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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Securing space on the table


Securing space on the table
Responding to a new strategic arms race

RUSSIA AND China circulated a draft proposal for a Prevention of Arms Race in Outer Space (PA- ROS) treaty at the 65-member UN Disarmament Conference in Geneva in January this year. It aims to fill gaps in existing international law, create conditions for further exploration and use of space, and strengthen general security and arms control.
A draft treaty on the prevention of placement of weapons in outer space (PPW) provides for a ban on placing any arms in space and a ban on the use of force or a threat of force against space objects.
The United States rejected signing of PAROS claiming that an arms race in outer space does not yet exist. In reality, we are witnessing a new arms race in the outer space with China and the United States firing the initial salvos. It is another matter that the actors involved in the weaponisation of outer space refuse to acknowledge it.
In 2001, the United States, under President George W Bush, unilaterally pulled out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty. This cleared the way for it to develop and install a missile de- fence shield. The ballistic missile defence (BMD)
No 12 | Mar 2008
system is capable of destroying both ballistic mis- siles and satellites. The downstream consequences of that single decision catalysed a new race for weaponisation of the outer space. In January 2007, China tested an anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon against one of its own ageing weather satellites orbiting at 500 miles above the earth. The anti- satellite weapon was a non-explosive "kinetic kill vehicle" that destroyed its target by colliding with it. China succeeded in the fourth attempt in the series of tests. (Following the successful intercep- tion, there was initially a total silence from the Chinese political leadership. China alluded to a communication gap between the central govern- ment and the armed forces. But it is impossible for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to conduct an ASAT test without the Beijing’s knowledge. The Chinese Communist Party’s doctrine is that “the party controls the gun”.) China has also developed navigation satellite jammers that are equipped to disrupt the Global Positioning System (GPS). And recently, Chinese secretly fired powerful laser weapons to disable US spy satellites by "blinding" their sensitive surveillance devices and preventing spy photography when they pass over China. In addition to forcing the United States to enter nego- tiations concerning the weaponisation of space, China also considers the ASAT test as a form of 'deterrence’ against the US.
The United States responded by knocking down one of its own satellites. A failed 5,000- pound spy satellite about 150 miles above the earth was destroyed with a single missile defence interceptor fired from a US Navy warship in the
northern Pacific Ocean. The United States claims that the missile strike was meant to prevent the toxic 1000-pound hydrazine tank from scattering debris and putting populated areas at risk. But the timing curiously followed renewed Chinese and Russian attempts at Geneva to bolster an interna- tional effort to ban weapons in space.
Clearly there are rising tensions between the United States, Russia and China over the militari- sation and weaponisation of space. It is likely that countries like Japan, Iran, North Korea and Paki- stan may build their own ‘anti-satellite kinetic kill’ capabilities. Although no country has so far shot down another country’s satellites, the possibility of this cannot be excluded, especially in the context of asymmetric warfare.
An immediate implication is that India’s satel- lites and future space assets face the risk of being destroyed, incapacitated or jammed. For instance, ASAT capability allows states that possess it to threaten India's Command, Control, Communica- tions, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) architecture. Also, India is in the process of establishing an independent navigation satellite network with medium- and low-earth orbit satellites. Such a network will be susceptible to jamming and ASAT weapons.
The signature lesson for India comes from the historical experience of negotiating the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and its subsequent extension “in perpetuity”. That treaty cast in stone the ‘legitimacy’ of the five nuclear weapons states, and effectively released them from their nuclear disarmament obligation. If India had conducted a
Photo: Phil Champion
nuclear test in 1968 in- stead of 1974, it would well have been grandfa- thered into the NPT as a nuclear weapons state. Because it didn’t, India found itself being either forced to give up its nu- clear weapons pro- gramme or sit it out out- side the international nuclear mainstream.
In order to achieve a strategic parity with the United States, China is likely to continue to ad- vance its cyberwar and space war capabilities. Moreover, Chinese pledges not to prolifer- ate these technologies are believable to the ex-
India must to look at the military uses of space tech- nologies and be prepared with its own ASAT capabili- ties in case of future need.
tent they are in its interests. Given the historical experience—from nuclear weapons, to ballistic missiles to fighter aircraft—it is imprudent to dis- miss the possibility that China will transfer space weapons technology to Pakistan. India must to look at the military uses of space technologies and be prepared with its own ASAT capabilities in case of future need.
It is in India’s interests to become an active party to the outer space disarmament agenda and to propose its own draft of PAROS. It is important for India to influence the future treaty negotiations as an insider rather than become an outsider.
In the run-up to negotiations and the eventual signing of such a treaty, the United States, Russia
and China will continue to enhance their capabili- ties for the military use in the outer space without formally acknowledging the intent. There is still time for India to acquire, test, and demonstrate ASAT capability. But the window of opportunity will not last very long in case the United States decides—now that it has conducted a test of its own—to agree on signing of internationally verifi- able PAROS and PPW treaties. PAROS and PPW can perhaps preserve the peaceful paradise of the outer space by preventing, or at least postponing, an arms race in space. It is imperative at this stage that India demonstrate its own ASAT capabilities before multilateral negotiations over PAROS take off.

Adityanjee is president of the Council of Strategic Af- fairs, New Delhi.


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