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THE TIME HAS COME FOR A TREATY TO BAN WEAPONS IN SPACE Peter Van Ness Introduction An arms race in space among the major powers would be immensely dangerous, destabilizing, and expensive. Russia, which has a long history in space technology dating back to Sputnik in 1957, does not today have the resources or the political will to sustain such a race. But China does. This is principally an issue between the United States and China. Some analysts say that it is too late to conclude a treaty to ban weapons in space, but others argue that if a treaty cannot be negotiated, then perhaps a code of conduct might work. It is in the interests of both the United States and the People’s Republic of China—and the world, for that matter—that the weaponization of space be stopped. On June 28, President Obama announced a New National Space Policy with a central goal “to promote peaceful cooperation and collaboration in space,” and he invited armscontrol proposals to help make that happen.1 We must take advantage of this opportunity. 1. “Statement by the President on the New National Space Policy,” June 28, 2010, at -national-space-policy; and “National Space Policy of the United States of America,” June 28, 2010, at default/files/national_space_policy_6-28-10.pdf. ASIAN PERSPECTIVE, Vol. 34, No. 3, 2010, pp. 215-225. Commentary The objective of this commentary is to identify common ground in the debate about weapons in space, and to suggest the basis for an agreement between the United States and the People’s Republic of China about their relations in space. I will try to show that no country would benefit from an arms race in space; it would not serve any country’s national interests. Such an arms race would be strategically destabilizing and economically costly almost beyond belief. Moreover, it would potentially endanger the security, not just of the major participants, but of all nations. Since the United States and the PRC are the most likely participants in an arms race in space, the commentary will focus on analyzing their positions with respect to weapons in space. “What is a space weapon?” In the relevant literature, there is much debate about which particular weapons should be banned. But there is no agreement. Some American analysts argue that space has already been weaponized, dating back even to the German rocket attacks on Britain during World War II. For them, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and the existing anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons are space weapons. On the Chinese side, there is a preoccupation with U.S. plans for missile defense, nominally “defensive” weapons, that might compromise China’s basic nuclear deterrent. Of paramount concern for China are U.S. designs for space-based weapons that could attack Chinese ICBMs in their so-called boost phase, when they are especially vulnerable to interception by an opponent power. Meanwhile, both countries continue to plan to fight a war in space if a military conflict between the two powers ever does break out.2 A viable agreement would have to be built on the realities of the existing situation in which neither China nor the United 216 Peter Van Ness 2. For an American assessment of PRC preparations, see Larry M. Wortzel, “The Chinese People’s Liberation Army and Space Warfare,” Astropolitics, vol. 6, No. 2 (2008), pp. 112-37; and Bruce W. MacDonald, “China, Space Weapons and US Security,” Council on Foreign Relations Special Report No. 38, September 2008, online at 16707/china_space_weapons_and_us_security.html. States would be willing to give up its ICBMs, and the United States would be most unlikely to close down its existing missile defense systems. The initial focus should be on banning spacebased weapons, and if reaching agreement on a treaty would seem to be too difficult at his point, we should then, as several analysts have suggested, try to identify the key elements of a “code of conduct” as a first step.3 The Debate Ever since the United States and the former Soviet Union began to explore space, strategic analysts...


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