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Key Element: Abstaining from Flight Testing and Deploying Space Weapons

in Program

The flight testing and deployment of space weapons by the United
States would surely prompt low-cost, low-tech countermeasures in the
form of space mines and other anti-satellite (ASAT) devices, just as the
flight testing and deployment of space weapons by other countries would
surely prompt a vigorous response by the United States.  A situation in
which satellites orbiting the earth are interspersed with objects
designed to destroy or disable them is inherently destabilizing, given
the vulnerability of satellites and the ease with which they could be
harmed.  Potential adversaries in space would be faced with the dilemma
of shooting first or risking the loss of critical satellites. 

While asymmetric warfare can be carried out in space, it is more
easily and effectively waged on the ground. And unlike the superpower
competition in the Cold War, when space warfare had the potential to
alter the terms and outcomes of conflict, space warfare initiated by a
weaker foe will not alter the outcome of a conflict with the United
States.

A Space “Pearl Harbor” cannot be automatically
dismissed. But a military readiness response in the form of space
weapons would do far more harm than good. A surprise attack in space is
far less likely than a surprise attack against soft targets here on
earth and would subsequently generate a response no less resolute than
previous surprise attacks in December 1941 and September 2001.
Furthermore, such a response would be carried out most effectively here
on earth, and not in the Heavens. Nonetheless, to further clarify the
penalties to others for the first use of space weapons, the United
States would be wise to adopt a hedging strategy that includes research
and development – but not the flight testing and deployment – of space
weapons.

Other nations are similarly also engaged in research and development
programs relating to space warfare.  There is no compelling need,
however, to engage in the flight testing and deployment of dedicated
space weapons, in part because the United States and many other nations
already possess military capabilities designed for other missions that
could, in extreme circumstances, serve as a response to the first use of
space weapons by another state.  Such “residual” space warfare
capabilities have paradoxically served as a brake against the flight
testing and deployment of space weapons in the past.

The
weaponization of space is not inevitable.  If it were, this would have
occurred during the Cold War.  Rather than to engage in such a
competition now, a far wiser course would be to strengthen efforts to
promote space assurance.

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