Commentary Magazine


Obama Administration Unilaterally Limiting U.S. Space Development, Ceding to China

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates just finished explaining how the U.S. needs to suit up for future space wars, so naturally the Russians are pushing for us to forgo developing our space assets, promising they’ll follow along.

Now the problem with striking arms deals with the Russians is that they cheat. They cheat a lot. Paula DeSutter, former assistant secretary of state for Verification, Compliance, and Implementation, has gone so far as to categorically state that they cheat so much that they’ve “violated every agreement we have ever had with them.”

Arms agreements are win-wins for the Russians. Either they get a treaty, locking us down while keeping themselves free to proliferate, or they get to say that the U.S. is apparently uninterested in arms control — which they then use as a pretext to proliferate. The only difference is in how our arms-control community responds. In the latter case, they pen articles agreeing with the Kremlin and explaining that, were we only to establish global norms, the Russians would inexorably join in. In the former case, having promised that the Russians would follow, they spend their time explaining why Russia’s violations don’t really prove arms-control skeptics correct (so, you see, there is a difference between bad treaties and no treaties, just like arms-control experts always say!).

Not that it matters, since the Russians aren’t the ones trying to get ahead of us in space militarization. The Chinese are, and they have no interest in even pretending to reciprocate limitations on space development. But as Eli Lake points out in a follow-up article to his initial backgrounder — which we covered here — the Obama administration is looking to impose those limitations anyway:

The administration has signaled that it is preparing to accept the European Union’s draft Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities with minimal changes to the document. An administration interagency review concluded last month that the code of conduct … would not damage U.S. national interests in space or limit research and development into classified programs. … Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, said the strategy fails because it does not adequately account for the Chinese threat to U.S. satellites. “One gets the impression from this document that the Obama administration simply wants to ignore the Chinese threat in hopes it will just go away.”

One does get that impression, doesn’t one?