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Frank Gaffney on the specter of a new space arms treaty

Monday, June 28, 2010

HH: Joined now by Frank Gaffney, president of the Center For Security Policy, Frank, it’s a bad news day, so I always turn to you, of course, when bad news is coming down the mountain like an avalanche. And I want to read you two paragraphs from the New York Times story on the Space Arms Treaty. For many years, diplomats from around the globe have gathered in Geneva to hammer out a treaty on the prevention of an arms race in outer space, which would ban space weapons. Arms control supporters say China and Russia have backed the process, and that the United States during the Bush administration dragged its feet. That’s enough. What do you think, Frank Gaffney?

FG: The Bush administration was absolutely right to reject the idea of effectively ceding space to our enemies, which is the practical result of any treaty on space arms control that you can imagine. This dates me a bit, but I have to throw this in, Hugh. Back when I was in the Reagan defense department, we were encouraged by the Congress to look at this very subject. And we did a vigorous study. Not just the Defense Department, but the entire inter-agency community, as they say. The result was absolutely conclusive. There was no way to verify a space arms control treaty. There was no way to ensure that the various means by which people could either put things into space that were harmful, or attack things that we had in space that were harmful, could be constrained by such a treaty. The only practical effect of an arms control agreement in this space would be to constrain, in fact, probably disarm the United States. And does that sound like something the Obama administration would be in favor of?

HH: Well, it does, and it also sounds like the infamous Washington Naval Treaty.

FG: Yeah.

HH: When we decided that we could negotiate with totalitarian regimes about how many ships they would build or not build, and how that was a giant, giant, giant victory for imperial Japan at the time, both the 1930 London Naval Treaty, and the 1936 London Naval Treaty that followed it. It was just a disaster.

FG: Yeah, well, typically, it is the case that totalitarian regimes exploit these unverifiable agreements, these inequitable agreements, for their advantage. Indeed, they go into them with the expectation that they will be able to do just that. And we in the West, the democracies, the folks who actually entrust security to these international legal regimes, wind up being taken to the cleaners time after time after time. And it’s hard to believe that we’re going to allow it to happen yet again. But that certainly is consistent with the Obama administration’s proclivities. And unless they’re stopped by Congress, and I pray that will be the case, or perhaps the next Congress, this is likely to be seen as yet another episode of short-sided, you know, naïve, and indeed reckless security policy.

HH: Now if people want to read up on this, the Washington Naval Treaty is the 1922 treaty. The London Naval Treaties follow eight and fourteen years later. But the Washington Naval Treaty is the one you look up. Frank Gaffney, in terms of why they are unverifiable, can you explain a little bit why space weapons present such a uniquely difficult situation to verify?

FG: Sure. The real problem is that there are a large number of ways in which you can interfere with things in space. They run the gamut from the boosters that are designed to put things into space, to ballistic missiles, long range ballistic missiles, to surface to air missile, particularly those of an anti-ballistic missile character, lasers. Then, you’ve got the things that can be put into orbit that can become problematic themselves – space mines, for example, or killer satellites, or the Chinese have experimented with micro and nano satellites that are maybe undetectable. You have radio frequency weapons. You have jamming devices. You have blinding devices. I mean, there are all manner of things, and most of them have some other use which is perfectly legitimate. And the idea that you’re going to somehow put them all out of business for anybody, especially totalitarian regimes that wish to maintain this kind of capability, precisely because they understand that by blinding our satellites, or otherwise neutralizing the incredible investment we have made in space, Hugh, for both national security and commercial reasons, they have every incentive to cheat on such a treaty, and they will do so to our grave detriment.

HH: Now Frank Gaffney, the Bush administration doesn’t get a lot of credit. In fact, I think it’s probably true that the Obama administration has announced a new policy that every hurricane will be named Hurricane Bush from now on. But they got this right. They understood this. And I wonder if you sense Democrats from the center understand this as well.

FG: Well, there aren’t many Democrats left in the center, I’m sorry to say, at least in elective office. I think there are still quite a number of them in the electorate, and I wish that they would be better represented, as an old Scoop Jackson Democrat myself. I think that it’s a terrible thing that the Democratic Party has become so dominated by really left wing forces. But having said that, Hugh, I think that most folks in the center, independents, Tea Party people, conservatives, too, all would recognize that a nation like ours cannot cede the high ground of space to hostile powers, and that is what we are being, I’m afraid, set up for by this kind of policy approach. There’s a lot of talk about, you know, maintaining commercial capabilities to get access to space. But the space launcher business, the solid rocket motor industry in this country, is in the tank, Hugh. We’re going to have to hope that some of these commercial enterprises will actually literally take off. But meanwhile, the other guys, and the light motif of this new policy, is we’re going to be collaborating with the Russians and the Chinese and the Indians and the Japanese and the South Koreans, and on and on and on. And what this means, I guess, at the end of the day is we are going to be transferring very sensitive national security technology to competitors, and I think they will find up, not in every case, perhaps, but in the number of those that I’ve mentioned, we will find them using it against us.

HH: Now Frank, I want to point out, though, it takes two-thirds of the Senate to approve this. And they haven’t even negotiated it, yet. So if the Senate goes back to relatively sane hands in the fall, or even gets closer, this can’t get through. I just can’t see this getting through. Your response?

FG: It shouldn’t. We’ll have an early test on this in connection with the START Treaty, which the Senate will have to consider sooner. But here’s the real question. Will we wind up signing up to a treaty and abiding by it even without it being ratified by the Senate? That is an unconstitutional practice that we’ve seen done a lot lately, and I’m afraid that it would have very, very far reaching and negative effects if it were done in this case.

HH: Frank Gaffney, I look forward to reading more at Center for Security Policy’s website, and in your column., America. Frank Gaffney will be in the lead, I hope, in opposing this space treaty collapse. He should be quoted by every newspaper in America on this. He knows this stuff backwards and forwards. Don’t believe the New York Times that this is a good thing for us. It is a very bad thing for us.

End of interview.

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