By William Jones Source: CGTN Published: 2019-8-29
When President Ronald Reagan announced in March 1983 his program for a Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), the media went hog-wild, describing his program as "Star Wars." Ironically, in contrast to the claims of the opposition, the Reagan proposal was in fact a call for cooperation – and sharing – with the Soviet Union in a system, which, if realized, would have provide protection for both superpowers. While many of his advisers did not share his view on the matter and saw SDI as a wedge against Moscow instead, Reagan never moved from that position as witnessed in many of his diary entries that were later published.
Similar concerns, however, have been raised in the announcement by President Trump in June of 2018 about the creation of a new Space Force, which would eventually become a branch of the Department of Defense parallel to that of the Army, Navy, and the Air Force. The concerns about a "Star Wars" in this case may be warranted, depending on how this new Space Force will operate, and with what policy. There has been a flurry of opposition over the issue in the Democratic-controlled Congress, but also within the Republican Party who are not prepared to pay the billions of dollars that this reorganization could cost. Opposition from the Air Force, which has had the lead in space, has kept the "Space Force" within their domain for the time being. And the need for congressional approval will be a tough sell in the present environment.
Awaiting this particular battle to play out when the issue comes before Congress, the Trump Administration announced in December the creation of a new Space Command, an entity which had been in operation since 1985, but had been abandoned in 2002 after the 9-11 terror attacks. The creation of this command is not subject to congressional approval. The Space Command would oversee and organize space operations, accelerate technical advances and find more effective ways to defend U.S. assets in space, including the vast constellations of satellites that American forces rely on for navigation, communications, and surveillance.
The real issue, however, is not so much the bureaucratic reshuffling in the military space community entailed by this decision, but rather the policy that it will follow. And it still remains unclear as to what the United States intends to do in space militarily. But the U.S. renewed interest in space is not solely in the military realm. More importantly, the Trump Administration has launched a rather ambitious program for returning to the Moon with humans and is planning for human exploration on Mars. Much of this revival, after many years of depleted budgets and lethargic motion in the U.S. space arena, has been sparked by the successful launch and landing of a Chinese lander on the far side of the Moon. This has helped re-energize the U.S. to return to the days – and the spirit - of the Apollo Mission, when the country was mobilized around a positive objective. Not coincidentally, this is occurring as we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of that mission.
The real questions remains: will we return to the concept of space cooperation for the benefit of mankind, as with Kennedy's Apollo? or will space become the subject of a new round of "America First" cutthroat competition, particularly when we begin to actually utilize economically the resources of the Moon and other planets for the benefit of people here on Earth? While we do have the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 to provide a guideline for nations’ activities in this "new frontier," actually living and working in space and utilizing space resources will no doubt require greater coordination and binding agreements if we are to avoid conflicts.
And given the difficulties of space exploration, particularly as we proceed further into the galaxy, the limited resources of any one nation remains an obstacle that is difficult to overcome except by the combination of the resources from many nations. While both China and the United States, the leading nations in space technology, are more than willing to cooperate with others in these endeavors, the existence of a ban by the U.S. Congress on U.S. cooperation with China in human space exploration provides a severe hurdle to be overcome. If a way can be found to eliminate that hurdle, the two nations may find a new – and important – sphere in which they could cooperate to the benefit of both nations and the world.
But if the policy of this new Space Force is to serve a single country's geopolitical ambition, then we may well see the world entering a new and dangerous "scramble" for the resources of the cosmos.
William Jones is the Washington Bureau Chief for Executive Intelligence Review and a non-resident senior fellow of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.