Monday, January 29, 2007

The geopolitics of space


As affirmed by a senior Chinese military Official, who confirms the inevitability of an arms race in space. According to officials of the US Government, if military competition increases, the USA could reconsider commercial relations with Beijing.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Angency): “There will be increasingly more weapons in outer space during our lifetime.” Despite the general will to protect a pacific use of space, the rapid growth of arms in space is inevitable, retains Yao Yunzhu, a senior Colonel in the People's Liberation Army.

Yao, who heads the Asia-Pacific Office at the Academy of Military Science in Beijing, during a dinner at the Davos World Economic Forum (Switzerland), observed that “what China really wanted was that humanity would use space for peaceful purposes alone”. But, she added, in apparent reference to the United States, if there was going to be "a space superpower, it's not going to be alone, and China is not going to be the only one". {space superpower]

But US government circles say that a military escalation would have consequences in commerce as well. Christopher Padilla, assistant Secretary of Commerce visiting Beijing, comments that the Chinese missile had confirmed the worst fears of Washington, and that, “none of this will lessen international anxieties about the growth in China's military capabilities”. "Even as we work to encourage China's peaceful development and civilian trade, we must also hedge our relations with China."

In the commercial field, the trade deficit of the US with China is expected to show an increase of up to 230-240 billions of dollars during 2006. For a long time Washington has been asking Beijing to revalue the yuan, protect intellectual property, and to consent to full access to US goods and services in the Chinese market, measures that would allow the reduction of the deficit. China has never directly refused, but has always procrastinated in adopting these measures.

Now the new military concern could make the commercial issues even more urgent. The United States is worried that China's programme to build or buy advanced ships, missiles and other weapons could eventually catch up with US military might.

In the post-9/11 military shake-up, an increasingly independent US Space Command with control over US assets in space and their protection was gutted and subsumed into Strategic Command. Ever since, certain circles have lamented the fact and called for the recreation of an independent command with one one mission: outer space.

Given the threat of the People's Republic of China, this could happen, though not immediately.

Why would an independent command serve the US and its allies and the world in general better? As it's often noted, something that does many things at once usually does none of them well. This usually is said of things like fighter planes and naval ships, but it also applies for the most part to bureaucracies as well. When Space Command got folded up into Strategic Command, it became just another component of a command with a completely different mission: strategic defense based around the nuclear deterrent with all the attendant submarines, planes and missiles on earth. A change in focus usually leads to reappropriation of funds and a lessening of concern for certain other areas. When your superiors are fighting it out for dollars in Congress, they may not always be looking out for your particular sub-command's best interest because they have their own pet projects and priorities.

An independent Space Command would have its own mission and its own well-being in mind: the effective defense of US space assets. Just what are those assets? Think of how much fun it would be if the PRC just starts shooting down GPS satellites or commercial communications satellites? When people think 'militarization of space', they usually think of nukes and laser systems and the like, but in the here and now, we're talking just what mainland China has done, the destruction of orbiting satellites.

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