Saturday, January 27, 2007

More on the High Frontier

The Economist comments on China's recent test of its anti-satellite weapon:

An arms race in space would leave everyone, including its “winner”, worse off. Likewise, insisting on a treaty or nothing, with interminable debates over the legal definition of what is a space weapon—just something that can be fired or also the sophisticated bits and pieces that help find and track targets too?—won't stop the emerging space competition turning ugly. Better to try something more modest: a code of responsible conduct between existing space powers that emerging ones could also sign up to.

No evidence is given to support their conclusion that in a space arms race even the "winner" (not the scare quotes) would be worse off. It is simply presented as though it were self evident, an axiom of the post-modern intelligentsia.

But let's look more closely at their thesis. In a space-based arms race could there be a winner and would the winner be worse off, or perhaps better off?

In the post WWII nuclear arms race between the US and the USSR it was not just possible but logical to maintain that a nuclear war would have no winner. Even if one side had been able to come through the conflict with a functioning government and manage to send an army of occupation to stand in the rubble of the "losing" side's cities what would its "victory" really have been worth?

However the prospect of a conflict over control of orbital space presents a different picture. In the first place the winner of this arms race will receive more than radioactive ash as a prize. The nation which secures dominance of orbital space will be immune from conventional or nuclear attack from land, sea, air or space. The only vulnerability the master of space will have is to terrorism, just as any nation can be attacked in that fashion today.

Along with mastery of orbital space comes the ability to play gatekeeper for the rest of the Solar system. Aside from Earth there are seven other planets, dozens of moons, a million asteroids and more than a billion comets and planetoids. Also virtually limitless free energy from the sun.

It is very difficult to see how The Economist can envision a "winnerless" outcome to any serious competition to rule the high frontier. Unless what is driving their evaluation of the situation is not rational thought, but a knee-jerk pacifism left over from the Cold War.

Either that or the Euroelite's Pavlovian reaction of disdain for anything the United States is able to do better than Europe.