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Space and Security
An Interview with Michael Heller
Michael Heller is a Research Assistant at The
Henry L. Stimson Center. He joined the Stimson Center in November
2003 and currently works on the Space Security Project and the Security
for a New Century program. A graduate of the University of Colorado
at Boulder with honors in International Affairs, Mr. Heller also
completed a portion of his undergraduate study at the Université
Libre de Bruxelles, where he focused on political and economic aspects
of the European Union.
What do you think about the Bush Administration's
position toward militarization of space, as a citizen of the United
Currently, the Bush Administration's position on the militarization
of space is consistent with its general view toward arms control
issues. It does not want the United States to be constrained by
any type of agreements or treaties. It wants the flexibility to
be able to pursue space weapons, ballistic missile defense, including
space-based interceptors, and things like that. As a US citizen,
I think that although it is top priority to keep the US secure and
guard against any potential threats, it is also important to engage
the international community and discuss these issues in certain
media, such as the conferences on disarmament in Geneva, in order
to see exactly what we need to guard against. Through these conferences,
we can discuss whether pursuing space weapons will antagonize further
and create an arms race in space, and whether there are other types
of measures to pursue instead of weapons in space. Over the last
50 years, there has never been an act of warfare in space. There
have been intermittent tests of anti-satellite weapons in space
during the Cold War, but both the US and the Soviet Union refrained
from taking actual acts of war into space. So, it is possible that
there is not a need to weaponize, and that instead countries can
hedge against threats in space to protect space assets through less
aggressive actions. So, as a US citizen, I think the Bush Administration
has not yet engaged the international community and the American
public enough in addressing this issue, and has used a very unilateral
How do you feel about other nations' programs to develop
space-based defense systems to counter the US programs? Are these
programs reasonable, or should they be restricted to prevent an
arms race in space? What kinds of international treaties are necessary?
Currently, as far as any public knowledge goes, other nations are
not interested in developing space weapons. China and Russia, our
peer competitors in space, might be researching space weapons, but
have strongly expressed the need to keep space free of weapons.
Right now, the United States is far superior in its technology,
and currently would be the only country to lead the way toward space
weaponization. I think that if it seems like international cooperation
in space is what our peer competitors are looking for, then if the
United States decides not to pursue a weapons program in space,
I think other countries will follow suit. I think other countries
would prefer to avoid an arms race in space. While saying that,
there are certain necessities that should go along with keeping
the US from deploying or using weapons in space. If the US is not
going to deploy space weapons, it should look for international
cooperation in terms of independent verification, just to make sure
that other countries, like China and Russia, are not weaponizing
space. There should be confidence-building measures, such as notification
of launches, which could help ensure that space will remain free,
for peaceful uses. So, the essence of my argument is that if the
US does not weaponize space, it is very unlikely that another country
will take the initiative to weaponize space.
How should the US take initiative to prevent other countries from
developing space-based weapons, as a member of the UN and international
The US should work to overcome the current impasse at the Conference
on Disarmament, and engage itself in discussing ways to prevent
weapons in space. This is something the US has not done under the
Bush Administration--exploring different ideas on cooperation in
space, exploring ways to ensure that other countries do not build
weapons programs in space, and basically discussing a code of conduct
in space. At the Conference on Disarmament, the US should discuss
a framework for a treaty prohibiting weapons in space, basically
engaging the international community. The US could also work with
countries individually, such as working with China and Russia, our
two closest competitors in space, to discuss prohibitions of weapons
in space and confidence-building measures to encourage cooperation
What is the relationship between civil and military space
development projects? Do they collaborate closely and share crucial
information? Does the government promote cooperation, and if so,
I believe currently, the budget for space programs is about 60 percent
for civil and 40 percent for military. But it is difficult to distinguish
between civil and military space programs, because a lot of the
research and development for one can be applied to the other. So
there is a close relationship. For example, GPS (Global Positioning
Satellites) is used for both civil and military purposes, so the
research and development has dual applications. For a country like
China, there is a lot of gray area between whether the budget is
being used for military or civil space projects. Almost all major
space programs in China that are civil have some military component.
So civil and military space projects are very interrelated.
Do you feel it is beneficial or detrimental for the private
aerospace industry to supply technology used in space-based defense?
No. I am opposed to it--I do not see the feasibility of an effective,
cost-efficient ballistic missile defense system in space when considering
current technological and financial constraints. But I think the
private component to supporting military space activities in research
and development is crucial. It cannot all fall under public programs.
Private enterprise creates the best technology. Public does not--the
Soviets showed that. For instance, Lockheed Martin, which is a private
company, is bidding for government contracts, and I do not see any
problem with that as long as the demand comes from true need, and
not the DC lobby. But ballistic missile defense is currently not
a viable deterrence strategy, or a viable strategy to promote peaceful
uses of space.
