Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Here we go again

In August 2006, National Reconnaissance Office Director Donald Kerr reported that a Chinese ground-based laser had illuminated a U.S. satellite. Now, China has used a ground-based ballistic missile to destroy one of its own satellites--which the U.S. interprets as another test of anti-satellite (ASAT) capabilities.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration last August released its new National Space Policy that further articulated statements put out over the past few years that reject arms control for space and consider defense as a primary U.S. mission in space. In space, the U.S. wants to be able to achieve, "deception, disruption, denial, degradation and destruction." We've discussed this on the blog a few times before.

According to the Washington Post, China has been trying to call a conference to address the increasing militarization of space, but one nation has refused... You guessed it, the U.S. The Bush administration explains that there is no need for such a conference because there is no arms race in space. The more likely explanation, of course, is that we don't want to stop this new arms race because--so far--we're winning.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like they're achieving deception and denial on Earth as well. 

// posted by LTG

Anonymous said...

When they created nuclear bombs, the realized the genie was out of the bottle. We have succeeded in slowing the spread and adoption of these things, but we haven't stopped it. Now Jordan wants a nuclear program. Who’s next?

The same will hold true with the weaponization of space. We might be able to slow it, hide, or even control it for a while. But it will happen. It is the natural next step. It’s underway as we speak. That is how cynical I am these days.

// posted by UNWest

Anonymous said...

Think positive. In 1959, all the major powers signed a treaty demilitarizing Antarctica and agreeing to neither recognize nor un-recognize the claims of seven nations to sovereign slices of the Antarctic pie (to "freeze" them as all commentators have been unable to resist saying). Nearly 50 years later, after its renewal in the early 1990s, the treaty is stronger than ever. Reducing the sphere of national conflict can happen, but it requires mulitlateral action, widespread commitment, and the establishment of modes of behavior that become customary. Bush refuses to start this process, and if we go too far down that road, reversal may be impossible. He and his "realist" advisors do not understand that with sufficient transparency, opennness, and public multilateral commitment, a situation can be created where international law works.

The point is that custom matters. By creating a firm and well-understood standard of customary behavior, the trigger for punishment (to coin a phrase, the "transgression trigger") comes very early on the path toward individual gain. By way of analogy, one of the ways American society controls violence is by severely punishing any unwanted touching or even voice-raising, long before it inflicts any real harm on anyone. The theory is that transgressive behavior tends to be escalatory in nature, such that a future transgressor usually signals that intention by early minor transgressions of custom.

One of the reasons the 1991 Gulf War was necessary was that April Glaspie (US ambassador to Iraq) was unskilled in international custom, and did not understand her role. She did not understand that SHE was supposed to deliver the message about the reaction of the US to various Iraqi actions. As a lawyer, her behavior appalls me. You NEVER say "yes" to opposing counsel unless you are damned sure. Everyone knows that if a lawyer says it's okay, it's safe by a country mile.

But I digress... 

// posted by LTG

Anonymous said...

FYI, April Glaspie should have: (1) reminded the Iraqi leader of treaty obligations under the UN Charter; (2) reiterated the strong US support for those obligations, particularly vis-a-vis the sanctity of international boundaries; (3) made it clear that Washington would view very dimly any attempt to interfere with Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, or any of Iraq's neighbors with whom the US has a security relationship or security interests, without prior direct consultation with Washington. Her statement that the US didn't care what happened (I paraphrase) was a total green light. The ambassador is meant to be the mouthpiece of caution. If he/she does not show it in private, no wonder Saddam Hussein thought later contrary statements by Bush Senior were some sort of public bluffing. 

// posted by LTG

Anonymous said...

I'll just ask a few questions and depart:

Is it possible to achieve peace by banning individual weapons systems or even groups of weapons systems?

Do arms races cause war or are both war and arms races caused by something else? 

// posted by RBR

Anonymous said...

Let me start by saying that I won't break any new ground here. You all know this stuff already. But here goes.

LTG is correct about the strength of customs. His example is a good one. And I agree that in some domains as the global commons custom can hold sway. But customs can contradict each other just as laws can. So you are left having to make a choice about your priorities.

