May 22, 2005
Space Treaties For Peace In Our Time

Mark Whittington tackles the chamberlainism in an essay by Helen Caldicott in the Houston Chronicle. He makes a lot of good points, but doesn't quite close the box on a couple of them.

In its document "Visions for 2020," the U.S. Space Command announced the new doctrine of "Full Spectrum Dominance," saying that "the nation which dominates outer space will dominate the Earth." Space, according to the Space Command, is a legitimate and final frontier from which the United States should project its power.

Again, shocking, that a great nation would want to project its power, especially to stop some other nation from dominating space.

What concerns people like Ms. Caldicott is not that someone, someday may come to dominate space, but that that country is most likely going to be the U.S. Like Ward Churchill, they operate from an a priori assumption that not a sparrow falls that wasn't brutally snuffed by the U.S., and that our actions are the sole motivator and instigator of belligerence by others. This perspective leads to the argument that, by placing weapons in space, the U.S. will trigger an arms race in which its rivals will do the same to keep parity. Mark rightly points out (later in his post) that this is unlikely to happen given economic and political realities, but what I find interesting about the argument is its implicit flip-side: we are expected to conclude that if the U.S. simply does not place weapons in space, these rivals will likewise forego placing -- or using -- weapons in space.

Ms. Caldicott could benefit enormously from reading (and understanding) The Gathering Storm. Churchill (Winston, not Ward) documents (among many other things) how quickly those wishing for peace and stability can lose the military and technological advantages by which they are able to secure them, when they choose not to act for fear of offending or provoking the belligerent tyrants they ought to be securing such things against, or through idealistic but naive efforts to unilaterally throw away those advantages in the interests of "international comity" and "avoiding arms races" and the like. There were plenty of treaties and agreements and pacts signed by the European powers in the interwar period, aimed at reducing tensions and preventing conflict by reducing or eliminating weapons in various categories and operational spheres. By the time Britain came to its senses and threw out the restrictive multilateral naval agreements and self-imposed "non-threatening" limitations on its air power by which it was hoped another great war could be contained, it was almost too late to defend itself against a suddenly rearmed Germany which had circumvented many of those agreements on the sly. Taking the "moral high ground" may have an emotional appeal to idealists, but in the real world it's likely to be interpreted as a weakness to be exploited by the very people who are apparently supposed to be impressed by such impotent magnanimity.

People sharing Ms. Caldicott's worldview seem to make no distinction between the motivations of the U.S. military in working for dominance of near space and those of other candidates for that role, and fail to recognize that if the U.S. military does exert dominance, it will be as a cop on the beat, broadly maintaining order by its mere presence and protection of its own assets, but otherwise not interfering with legitimate activities. The same can be said of the U.S. Navy -- and the Royal Navy in the 19th Century -- on the high seas. (It's worth noting here that we have the world's largest navy, yet we do not have much in the way of a commercial shipping industry.) The same can not be said of most other nations who might take on such a role should we choose to abdicate it. An implicit premise in my own argument here is that someone will move to take on the role in question -- politics abhors a power vacuum just as nature leaves no niche unfilled, and given the alternatives it might as well be the U.S. that does it. The U.S. military acting as the keeper of the peace may not appeal to the transnational progressivist utopianism of people like Ms. Caldicott, but that doesn't mean it isn't a good thing. To paraphrase Franklin, U.S. domination of space is better than the alternatives.

Other countries are eager for an agreement, just as they are for a nuclear test ban that includes underground testing, an international criminal court, an agreement on global warming as well as treaties on land mines, small arms and chemical and biological weapons.

Of course they are. These would restrain the United States.

More to the point, Mark, they are aimed solely at restraining the United States. And one must commend the backers of such arrangements for their cleverness in formulating and making use of these initiatives: if the U.S. complies, its power is restrained and its freedom of action is restricted (and in the case of the ICC, its sovereignty is undermined), while if the U.S. refuses to participate, it sets itself up for sanctimonious lecturing from people like Ms. Caldicott -- it's a win-win situation for the transnational progressives.

Posted by T.L. James on May 22, 2005 11:24 AM