Wednesday, January 24, 2007

China Missiles

[posted by Callimachus]

Trying to figure out the heft and drift behind the headline about China testing a satellite-buster? So am I. Arms Control Wonk has some helpful commentary and links. What comes clear at once is that this is a new arms race, and it has been brewing for some time. And that the Chinese feel provoked, and this was a shot across the bow. It's a tat, and where there's a tat, there's a tit.

As one combative Chinese military voice put it:

This overweening country [the USA] began to regard space as its own back yard. The national space policy it announced in 2006 nonchalantly regarded space as its private property. At the same time, when China at the United Nations proposed a special international organization to resolve the actual problems of a space arms race that were being faced, the United States, acting as a country far in the lead in space, vehemently opposed, saying that there was no arms race in space...

We hope... [this] will smack the American carnivores back to reason. History shows us that if you don't hit Americans, they aren't willing to sit down at the negotiation table.

Yes, folk, after you get done fretting about Iraq and Iran and the Taliban, the real 800-pound gorilla is still over there waiting to meet you.

But what about this U.S. policy? The Bush Administration is quite blunt about it. In this earlier piece on the China test an anonymous State Department official lays it out in certain terms:

"Arms control is not a viable solution for space. For example, there is no agreement on how to define space weapon. Without a definition you are left with loopholes and meaningless limitations that endanger national security. No arms control is better than bad arms control."

Emphasis added.

This unfriendly assessment casts the dispute in unilateral/multilateral terms:

While the Clinton policy aimed to highlight international cooperation and collective security in space, the Bush NSP takes a go–it-alone stance, using strong language that asserts U.S. unilateral rights in space while possibly also being intended to "negate" the rights of other space-faring nations. In ominous tones, the document threatens in one section to "dissuade or deter others from either impeding [U.S.] rights or developing capabilities intended to do so" – raising the specter of preemptive action against other nations’ dual-use space technology.

Indeed, even as the Bush policy emphasizes the importance of space security, it goes out of its way to make clear that this security may not, under any circumstances, come from (shudder) international law: "The United States will oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to or use of space. Proposed arms control agreements or restrictions must not impair the rights of the United States to conduce research, development, testing and operations or other activities in space for U.S. national interests ...."

Ah, well; some of us did learn something in the Cold War after all.