Under international law and custom, states have the right to protect themselves. The use and development of the military is part of state sovereignty and territorial integrity. If a state feels its national security is threatened by a US satellite that can toss a laser beam its way, why would they not want to defend themselves with something similar? This is assuming a rational actor, of course. Should the law of commons take precedent over national security? We already claim portions of the sea and sky. If a state feels threatened, it may not be so willing to sacrifice its interests and soverignty to a treay.

Let’s get a treaty making space part of the global commons- by all means. Let’s attach penalties and enforce custom. But let’s remember, we have all launched satellites and released our space junk into the heavens. The moon has/had and American flag on it (which usually means you are claiming it even if the claim isn’t recognized) and no one else has been there; the space station is of Russian/American design. The Europeans are just now getting into space. So for all intents and purposes, space has been the domain of two states, one of which is now defunct. You wait and see what happens when everyone else wants to join in the game in the era of pre-emptive strikes and unilateral decision making on the part of the powerful.

International organizations and law are only as strong as the commitment to them by member states. When it comes to these instruments, we are talking about State actors since fringe groups don’t figure in unless they are recognized as representatives of a specific group. You know the old realist saw about states playing nice when it suits their interests them and acting unilateral when that suits their interests.

We have come to a point where violating treaties has few consequences. Witness Iran or Korea's nuclear build up. Multilateralism has given way to unilateralism in the last 8 years. 1959 was a different time in which the world was balanced between two superpowers on the brink. This brings me to RBR’s questions.

To answer RBR's questions: It depends on how you define "peace".

War is a continuum. We are always at war, it is merely a matter of degree.My analogy would be to compare war and peace to an earthquake. The epicenter is in one place, but the shaking is felt far and wide. Before and after a large quake, there are shocks. These may indicate that a big jolt is coming.

If you agree that peace is achieved when major world powers are not in direct military conflict, then I do not think you can achieve peace by banning individual weapons systems. You can slow the march to direct conflict at best.

As per question II: I would say that arms races and war are caused by other outside triggers. I don’t think we always realize that something has been triggered until quite late in the game. To start a race, you have to believe that you are already so far ahead that you can expose your position in an attempt to discourage competitors. I would saw that you had a war (WWII) triggered by other factors that turned into a Cold War (arms race). This war has splintered into many “warlettes” (to coin my term) that may build back into a major war or another arms race depending on what happens. So I don’t think the cause-effect chain is linear or direct. Of course, I could just be slipping to some form of trendy neo-post-modernism ;-)

// posted by USWest

Anonymous said...

USWest writes, "To start a race, you have to believe that you are already so far ahead that you can expose your position in an attempt to discourage competitors."

That is one way. Another way is to believe that you are behind but--with a significant push--you could catch up or surge ahead. By talking tough about dominating space, but not truly moving to monopolize it, we may have left the door open for China to look through and see that they had a chance... and the race was on. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

Considering that the US and Russia already have the capability of destroying satellites by rocket and have done so, it seems a little childish to tell the Chinese off for doing so, although the argument against space junk is reasonable.

What seems very silly to me is the argument of not militarising space. Sorry: this has already happened. A large number of bombs are guided using GPS/INS coordinates coming from GPS satellites, and the US is moving strongly into the ultra-expensive realm of satellite surveillance (see the latest Budget Graph  for '07 details). 

// posted by Spotted Handfish

Anonymous said...

Spot-H is right that space has been "militarized" to the extent that it is being used for military purposes. It has not yet really become an open battlefield, however.

How much of a "covert" battlefield space has become is something that has interested me for a long time. I have argued on this blog that having weapons in space, even nuclear weapons, makes such good military sense that I find it hard to believe this has not already been done without public knowledge. Likewise, the ability to strike at space assets is similarly useful... but as far as I know, the public position of all governments is that there are no weapons in space and that ASAT technology, while it has been demonstrated, is something still in the prototype phase that is not really a reliable "capability" yet.

I think I'm right about the official view of weapons in space. Am I wrong about the ASAT stuff?