Private companies are just making money?
No, I would not say just making money--some people truly believe
that ballistic missile defense could make the United States safer
and the world more secure. So, it is a combination--there is that
level of business competition to get these contracts, but it is
also a political and moral decision to pursue ballistic missile
In 2001, the Pentagon stated that it will test a "space bomber,"
under production by NASA and Lockheed Martin, which is capable of
destroying targets on the other side of the globe within 30 minutes.
As an anti-militarization of space organization, how would you appeal
to the aerospace industry for restraint of space-based weapons and
other non-space weapons?
There is a difference between militarization of space and weaponization
of space. Space is already militarized, meaning that it is used
for intelligence gathering, for reconnaissance, to coordinate troops,
etc. But space is not yet weaponized--there are not weapons in space.
I am against weaponization of space. But militarization of space,
in a lot of ways, actually helps promote the peaceful use of space
because military components in space, such as satellite reconnaissance,
verify treaties that prevent the buildup of nuclear arms. So we
are not anti-militarization of space; we are anti-weaponization.
So, since you are anti-weaponization of space, how would
you appeal to the aerospace industry for restraint of space-based
I feel that it is not going to be up to the private aerospace industries
to exercise restraint. It is more up to Washington policy makers
to decide these government contracts. With these policy decisions,
it is a free market determining these contracts. I cannot see it
being feasible for a Lockheed Martin or a Boeing to turn down a
contract based on moral decisions, unless it was extremely undebatable
as being an evil subject. On the other hand, ballistic missile defense
is a debatable subject, depending on which camp you are in, and
if you are speaking to a more conservative person or a person who
truly thinks weaponization of space is going to help the world.
It is all about perspective. So, these contracts are more of a political
decision than an industry decision.
In the near future, the US Air Force is planning to deploy the Counter
Surveillance and Reconnaissance System (CSRS) by 2010, which jams
imagery satellite signals from the ground. Do you think such kinds
of reconnaissance satellites are necessary to prevent an arms race
in outer space?
Some of the newest developments in space-based infra-red systems
are actually peace-building tools, where they increase situational
awareness in space. Situational awareness is important because it
allows the United States to detect what is going on in space, whether
it is orbital degree, which tells the US whether it is hazardous
to launch vehicles, or international space station activity. So
the idea of increased surveillance is good in my opinion, because
this transparency allows the US to detect threats to US space-based
assets. We hope that in time, instead of having weapons already
deployed in space, the US could possibly use some of its capabilities
on Earth to prevent threats of attacks on its satellites. So increased
reconnaissance is a good thing, in my opinion.
But the idea of jamming imagery, since it is a counter-measure of
surveillance, is a slippery slope. Cutting off the communication,
including imagery communication, is already banned by the International
Telecommunications Union during peace time. So during peace time,
these acts would constitute a space weapon. In war, by practical
nature, a lot of these counter measures or jamming systems have
already been used. During the Second Gulf War, Saddam Hussein tried
to jam the US GPS, our satellite communication, but he was not successful.
But having such tools already deployed in space is probably not
a good idea. It rides on that slippery slope toward weaponization,
if not constituting a space weapon. Having deployed the capability
may lead to its use.
The increased reconnaissance is positive. It takes guesswork out
of the "Prisoner's Dilemma." It helps us know what
other people are doing, so we do not have to build up in response.
But these counter measures--jamming constitutes weapons. Maybe these
are not weapons in the traditional sense, such as carrying munitions
or kinetic kill weapons. But if you have a satellite jamming communications,
another country could do something to counteract that measure, and
could send up weapons to detonate nearby and short out the satellite
that is jamming. It could also have negative consequences because
if a nuclear weapon is used, the fallout radiation and electromagnetic
pulse could hurt other satellites that were not the targets.
Do you think the 1967 Outer Space Treaty needs to be revised?
(The treaty does not prohibit placement of anti-satellite weapons
and development of radio-electronic jamming devices in space.) If
so, what kinds of treaties ware feasible, and what would you propose?
What would be the outcome of the modification for the US, Russia
and China, in particular?
The 1967 Treaty needs to be updated. It needs to not just preclude
the placement of weapons of mass destruction in space; it should
also prohibit anti-satellite weapons, because anti-satellite weapons,
which are weapons that are either sent from Earth to space, or within
space, to take out a satellite. It also needs to include weapons
that are place in space to attack Earth. I would say there should
be a ban on space weapons, and space weapons would be anything that
would disrupt, damage or destroy space-based assets or any target.
This includes a shot from space to Earth, from Earth to space, or
within space. They need to clarify this language--it should not
just be a ban on nuclear weapons, which is what the Outer Space
Treaty is. It needs to also ban conventional weapons and jamming.
