Obama’s Troubling Stance on Missile Defense and Militarizing Space

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Missile defense is quickly becoming the most significant global arms race of the 21st century. This race may soon reach into space, what the US military has called the "ultimate high ground." President-elect Barack Obamam, during his campaign, pledged to cut “unproven missile defense” and never put weapons into space. 

“Space Hawks” at the Pentagon are urging Obama to rethink his comments and keep the emerging US antimissile shield on track. Others are also concerned. US Senator Richard Shelby (D-AL) is one of Capital Hill’s staunchest missile defense supporters. In an e-mail to Toward Freedom, Sen. Shelby stated, “I intend to maintain my efforts to secure funding to strengthen our missile defense programs and will continue to work towards ensuring that our nation is safe from attacks.”

Missile Defense is the most expensive weapons program in the history of the United States. Since the early 1980s, when President Reagan called for his “Space Shield”, the US has spent a staggering $120 billion, much of that going to civilian defense contractors such as aerospace giant Lockheed Martin.

President Clinton downgraded missile defense, but then President Bush and his “Space Hawks” gave birth to the “Son of Star Wars.” Bush doubled spending during his time, and the Pentagon has requested $62 billion over the next five years.

Bush re-opened the floodgates in 2002 when the White House unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty. Bush said the treaty, made with the Soviet Union in 1972, would keep US missile defense grounded. The decision rattled Russia and China, igniting what some experts contend is a race to put weapons in space.

Six years later, this past summer, Poland agreed with the US to build within its borders a missile defense battery loaded with “kinetic interceptors” that can shoot down satellites. The move is infuriating Russia and raising the specter of the Cold War. This has prompted President Vladimir Putin to say US missile defense outposts so close to Russia will “upsetÂ…the nuclear balance.” Putin even suggested that Russia and the US work together to counter any Iranian missile threat.

The US is pondering the offer. But Russia says US plans remain foggy. As are Obama’s, who may indeed be changing his position on cutting missile defense. Polish President Lech Kaczynski said Obama, who had just won the US election by a landslide, told him the US intends to go ahead with current European missile defense plans.

Obama, through an advisor, denied the claim. But then there is this little fact: Obama was Congress’s top recipient from missile defense contractors, such as Lockheed Martin, during the 2008 election cycle, as reported by Opensecrets.com. Obama was given $377,000, while Sen. McCain was a distance second, receiving $221,000.

And for the first time since 1994, Congressional Democrats took more money from the missile defense industry than Republicans. The Democrats were handed $4.6 million during 2008, while the Republicans were given $4.5 million.

Nevertheless, if Obama does try to cut future missile defense budgets, a political fight of enormous potential could be on the horizon.

“We have seen Iran and other rogue nations continue to pursue offensive ballistic missile capabilities that threaten the US and our allies,” stated Sen. Shelby (D-AL), who is actually a member of the Republican party. “This is yet another example of why we need to continue to aggressively enhance our missile defense capabilities and work to establish a Third Site in Europe.”

According to OpenSecrets.com, between 2001 and 2006, Sen. Shelby was the highest paid US senator when it came to cash contributions from missile defense contractors.

The greatest Trojan Horse ever? 

Earth’s orbits are militarized with spy satellites, but if the US were to someday deploy weapons in space, experts call such a move a taboo because there is a global consensus: Space should be for peaceful purposes only.

Yet the Pentagon and its US Space Command have made it clear: Space, even the Moon, is the ultimate high ground, and the US needs to get a foothold. Thus it is no surprise the prospects of death from the heavens are putting both China and Russia on edge.

For decades, Space Hawks at the Pentagon have desired to weaponize space. One goal has been to deploy “killer satellites”, for instance, that could shoot lasers or missiles. A constellation of killer satellites would just be another layer in the missile defense, said MDA’s leader Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry Obering recently. The Pentagon once even planned for a constellation of 50 to 100 killer satellites to begin production in 2016. If such a plan were ever approved by Congress, it would mean billions for the Pentagon’s top-two defense contractors, Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

The Pentagon insists it is not researching space weapons – it’s researching missile defense. Peace activists warn to not be fooled. Almost all missile defense technology is “dual use”, meaning the technology is also a space weapon, says Bruce Gagnon, director of The Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space.

“Missile defense is a Trojan Horse, it’s a ruse, (because) they have nothing to show for all the money they’ve spent,” says Gagnon, who was tipped-off two years ago by the ACLU that his family was being spied on by the Air Force and NASA. “The true purpose of this arms program is to control and dominate space.”

For an example of dual use, take Pearl Harbor‘s USS Lake Erie, says Gagnon. The Aegis has an impressive record knocking out dummy Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. Earlier this year, however, the USS Lake Erie and its Aegis obliterated a satellite as it orbited over Hawaii, littering low-Earth orbit for eternity unless cleaned up.

But dual use can also be applied to weapons in space. If killer satellites can destroy targets in space, then they could be able to destroy targets on Earth, says Gagnon.

“It is a bold declaration that DARPA will be researching ways in which to affect other countries’ efforts in space,” said Victoria Samson, a space weapons expert with the Washington-based Center for Defense Information, and left-leaning arms control think-tank. “By doing this sort of research under the radar, the Pentagon obviously figures it’s easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission.”

These developments raise the question: Is the US missile defense being expanded as shield or is it also a formidable offensive system that could return a modern nation – dependent on satellites – back to the 19th century, while also raining death from the heavens?

Missile defense for the US is at a critical juncture. Will President-elect Obama keep his promise of cutting missile defense research and never weaponize space, or will super rich missile defense contractors have too much influence over the new President and Congress, thus keeping the US on its current path toward putting weapons in space?

Potential Space Weapons

Here is a list of most major missile defense and other programs that some arms analysts and peace activists say could someday be “dual use” and thus space weapons. This information is culled from the Center for Defense Information and The World Policy Institute-Arms Trade Resource Center.

THAAD or Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, is a mobile missile defense battery that fires kinetic interceptors which have taken out targets in space. US military units across the globe are currently being outfitted with these mobile launchers, and the United Arab Emirates is paying $7 billion for nine THAADs.

The XSS-11 is a minutare or "microsatellite". The Air Force claims it could repair or tweak orbiting satellites. Arms control experts say it could also approach enemy satellites and disable them. A related DARPA program, the Front-end Robotics Enabling Near-term Demonstration (FREND), is developing a robotic arm that could theoritcally blind and un-blind spy satellites.

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is close to deploying the Air Borne Laser or ABL. In essence, the ABL is a Boeing passenger jet equipped with a high-powered laser that has proven to hit targets scores of miles away. The Air Force is also working on ground-based lasers that could shoot down space-based targets.

The Aegis Ballisitic Missile (or the sheild of Zues) is scheduled to be incorporated on 18 US Naval warships by 2009. Allowing the US to have incredible range when engaging warheads or satellites.

John Lasker is a freelance journalist from Columbus, Ohio.

Photo of Patriot Missile from US Army Korea – IMCOM