BOSTON — The U.S. government is opposed to entering into arms control discussions related to weapons in space, and does not believe any such discussions are warranted, according to a U.S. representative to the United Nations.
Robert L. Luaces, U.S. alternate representative to the United Nations, told the U.N.’s First Committee, which handles arms control and disarmament issues, that the United States government does not believe that a space arms race exists today or will take place in the future, during an Oct. 11 speech in New York.
Luaces told the U.N. committee that the new U.S. government space policy, which was approved by President George W. Bush Aug. 31 but not made public until Oct. 6, reaffirms a commitment to the peaceful uses of space, but he noted that space systems are vulnerable to disruption from both man-made and natural sources.
“Because any satellite capable of maneuvering can be used to destroy another satellite simply by physical collision, space does not lend itself to an old-style, ‘arms control’ approach,” Luaces said. “In fact, such an approach could be counterproductive if it created restrictions upon free access to space and eroded the important principles of free transit and operations in space.”
The new space policy states that the U.S. government will not sign agreements that limit its actions in space. It also states that the United States will take action necessary to defend its assets and deny enemy use of space.
The new policy does not represent a change in approach to the use of space weapons, according to White House Press Secretary Tony Snow.
“The notion that you would do defense from space is different than the weaponization of space,” Snow told reporters during a briefing aboard Air Force One Oct. 18.
Luaces noted that the U.S. government has taken steps to promote the peaceful use of space for all nations, including providing information online about orbiting objects and space weather conditions, negotiating guidelines for dealing with orbital debris, and providing collision avoidance information to countries like China in support of manned spaceflight missions.
Al Gore, who served as vice president of the United States when the previous national space policy was issued in 1996, called the new policy “a move in the wrong direction” during an Oct. 19 speech at the Wirefly X Prize Cup Executive Summit 2006 in Las Cruces, N.M.
“It has the potential, down the road, to create the [same] kind of fuzzy thinking and chaos in our efforts to exploit the space resource as the fuzzy thinking and chaos that the Iraq policy has created for us in Iraq,” Gore said. “If one nation takes it upon itself to assert its own unilateral definition of what world law should be — without respect to what the rest of the world thinks about it — that’s usually a mistake.”
Theresa Hitchens, director of the Center for Defense Information, a Washington-based think tank, said that space, like air, land and sea, should have some sort of legal regime to deal with issues ranging from free trade processes to potential conflict.
“A Wild West mentality in space is dangerous,” Hitchens said.