As the war rages on in Iraq and Afghanistan, another disaster is unfolding slowly with almost no coverage in the media at all: the world is slowly sliding toward a new arms race – this time in space.
One of the best tools available to us to monitor developments in space is called the Space Security Index. It is an annual assessment that looks not just at the possible deployment of weapons in space, but a whole range of indicators including the space environment, space security laws, civil space programs, and more. You can download previous editions of the index at Spacesecurity.org.
On Thursday this week as I participated as an observer at the annual meeting in Montreal of the space experts who compile the Space Security Index. It an impressive roster, including international academics, lawyers and diplomats. Even the US Air Force is represented.
One of the the main subjects of discussion was the test by China this year of an ASAT, or anti-satellite, weapon. China used a missile to crash into one of its own orbiting satellites, destroying it. The test creating a huge amount of debris, and the fallout from the test also included heightened tensions about the risk of the weaponization of space in response to the Chinese test.
But the indicator that really gets the pulse racing is saved for the end of the Space Security Index: space-based strike weapons. Research for this year’s report indicates that while no space-based strike weapons have been tested or deployed in space (yet), the United States continues to develop a space-based interceptor for its missile defence system. And apparently, other nations are responding in kind, as a growing number of countries are developing technologies needed for space-based strike weapons of their own.
It’s not surprising that the Space Security Index is largely a Canadian invention. Our country is probably the only place in the world that has had such an intense debate about space weapons. In the last election, the Liberals even tried to make a splash at the eleventh hour by promising to lead international talks to prevent space weapons (which are sorely needed…but Paul Martin lost anyway). And despite being in favour of joining Bush’s missile defence, even Stephen Harper doesn’t want to step into another fray about “Star Wars,” at least not while he is in a minority government.
The Space Security Index is “policy-neutral” which allows it to keep the US Air Force at the table (but I think they may have already cottoned on to the fact that everyone else sitting there wants to keep weapons out of space). Therefore it is up to concerned people and advocacy groups to take up the index and use it to stop a new arms race in space – before it starts in earnest.