There needs to be a clear and concise treaty banning weapons in
space. Russia and China had some good ideas in their proposal, and
the missing component is the United States, which is the major player
right now in this area. Unfortunately, the current administration
does not want to be constrained by any treaties. That is why the
US withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty--for more
flexibility, fewer constraints. That is the mantra of this administration.
How do you think countries can maintain a balance in development
of outer space between national security, economic development,
and international responsibility? How can they do this while still
promoting stability in the world?
There are a couple of components: economic development, scientific
development and breakthroughs, civil development, and any other
international cooperation in these three areas. These three areas
are all peaceful entities and further integrate the world, promoting
not just peaceful actions in space, but peaceful actions on Earth.
If we have a commercial agreement with China for satellite television
or something along those lines, there is less likelihood that China
is going to try to destroy one of our satellites, because it is
against its own interests if China uses these satellites for its
televisions or cell phones. All of these areas of cooperation contribute
to peace. As far as maintaining security, the GPS system and Galileo
[which will be used by European nations and China, and is comparable
to the US GPS] are going to contain or already have separate security
components. So I guess the Mcode in GPS is a kind of military component,
although we might use it to coordinate joint NATO operations. This
security can still be maintained for the United States because it
is on a different bandwidth of radio frequency, so other countries
cannot access it without permission. It is almost the same thing
as having a separate satellite, because while it is still part of
the hardware, the software components are different, so you can
have secure lines and still have a commercial side to a satellite.
Hence they are separate entities, almost two satellites just separated
by different bandwidths of radio frequency.
To get to the quick essence of your question, increased international
cooperation in space contributes to security in space. So as the
civil, technology, scientific and economic developments move forward,
there would be less reason for these countries that are within the
system to move forward with developing weapons and challenging security
in space. All these countries are ready to move forward, except
the US is not at this point.
What is the ideal and effective role the UN should play to maintain
the power balance among countries to deter an arms race in outer
There is a theory that international governmental organizations
are only as strong as its components (governments) want it to be.
If we have one component, let's say the United States, that
is willing to move forward on something, such as Iraq or weaponization
of space, then the UN is severely weakened, if not a non-consideration.
But the United Nations is important, because it has so many different
organizations and components, that although it does not have an
enforcement agency, and it is only as strong as its components,
it can still be an advocate for international cooperation. So although
it is sometimes marginalized, it must continue to keep calling for
international cooperation, raising international awareness, and
engaging governments and international organizations, and hope this
continued drive toward international cooperation will eventually
come through. It is just a matter of patience and not giving up.
The UN has so many crucial components in the areas of international
development, economic agreements, peaceful deliberation, other conflict
resolutions to a certain extent, and peace operations in recent
years. If all of these areas are crucial enough, then a country
that really wants to engage in the UN will be willing to make sacrifices
for these other benefits. Essentially, the US has the capability
right now to lay down the law in space under the auspices of the
United Nations, so that a hundred or even a million years from now,
if someone else is in power, at least the US was able to lay down
these rules to set a precedent. We are missing an opportunity to
Russia and China are asking the UN disarmament commission
to begin a series of negotiations on an international ban on weapons
in space. The US is refusing to participate in those discussions.
Why is the US taking this position not to attend the discussions?
There is an issue brief by Michael Krepon [Founding President of
the Henry L. Stimson Center] on our web site--it is called "A
Short-Handed Strategy Against Terrorism and Proliferation."
In it, he not only advocates that the United States lead the way
toward cutting off the development of nuclear materials and preventing
weapons in weapons in space; he also discussed that at the UN conference
in disarmament, there is a current impassea deadlockwhere
the United States wants to freeze the development of nuclear weapons
materials with a fissile material "cutoff" treaty. China
has said it is not going to deliberate on this cutoff treaty until
the US starts discussing space weapons at the conference. Recently,
the newly appointed US ambassador, at the conference on disarmament,
said she did not have any ideas on how to get the conference out
of its current impasse. In other words, they are not willing to
even talk about space weapons in order to start discussing this
other non-proliferation agreement. So, now the ban on space weapons
is having repercussions against proliferation and international
cooperation. So the US is not only refusing to take part in space
weapons discussions; it is willing to sacrifice one of its key initiatives
in order to avoid discussing space weapons.
In the long term, what do you foresee for the movement of
the world toward outer space? Do you think that weaponization of
space will be pushed further? What do you feel are the most important
political and economic effects of weaponization of space? What would
you do to constrain the space arms race, and how would you educate
the next generation to prevent it?
