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Last Updated: 03/31/2003WATCH THIS SPACE: IT'S GOING MILITARY
Helen Caldicott, The New Nuclear Danger, The New Press, NY 2002, pp 263. ISBN 1-56584-740-1. Paper $16.95.
Almost everything in the book involves dealing with the most contentious of issues, yet there are no hints of half-baked conspiracy theories or political partisanship or empty rhetoric.
Readers may like to have their attention drawn especially to one chapter in particular in the light of the recent crash of the space shuttle Challenger.
Chapter seven is entitled SPACE: THE NEXT AMERICAN EMPIRE. It goes without saying that we all mourn the death of men and woman in whatever circumstances, and we admire fortitude, bravery, skill and determination, characteristics which marked out all the astronauts who died. However, this chapter, published before the accident, sheds fresh light on how the accident might better be seen.
The Chapter opens with some chilling quotes. One of them reads: "It's politically sensitive, but it's going to happen. Some people don't want to hear this, and it sure isn't in vogue, but - absolutely - we're going to fight in space. We're going to fight from space and we're going to fight in space. That's why the US has developed programs in directed energy and hit-to-kill mechanisms. We will engage terrestrial targets some day from space. We will engage targets in space, from space." This is attributed to General Joseph Ashy, former commander in chief of the US Space Command., which was set up in 1985 by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and has the simple motto "Master Space". It maintains a regular dialogue with 75 corporations and subsidiaries that form the aerospace industry in the USA.
Caldicott does provide a balance to the possibility of the US dominance by reference to the ISS (International Space Station) which has involved 16 countries: Russia, Germany, Belgium, Canada, Italy, Spain, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, France, Sweden, Switzerland, the US, the UK and Brazil. She points out that among the stated goals is "to foster peace through high-profile, long-term international co-operation in space." She points out briefly the role of the United Nations, and refers to the November 200 vote in which 138 members voted specifically that Outer Space be reserved for peaceful purposes. There were two abstentions the USA and Israel. (You may recall that one of the astronauts who died on the Challenger was an Israeli.) Nor, in her Appendix of agencies that may contribute to peace and nuclear disarmament, does she mention the UN Office for Outer Space affairs (www.oosa.unvienna.org), and readers may like to consult the Report of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, UN General Assembly, Official Records, Fifty-seventh session, Supplement No. 20 (A/57/20) to discover how the UN maintains a watch on space.
But to return to the earlier point: how, in the light of the threat to use space for military purposes beyond merely spying, should we view the Challenger episode?
We find an enormous sympathy for the brave astronauts; we hear the President of the USA stating categorically that the efforts will continue in space; we hear sympathy expressed by heads of governments all over the world. If anything the allegedly under-funded agencies will be able to make claims for maintaining or increasing their funding levels; the pressure for closer ties between the military and NASA, a civilian agency, may increase. But whatever happens by dint of policy development, the world has been given an uncritical blast of publicity to reinforce acceptance of US access to space. No news station worldwide used the incident to discuss US dominance of space. This works to the benefit of the certain cooperative activities that has long been in place. "The aerospace corporations produced rafts of propaganda designed specifically to convince American (sic) children that everything that happens in space is exciting and must be supported, while NASA - working closely with US Space Command - has designed a program to reach every science teacher in the US with the efficacy of their space message. The aim is to program children to believe that a large portion of the US national treasure should be spent on Mars exploration, and that war in space is inevitable." By inference, the sympathy generated for the Challenger fatalities generated huge sympathy and acceptance of what the US might be doing out of sight. No one quoted General Joseph Ashy.
So, the race to use space for military purpose may be going on right now, boosted rather than undermined, and what's worse, as Helen Caldicott has pointed out, there's only one runner backed by seventy-five corporations.
Helen Caldicott, a former Nobel Peace Laureate nominee, founded Physicists for Social Responsibility, and when she speaks she is well worth listening to and what she writes is usually well worth reading. Her latest work, aimed at exposing the George W Bush Industrial Military Complex, goes beyond the deadly nuclear threat to take in a whole range of dangers associated with an overblown arms industry.