Columns

Suffolk Closeup: Trump’s saber rattling in space

A while back Newsday ran a story with the headline “Trump’s ‘space force’ could offer opportunity for LI firms, officials say.” The article began: “Space is emerging as a potential battlefield and a potential opportunity for Long Island companies, an Air Force official is expected to tell a gathering of aerospace and defense contractors.”

It said, “Col. Shawn Barnes, assistant vice commander of U.S. Air Force Space Command, is scheduled to address a meeting of ADDAPT, a trade organization that advocates for Long Island defense and aerospace companies” and “according to an advance copy of a presentation” the Trump administration’s upcoming defense budget “‘marks a shift to a [space] war-fighting posture.’” This “represents an opportunity for Long Island defense and aerospace companies.” The article also quoted ADDAPT chairman Robert Botticellli saying: “Long Island’s defense and aerospace firms can help America win the war in space by providing parts and supplies.”

Indeed, Long Island aerospace companies could make money in the move now underway by the United States to turn space into an arena of war.

But this should not be supported — despite the bucks.

In December, President Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act for 2020 (NDAA) establishing a U.S. Space Force as the sixth branch of U.S. armed forces. This flies in the face of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 designating space as a global commons to be used for peaceful purposes. The treaty was put together by the U.S., the former Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom, and since has been ratified by most nations on Earth. 

Craig Eisendrath, as a U.S. State Department officer involved in its creation, explained to me that “we sought to de-weaponize space before it got weaponized … to keep war out of space.”

The treaty bars the placement of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, in space. The Trump administration and the U.S. military have been claiming a Space Force is needed because China and Russia are moving militarily into space. But Russia and China, and our neighbor, Canada, have been leaders for decades in seeking to expand the Outer Space Treaty to prohibit the deployment of any weapons in space through a “Prevention of Arms Race in Outer Space” (PAROS) treaty. 

However, the U.S., under both Republican and Democratic administrations, has opposed the PAROS treaty and effectively vetoed it at the UN. (I’ve been at the UN to see nation after nation vote yes, and the U.S. ambassador vote no.)

As a journalist, I’ve been investigating space becoming a war zone since President Reagan’s “Star Wars” scheme of the 1980s. This has included authoring a book, “Weapons in Space,” and writing and presenting several TV documentaries, including “Nukes in Space: The Nuclearizaton and Weaponization of the Heavens.” 

Nuclear power and space weapons are intimately connected. The “Star Wars” program was based on orbiting battle platforms with onboard hypervelocity guns, particle beams and laser weapons energized by onboard nuclear reactors. General James Abrahamson, the “Star Wars” commander, stated that “without reactors in orbit” there would need to be “a long, long” extension cord going “down to the surface of the Earth” bringing up power for the high-energy space weaponry.

President Trump has been saying that it is “not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space.”

Although China and Russia have for decades been seeking passage of the PAROS treaty, with a U.S. Space Force and the U.S. seeking “dominance in space,” they will respond in kind. Other countries will follow. If and when conflict erupts, it will be at the expense of many, many lives on Earth.

As U.S. astronaut Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon, said at a protest against space weaponization at Cape Canaveral organized by the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, “Any war in space would be the one and only … activity on Earth below would immediately shut down.” The myriad of systems on Earth “all hooked up to satellites, would be lost. Modern society would go dark.”

China is now saying the Space Force and the U.S. “pursuing the weaponization of outer space” is a “direct threat” to peace and the “U.S. actions are a serious violation of the international consensus on the peaceful uses of outer space.” Instead of space becoming “a new battlefield,” nations must “work together to maintain lasting peace and tranquility in outer space.”

Russia last week said U.S. space weaponization would be “an irreversible blow” to peace.

Increasing profits for Long Island aerospace companies — and aerospace companies nationally — are not worth bringing war up to the heavens, a development of profound historic proportions.