U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration says it prefers to talk bilaterally with Russia and China about space security. Bilateral talks are fine, but they
do not seem to occur very often or involve much of substance. Besides, there are more than three major space
nations. Agreements that promote space security will require broader participation, which means bilateral plus multilateral talks –
neither of which are currently under way.
Second, Moscow and Beijing want a treaty banning space weapons and anti-satellite (A-Sat) tests, but the current draft of their treaty would
not prevent testing weapons against one’s own satellites. The Peoples Liberation Army did just that last January, and the net result was to diminish space security for all space
nations. The treaty now being drafted by Moscow and Beijing does
not sound like a serious plan to promote the peaceful uses of outer space. The Bush administration will have no part of a new space treaty, in any event. So as long as Moscow and Beijing insist that the only way to promote space security is by means of a treaty, talks
will not begin.
Third, the Secretary of State’s International Security Advisory Board, chaired by presumed
-to-be-announced presidential candidate Fred Thompson, issued a report last May that rejects not just a new space treaty, but also “arms control processes and regimes” that “may be harmful to U.S. space interests.” This can cover a multitude of topics that ought not to be discussed.
The Advisory Board concluded:
“The U.S. executive branch should at a minimum refrain from actions, commitments, or statements that would prejudice against the development and deployment of active space-based defenses.” In addition, the United States should “insist upon the freedom to develop and deploy defensive ASATs.” While promoting space-based weapons and A-Sats
, the Advisory Board urged the Secretary of State to do a better job of building international support and domestic understanding of U.S. space policy.
So what is there left to discuss? The Advisory Board suggests transparency and confidence-building measures “while assiduously ensuring that they do not place restrictions on the U.S. ability to act in space to protect its security and space assets.” It might be challenging to engage in a discussion of transparency and confidence-building measures alongside the development and deployment of A-Sat
and space-based missile defenses. But where might such a discussion take place?
A natural venue would be the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva – the security forum where multilateral talks and treaties usually happen. But the fourth reason why
it is hard to discuss space security is because the CD
operates by consensus. After years of rejecting discussions on space security in Geneva, earlier this year the Bush administration OK’d talks as part of a package deal. The key element of the deal was the beginning of a treaty negotiation banning fissile material production for nuclear weapons.
Shortly after the Bush administration removed itself as an impediment to useful activity at the moribund CD, other nations took blocking action. China, which previously seemed amenable to a deal involving space security talks and a fissile material “cutoff” treaty, backtracked to insist on a space treaty. This gambit was an obvious non-starter, raising questions about whether Beijing’s real concern was the sufficiency of its fissile material stocks. The Chinese
ambassador at the
conference repaired to Beijing in late June for more instructions, leaving the door slightly ajar that the package deal might be resuscitated.
Meanwhile, Pakistan threw a wrench in the CD’s gears by announcing that the package deal needed to be renegotiated – a position that, if sustained, would extend the CD’s slumber for a longer, perhaps indefinite, period. The military overseers of Pakistan’s nuclear program are building not one, but two,
new Plutonium production reactors. This significant investment reflects their intention to compete with India, as well as their assumption that India has significant nuclear ambitions.
India has remained mostly quiet in Geneva during these maneuvers, but its lack of enthusiasm for a cutoff treaty is palpable. India’s nuclear ambitions have been abetted by the Bush administration, which has signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with New Delhi that offers much and asks for little in return. India has big plans to build nuclear power plants and seeks reprocessing and enrichment technologies. India, like Pakistan, has refused to sign a treaty banning nuclear testing, and is flight testing and deploying new ballistic and cruise missiles.
One way to measure useful initiatives is by the resistance they engender. By this standard, the backtracking now under way in Geneva from discussions on space security and the initiation of a
treaty negotiation attests to the wisdom of this package deal.
If this Gordian knot remains tied, it makes good sense to consider other venues – unencumbered by the need for consensus – for a serious discussion of space security.
Michael Krepon is co-founder of the Henry L. Stimson Center.