This morning the New York Times came out in favor of a treaty banning all weapons in space. “The United States, as the nation most dependent on satellites, should be working to ban all anti-satellite weapons,” the paper said. “That is the best way to protect America’s security and its credibility.”
The Russians and Chinese introduced a draft space treaty this Tuesday at a disarmament conference in Geneva, and the Times thought they did not go far enough toward the cause of bringing peace to the heavens. I generally am in favor of multilateral treaties to get rid of weapons, but I want to tell you that Moscow, Beijing, and New York’s paper of record are all wrong on this one.
Prohibiting space weapons sounds like a good idea, but promises to do so are utterly meaningless because they are virtually impossible to verify. There is one overriding reality: any object in space can be used as a space weapon if you can maneuver it to arrange a collision. The Russians and Chinese know this and are only trying to make us look bad because they know we will never accept their proposed deal. Moreover, they have no intention of implementing their idea either because they will never allow international inspectors to examine every satellite they launch and sit at every control panel they have. Unfortunately, it’s easier to conceal a space weapon than a nuclear warhead.
So this is all you have to know about a space treaty: If you want to ban all weapons in space, you will have to do away with every maneuverable object in space. And if you like the Times’s idea that a treaty should cover ground- and sea-based weapons too, then you will have to do away with every rocket, missile, and powerful laser. Unless you are willing to do all this, you are not serious about completely disarming the high ground of space.
The Chinese and Russians, of course, are not. The Times, unfortunately, is.