Space Could Be Next Battleground

The White House says it is in the process of updating U.S. space policy. But it is denying a report suggesting that the new policy would move the U.S. toward the deployment of weapons in space. Senior Air Force officials, however, have said publicly that the U.S. must establish and maintain space superiority.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

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And I'm Michele Norris.

The White House says it's updating its national space policy to meet changing threats. The New York Times reported today that the new policy, to be issued as a presidential directive, will move the United States closer to fielding space weapons. Senior Air Force officials have publicly endorsed the development of space weapons, but White House spokesman Scott McClellan says that is not the intent of the new policy. NPR's Vicky O'Hara reports.

VICKY O'HARA reporting:

Previous administrations, with the exception of President Ronald Reagan, resisted spreading the arms race into space. White House spokesman Scott McClellan says the new policy, which is still in draft form, does not represent a substantial shift in US policy.

Mr. SCOTT McCLELLAN (White House Spokesperson): The policy that we're talking about is not looking at weaponizing space.

O'HARA: Yet in 2001, a commission chaired by Donald Rumsfeld, then the nominee to be secretary of Defense, recommended just that. And senior Air Force officials, in testimony on Capitol Hill and in public conferences, have talked of the need to establish and maintain superiority in space. General Lance Lord, who heads the Air Force Space Command, said in a report last year that space superiority means freedom to attack as well as freedom from attack in space.

Michael Krepon directs the Stimson Center's Space Security Project. He says military leaders choose their words carefully in describing their plans.

Mr. MICHAEL KREPON (Director, Space Security Project, Stimson Center): The Pentagon and the Air Force don't use the words `weapon' and `dominate.' They use the words `offensive counterspace' and `space superiority.'

O'HARA: But Krepon says that it comes down to the same thing: the intention to introduce weapons into space, a highly charged issue both in the United States and abroad.

Mr. KREPON: Because the flight testing of weapons is so politically sensitive, what we are now doing are simulations in space that could be used for space weapons and that could be used for other quite legitimate purposes, such as improved space surveillance or intelligence gathering.

O'HARA: Advocates of developing US space weapons say the country must stay ahead of adversaries who might be developing the capability to take out critical US communications and surveillance satellites. White House spokesman McClellan alluded to that today.

Mr. McCLELLAN: There are countries that have taken an interest in space, and they have looked at things that could--or technologies that could threaten our space systems. And so you obviously need to take that into account when you're updating the policy.

O'HARA: Michael Krepon says that jamming satellite uplinks and downlinks has become a part of warfare.

Mr. KREPON: But what has not been a part of warfare is a direct attack against a satellite.

O'HARA: Other nations and arms control proponents are worried that the Pentagon is developing the capability for direct strikes against satellites. But White House spokesman Scott McClellan says the updated national space policy is not one of aggression.

Mr. KREPON: I expect it's likely to continue to emphasize the sovereignty of space systems and the right of free passage of those space systems. You know, we believe in the peaceful exploration of space. There are treaties in place, and we continue to abide by those treaties.

O'HARA: But there are no treaties that block US development of space weapons. Two years ago, the Bush administration withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which bans space weapons. Vicky O'Hara, NPR News, Washington.

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