U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent pledge to seek a ban on space weapons drew a mixed reaction from experts in the field, with some saying the president might be better off pursuing something more modest and less complex, such as a set of international rules governing space operations.
Arms control advocates nonetheless applauded the statement as a welcome departure from the space policy stance of former President George W. Bush, who rejected the notion of banning or limiting space weapons via treaty arrangements.
“The Bush administration rejected space diplomacy,” said Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Henry L. Stimson Center, a think tank here. “We refused to negotiate on any subject that could limit U.S. military options. We have a shift from an administration that was very dismissive of multilateral negotiations [as a whole], to an administration that is open to that possibility if it improves U.S. national security.”
Soon after Obama was sworn in Jan. 20, the official White House Web site was updated with a set of policy guidelines including one on restoring U.S. leadership in space. Under the heading “Ensure Freedom of Space,” the statement said the White House would seek a ban on weapons that “interfere with military and commercial satellites”; assess possible threats to U.S. space assets and the best military and diplomatic means for countering them; and seek to assure U.S. access to space-based capabilities, in part by “accelerating programs to harden U.S. satellites against attack.”
Obama’s campaign in 2008 outlined similar goals, saying an Obama administration would oppose putting weapons in space, seek rules of behavior for spacefaring nations and reduce the vulnerability of U.S. space capabilities.
The Bush administration generally opposed international accords that might tie the nation’s hands in space. The National Space Policy issued by the Bush White House in 2006 states in part that the “United States will oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to or use of space.”
Meanwhile, the Pentagon during the past few years carried out or planned a number of experiments that critics charged were thinly veiled tests of space-based weapons. Early last year, with then-President Bush’s approval, the Pentagon downed a wayward U.S. spy satellite using a sea-based missile interceptor. …