Space Weapons Ban
In his Feb. 16 piece “Think Again on a Space Weapons Ban” [Commentary, page 15], John Sheldon uses the classic device of assuming his opponents are fools and then goes on to make some very questionable assertions.
First, Sheldon complains that U.S. President BarackObama has not precisely defined what a space weapon is, and goes on to say it could include any system capable of attacking ground stations. Such definitions are, obviously, something for detailed negotiation and, equally obviously, do not include ground-to ground capabilities. While completely banning all weapons that can attack ground targets might be wonderful for those of us living on the ground, it is totally impractical as everyone knows. Suggesting that the Obama administration seriously thinks the definition of “space weapons” includes ground attack systems seems more rhetorical device than a serious argument.
Sheldon also claims that space weapons verification is very difficult. While that is true for some cases, destructive anti-satellite (A-Sat) tests are very easy to detect. The rather obvious, simple and verifiable step of banning destructive A- Sat tests would not only cement a permanent advantage to America, Russia and China – which have already conducted such tests – it would prevent a further build-up of orbital debris that is increasing operational costs for low Earth orbit satellites and could ultimately threaten our use of space altogether. Without an end-to-end successful test, it is difficult, at best, to have much confidence in any weapon system. This not only makes aggressors hesitate, but makes it much more difficult to justify an expensive A-Sat program in the first place.
Sheldon then claims that arms control treaties are all no good. This is simply not true. International treaties banning the use of chemical weapons were largely observed even during the life- and-death struggle of World War II. The treaty banning above-ground nuclear tests have saved all of us from absorbing a great deal of radiation. The Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty made developing a credible first strike capability much more difficult, as a limited defensive shield can give policymakers the illusion that any enemy capability surviving a massive nuclear first strike could be defeated by the shield. This quite likely played a role in preventing the nuclear annihilation of this country along with much of the rest of the world.