Should the United States “Weaponize” Space? Military and Commercial Implications

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Control of space is at the crux of the debateabout the future of U.S. military space policy.The question is not about militarizing space.Clearly, we have been using and will continue touse space for military purposes. But, whereas weare currently using space assets to support terrestrial(ground, sea, and air) military operations,what Sen. Robert C. Smith (R-N.H.), the SpaceCommission (which was chaired by currentSecretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld), andothers have proposed is that the United Statesmove toward "weaponizing" space for space control.

Advocates of a more aggressive U.S. militarypolicy for space argue that the United States ismore reliant on the use of space than is any othernation, that space systems are vulnerable toattack, and that U.S. space systems are thus anattractive candidate for a "space Pearl Harbor."But as important and potentially vulnerable ascurrent U.S. space-based assets may be, deployingactual weapons (whether defensive or offensive)will likely be perceived by the rest of theworld as more threatening than the status quo.Any move by the United States to introduceweapons into space will surely lead to the development and deployment of anti-satelliteweapons by potentially hostile nations. As thedominant user of space for military and civilianfunctions, the United States would have themost to lose from such an arms race.

Although there are legitimate (and unique)military requirements for space assets, virtuallyall are "dual use." Military requirements shouldnot necessarily dictate those other uses. In fact,commercial efforts in space often lead those ofthe government and the Department of Defenseand usually have lower costs, due to marketinfluences and competition.

National security must be one component oftotal U.S. space policy, but it must certainly notbe the primary component. In the post-ColdWar environment--with no immediate threatfrom a rival great power and none on the horizon--the United States must not establish over-statedand costly military requirements forspace-based resources. The military must makegreater use of commercial space assets. Also, theUnited States should strive to foster an environmentthat allows commercial space activity togrow and flourish rather than use it to create anew area for costly military competition.

Charles V. Peña

Charles V. Peña is senior defense policy analyst and Edward L. Hudgins is former director of regulatory studies at the Cato Institute.