Hopefully, movements toward outer space will be international economic,
commercial, and technological cooperation, which is what has happened
in the last 50 years. Space is one of the issues that is internationalit
affects every countrybecause according to the Outer Space
Treaty, no one can claim sovereignty in space. It is available to
all nations. Hopefully, it will be an area of increased international
cooperation. But the United States has outlaid certain measures
for space weapons for the next 10 years. They are not debris-creating,
like munitions weapons that will create debris by exploding other
satellites in space, because the debris from one satellite getting
blown up will run into another satellite and create more debris.
The United States is trying to avoid that, because it will damage
our reconnaissance satellites, our commercial satellites, our international
space stationsall of those things. The movement toward space
weapons will be toward non-debris-creating counter measures. This
administration, or if there is a new administration in November,
after the electionhopefully they will hold back on creating
these space weapons, and keep their research and development within
labs. This way, we will have the capability for space weapons, but
will never test them outside of labs, and will keep the sanctity
of outer space strictly for cooperation. There will be increased
situational awareness in space, increased reconnaissance, infrared
systems, increased radar, which will be positive and help us to
detect asteroids or other non-man-made materials that are threatening
communication satellites. Maybe there will be measures that protect
satellites, such as hardening them against radiation or against
other natural or man-made developments, or hardening them against
lasers if somebody decides to use a laser against a satellite. Or
the satellites could be made more mobile, so that if there is a
threat made to a commercial satellite, it can be moved. The current
satellites are just out there in orbitthey are not fully mobile.
So, hopefully, we will move toward cooperation, and away from weaponization,
because we are not weaponized, but use practical ways to keep weapons
out of space, without compromising international security or compromising,
from an American standpoint, the security of the United States.
The economic effects of weapons in space could be devastating. There
are a couple of instances, in Colorado Springs, where the timing
of one of the satellites was off by a couple secondssome detail
like that, it was just a simple mistakeand it caused a large
number of credit cards to no longer work, because they were no longer
be coordinated with satellite information. There was also a similar
instance with cell phones, where around 800,000 people could not
use their cell phones for a while. So maybe the US will not use
weapons that create debris, but other countries that have less to
lose by creating space debrisbecause they do not have commercial
satellites themselves, or they just want to hurt the United States
to get rid of our jamming capabilities in spacemay shoot or
deploy weapons that create debris. This debris creation can take
out all of our commercial satellites, increasing insurance for sending
up satellites, and essentially if there was some type of nuclear
detonation in space, it could short out some of the major components
that run the global system. We are already extremely dependent on
satellites for communicationUS soldiers and militaries across
the world rely on a global positioning system for coordinating battlefield
activities. If orbital debris is compounded and is flying through
space and takes out our satellites, you throw them back a hundred
years economically, in a civil sense, and so forth. It is completely
tied in, space weapons and economic consideration. They are not
People do not know about space weapons. I have seen personally,
from my own experiences, that people of my age just have ideas of
space weapons being similar to things people associate with Star
Wars or science fiction. Our generation, the next policy makers,
need to become award that space is crucial-- that these space launches
that are not "interesting" any more, ever since the first
couple where everything was televised and everyone was excitedit
is crucial and integral to the modern world and how it works. Awareness
of how important space is commercially and scientifically to the
world, and how the weapons in space could seriously threaten us.
I recommend reading the US Air Force (USAF) Flight Transformation
Report, which was just released in February and updated in November.
The USAF is the executive agent for military space, overseeing all
the military space activities. The report talks bout all planned
space weapons programs, in public documents, that show budgets,
programs to deploy weapons, and science fiction stuff within the
next 10-15 years. In the next five years, we will probably get increased
space-based surveillance and reconnaissance, but in the next 10
or 15 years, they are looking at developing the ability to apply
force from space.
As an employee at the Stimson Center, how would you educate
young people--the next generationabout this issue?
We are currently working on our web siteI am working with
Michael Krepon on laying out our strategy calling for space assurance,
where we are basically ensuring that not only will space be maintained
for cooperation and peaceful uses, but also ensuring that it will
maintained for international security, so that space assets will
not become susceptible to unwarranted or unforeseen attacks--for
example, as Donald Rumsfeld said, a "Space Pearl Harbor."
So we are advocating this idea of space assurance on our website,
and we are going to be laying it out the rules of the road for responsible
space-faring nations--nations that are in space and want to continue
the cooperation and peaceful uses of space. We are doing it through
the web--I think the internet can be a great medium to get it off
the back burner of American politics. The US gets so focused on
one area, they fail to see what is coming up next. I think Europe
has a lot more awareness about this than the US. I think we also
need to get it out of the academic communityit is a very academic
issue and is prevalent among think tanks and policy makers, but
I heard very little about space weapons when I was a kid, other
than in movies.
Submitted by: Tomomasa Nagano, spring 2004 intern