The world is not enough – President Trump’s quest for a ”space force”

The world is not enough – President Trump’s quest for a ”space force”

In mid-June this year, the U.S. President Trump announced the creation of an additional branch of the U.S. military, complimentary to the existing Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy branches. This “space force” should be “separate but equal” to the U.S. Air Force and strengthen both national security and the economy [1]. The proposed creation of a space force has been compared by some to the moment when the U.S. Air Force was established as a separate entity from the U.S. Army, by an act of Congress. Up until 1947, the U.S. Air Force had been a subordinate part of the U.S. Army [2].

The underlying motivation for the establishment of a U.S. space force revolves around China and Russia, since both countries have technological capabilities that could be used to target satellites [3]. In February 2018, a U.S. intelligence threat assessment warned that in two to three years, China and Russia would have the technological capability to shoot down American satellites, potentially endangering GPS satellites, military and civilian communications satellites and the country’s spy satellites [4]. Anti-satellite weapons can be divided into two overall categories: those that interfere and those that destroy. Interference weapons include for instance satellite jammers, which drown out communication signals, or lasers that have the potential to blind satellites. Destructive anti-satellite weapons, on the other hand, have the potential to pose an escalating threat. Their destructiveness was exemplified when China launched a ground-based missile in 2007, that destroyed a weather satellite in low Earth orbit [5]. However, the event also exemplified that destroying a satellite is not a great option, because it creates an uncontrollable cloud of debris, which could damage other satellites, including one’s own.

With his announcement of a new military branch, President Trump waded into a policy debate as old as the Clinton administration, on the desirability of such a space force [6]. The military and Congress have cautioned that the establishment of another branch of the armed forces would require an extensive and detailed process, and argue that the present period of international conflicts is not the time to weigh down the armed forces with bureaucratic procedures [7]. Furthermore, it seems like lawmakers in Congress have adopted a rather reserved attitude towards Trump’s proposed space force. In the defense policy bill for the fiscal year 2019, there is no mentioning of the creation of the new military branch. Instead, it directs the Department of Defense to work on “developing a space warfighting policy” within the already existing military branches [8]. However, President Trump is receiving some support from people who argue that the Air Force will never make space its top priority. Moreover, they plead, it makes sense to put the already existing and fragmented space forces capabilities into one coherent organization, under one chain of command [9].

It is important to bear in mind that the creation of a novel military branch would need congressional authorization and approval before its implementation [10]. If Trump receives authorization to establish his proposed space force, it will not go unnoticed. The Outer Space Treaty (established in 1967), centers on the core belief that space should be used peacefully, without Earth’s conflicts being transferred. It outlaws the placement of weapons of mass destruction in space [11]. In fear of falling behind in the technology race, the U.S., China and Russia are developing weapons that challenge this treaty [12]. In direct response to Trump’s remarks, the official reply from Russia stated that if the U.S. withdraws from the Outer Space Treaty, their nation and other states would follow “with a tough response aimed at ensuring global security” [13]. The Chinese reply opposed to turning outer space into a battlefield [14]. As rivalry in space increases, it seems to become more likely that the agreement to maintain peace in space will fall on deaf ears.

References

[1]. Remarks by president trump at a meeting with the national space council and signing of space policy directive-3: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-meeting-national-space-council-signing-space-policy-directive-3/ 
[2]. The US ‘Space Force’ and Its Implications: https://thediplomat.com/2018/06/the-us-space-force-and-its-implications/
[3]. Why a U.S. ‘Space Force’ is ‘premature’ but ‘inevitable’: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/why-a-u-s-space-force-is-premature-but-inevitable and President Trump Calls on Pentagon to Create New Military Branch” A ‘Space Force’: http://time.com/5314994/donald-trump-pentagon-space-force/ 
[4]. A Space Force? The Idea May Have Merit, Some Say: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/23/us/politics/trump-space-force-military.html 
[5]. See note: 3 
[6]. Trump Orders Establishment of Space Force as Sixth Military Branch: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/18/us/politics/trump-space-force-sixth-military-branch.html
[7]. See note: 6 
[8]. Trump’s Space Force Will Have to Wait: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/07/trump-space-force-congress/565967/ 
[9]. See note: 4 
[10]. Trump space force: us to set up sixth military branch: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-44527672 
[11]. United National Treaties and Principles on Outer Space: http://www.ifrc.org/docs/idrl/i515en.pdf 
[12]. See note: 3 
[13]. Russia Warns of ‘Tough Response’ to New U.S. Military Space Force: https://themoscowtimes.com/news/russia-warns-of-tough-response-to-new-us-military-space-force-61928 
[14]. See note: 3