world as a
whole, could possibly use. We have that power because of another revolution in
military technology that went largely unnoticed. During the détente of
the late 1960s and 1970s, the weapons designers went as far as they could with
the big, unwieldy, city-busting bombs. So they invented a new generation of "smaller"
strategic weapons, precision-guided by computers, mounted eight or ten at a time
on a single warhead. Apart from a brief flap over defensive missile systems,
there was scarcely any public interest.
The Space Command plans to use its satellite-and-computer network not only for
guiding these earth-based weapons, but to destroy enemy satellites. They call
it "full-spectrum dominance." They say it will "protect U.S. interests
and investments." There's nothing secret about their plan. They shout it
out in glossy brochures and slick websites, hoping to get a bigger piece of the
budgetary pie. Bush’s nomination of Rumsfeld indicates that the new administration
wants to cut the pie very much to the Space Command’s liking.
The only part of the plan getting scrutiny, now as in the 1960s, is missile defense.
Space war boosters count on National Missile Defense (NMD) to insure "full-spectrum
dominance," to spin off the technology that space wars will require, and
to get us to pay for it all. Rumsfeld’s passions for NMD and for space weapons
are two sides of the same coin.
Once the Pentagon tosses that coin, there will be no way to stop an arms race
in space whose costs, in money and eventually in human lives, is literally incalculable.
Now is the time for a full-scale public debate of the militarization of space.
That debate might well convince most of us that the Bush-Rumsfield course is
too dangerous to follow. But even if most of us choose to accept it, we should
choose it consciously, with full consideration of all the alternatives. Peacetime
is the time to pay attention to the new technology of war. After the next war,
it may be too late.