After a long period of detente between the United States, Russia, and China, things may be heating up again.
A national-security directive that could move the U.S. closer to fielding offensive and defensive space weapons has been requested by the Air Force from President Bush, according to a report last week in the New York Times...
The proposed change would be a substantial shift in American policy. It would almost certainly be opposed by many American allies and potential enemies, who have said it may create an arms race in space.
Sure enough, reaction came quickly. From Moscow News...
Russia would consider using force if the U.S. put a combat weapon into space, a senior Russian official in Washington has said.
China will not sit back and watch either. Experts say the Chinese first will seek an agreement to ban space weaponization. If that fails, they likely would respond with countermeasures aimed at neutralizing any perceived threat.
The Union of Concerned Scientists said the United Nations should consider drafting a treaty that would prohibit interfering with unarmed satellites, taking away any justification for putting weapons in space to protect them.
An arms race in space appears to be a real possibility.
Regarding U.S. deployment of offensive and defensive space weapons, supporters argue that it's going to happen anyway, so...
"The critical question we must ask is not whether the United States should be the first to weaponize space, or if space weaponization is inevitable, but rather can the United States afford to be the second state to weaponize space?'' asked Everett Dolman, a professor at the Air Force School of Advanced Air and Space Studies at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.
While opponents warn...
"If the United States chooses to go the route of space dominance, other countries will look at ways to make sure it doesn't happen, and we'll be back in another arms race,'' said Mike Moore, contributing editor of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.
To complicate matters...
India has announced that it will test-fire its longest range (3,000 kilometers) surface-to-surface missile, Agni III, capable of delivering nuclear payloads, by the end of the year. This range effectively covers China and Pakistan, unlike the earlier two versions. The development of India's missile program is a contravention of missile control and test-ban treaties, which India opposes as being biased toward major powers.
Long-range missiles carrying nuclear warheads is only one part of India's ambitious plans. Their unmanned satellite launch program also is moving ahead rapidly. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says they seek to affirm "the emergence of India as a major space power."
Last year, President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam called for India to develop nanotechnology -- including nanobots -- because it will revolutionize warfare. In a speech to his military research scientists, Kalam asserted that "this would revolutionise the total concepts of future warfare" and reportedly "asked the country's scientists to make a breakthrough."
Nations racing to weaponize space, combined with the potential for competing programs to develop nano-weaponry, is clearly a formula for disaster.
The international treaty on space warfare put forward by the Union of Concerned Scientists is a good idea. But it's not enough.
Now more than ever, all nations with the intention or the interest to develop exponential manufacturing with nanotechnology must come together to form a collective, non-competitive program of development. It may be the only hope we have for a safe and survivable future.