Trump’s Space Force Launches Legal and Political Controversy
On Monday, June 18th, President Trump directed the Pentagon to establish a new branch of the U.S. military — Space Force. The move has already garnered criticism from peaceful space proponents and became the reason for debates regarding the position of the future Space Force within the existing department structure.
“We are going to have the Air Force, and we are going to have the Space Force. Separate but equal. It is going to be something. I’m hereby directing the department of Defense and the Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces. That’s a big statement,” Mr. Trump said.
The idea of creating a new branch to oversee and manage the existing U.S. military operations in space were first mentioned by Mr. Trump in March, when he noted that the U.S. is already “doing a tremendous amount of work in space” and “maybe we need a new force. We’ll call it the space force.” Yet, back in 2000, a military reform commission headed by Donald Rumsfeld recommended the government to consolidate all space-related operation under a single military authority, but the idea wasn’t developed further because of the war in Iraq.
Now, as the House and Senate are devising the fresh version of the 2019 The National Defense Authorization Act, the President’s directive is fueling vigorous debate.
Space Force and the Outer Space Treaty
One of the first issues with President Trump’s idea pointed out by the critics is that it violates the 1967 Outer Space Treaty that forbids the militarization of celestial bodies.
However, the treaty was created in the pinnacle of the Cold War, right in the middle of the decade that kicked off with the Soviets launching the first human being into space and ended with the U.S. sending people to the Moon. For that reason, the treaty deliberately omits the question of military use of outer space. While both the Soviets and the Americans could agree that they won’t use the Moon or other planets to deploy military force, they both retained the right to do so in outer space.
Still, placing weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, in outer space is strictly forbidden, which includes the ban to put them around our planet’s atmosphere. What is not forbidden, however, is to place other kinds of weapons there, which is a loophole much enjoyed by both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. back in the day. The Soviet Union is long gone now, but the laws haven’t been cancelled, let alone amended.
To make matters worse, Russia has already expressed displeasure with President Trump’s move. While the actual deployment of the sixth branch of U.S. military might take a lot of time and discussions on the Hill, Russia doesn’t seem to be willing to wait until the decision comes into force. For now, Russian Parliament’s head of the Committee on Defense and Security Viktor Bondarev called the blatant militarization of outer space “a path to disaster” and stated:
“Let’s hope the American political elite still have the remnants of reason and common sense. But if the United States withdraws from the 1967 treaty banning nuclear weapons in outer space, then, of course, not only ours, but also other states, will follow with a tough response aimed at ensuring world security.”
This statement refers not only to Russia’s own program for military use of outer space, but at the very least to that of China, which is mostly unknown to the world. Still, China has recently shot down one of its own satellites as part of the program, which raised certain security concerns.
Also commenting on the matter was Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry.
“A military buildup in space, in particular, after the deployment of weapons there, would have destabilizing effects on strategic stability and international security,” she said.
Those statements might imply that, contrary to the hopes of the humankind, the arms race can be back again.
Meanwhile, some members of the U.S. Congress have already expressed their dislike of Mr. Trump’s idea. Even the U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has shown little support to the proposed concept back in 2017.
“At a time when we are trying to integrate the department’s joint warfighting functions, I do not wish to add a separate service that would likely present a narrower and even parochial approach to space operations,” Mr. Mattis wrote back then.
Now, however, his stance might change, considering President Trump’s well exhibited tendency to fire people who don’t share his views on certain matters. Taking Russia’s reaction into account, the matter becomes way more complicated, as the opposition on the hill will certainly get reinforced with the opposition on the international level.
Opinions of the general public are similarly divided. Thus, Twitter user Stone Cold wrote:
So Trump wants to spend trillions on building a Space Force. AmericaI has a few questions:
1.When will Puerto Rico have electricity?
2.When will Flint Michigan have safe drinking water?
America first….right pic.twitter.com/rLJdhNGYYm
— Stone Cold (@stonecold2050) June 25, 2018
Some users are concerned about the premise of a nuclear war in space:
A #SpaceForce is not about GPS and weather satellites. . . or even about spying. It’s about preparation for war. And that war will include #nuclear weapons. If we fight wars— and especially nuclear wars — in space, we are finished as a species. https://t.co/XTpr0S6irE pic.twitter.com/TzflUVNIFJ
— Beyond Nuclear International (@BeyondNukesInt) June 20, 2018
And others are just having fun:
— Robert J. Bentley (@RobertBentley76) June 20, 2018
The vocal opposition to Trump’s sixth branch of U.S. military emphasizes the fact that establishing the new space corps would entail astronomic budget spendings. Many perceive it as yet another way to squander the funds that are drastically needed elsewhere.
Donald Trump’s first announcement of Space Force wasn’t taken much seriously back in March, however, right now it is a concept that has to be thoroughly discussed. While such a move might reinforce the president’s positions amongst his core supporters, it has already launched a turmoil on an international level, raised concerns about further militarization of outer space, and, considering Russia’s reaction, about possible arms race beyond the Earth.
Still, with all that controversy, for now the proposed Space Force does not violate a single international treaty, and as long as outer space remains free of weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. will have every right to rearrange their military the way they want. The main concern is, whether it will escalate hostility in already chaotic international relations.
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