US Space Command!
April 9, 2002 1:57 PM   Subscribe

US Space Command! Bruce Sterling talks about the militarization of space, citing "The more people learn how dependent we are on space, the more likely they are to figure out, as the Chinese and Russians have, that being able to interfere with our satellites is essential to their strategic interest. The threat to space assets is real and growing." Does the rest of the world suffer from a minesatellite gap with the US? Plus, some scenario planning :) and a sensible missile defense program?
posted by kliuless (7 comments total)

Normally, I really, really like Sterling. I think he's a talented writer and a brilliant visionary. This time, however...hrm. I hope he's right, for all our sakes. It seems a bit optimistic, though. The assumption that someone needs a cruise missile to deliver a nuclear warhead, or that someone even needs a nuke at all in order to cause major problems seems pretty rose-colored to me. I notice he makes mentions of truck bombs at the very end, tucked neatly into the last few paragraphs. Surely nuclear terrorists wouldn't stoop as low as to deliver a nuke to the White House in a Ryder truck, eh?

Maybe I'm just being overly paranoid and pessimistic.

I doubt it, though.
posted by 40 Watt at 5:24 PM on April 9, 2002

40watt, no, you're not -- and realistically, the Pentagon eggheads are fully aware of the push-pull dynamics of technology, as has been learned over the decades. Time was when an advance in offensive weaponry led simply to a change in battlefield tactics or equipment. Increasingly, they're leading to attempts to change the battlefield itself. Unfortunately, we're not at the point where we trust China or lesser powers like Iraq the way we do France (though Russia's getting close). So we still need to have the best technology to counter conventional threats.

But the psychological problem here is that the more you use a tool like a conventional miltiary advantage, the more the enemy will seek to bypass that advantage and find another way to reach you. The classic example in our papers today is the Palestinian suicide bomber.

One of the more vexing problems military planners face today is that of ensuring that an enemy is completely defeated. It's widely understood that a failure to completely defeat the Axis in the First World War led inevitably to a repeated conflict a generation later. As a result the Allies in WWII were determined to completely defeat Germany and Japan to the point of wholly destroying their armies and their will to fight. Even though we knew this, political considerations often make it very, very difficult -- people aren't generally willing to watch an enemy population decimated. With Iraq we face a repeat of the classic problem. And in the interim, we've seen the rise of 4GW -- Fourth Generation Warfare. The generalship of Arafat is an instructive case -- for years, he has managed to balance on the knife-edge of terrorism on the one hand and diplomacy on the other, retaining just enough legitimacy to escape responsibility and more than enough apres-moi-le-deluge last-best-hope to make his enemies believe that anything else would be worse.

Sharon has lost that particular illusion, if he ever held it, which is one reason things are happening the way they are right now.

But returning to the general case, the future general would do well to emulate ol' Yasser. If the penalty for attacking the West, especially the US, is complete loss of legitimacy, destruction of your regime, invasion, and rout, who in his right mind would attempt a convention attack? Why not achieve what you can through third parties, whom you may then cryptically cheer (as did the Palestinian Authority, who recently praised the "strategic brilliance" of the September 11 attacks, while simultaneously disclaiming any Arab or Muslim connection).

So quite naturally the Bush administration has become extremely concerned about what is called the "decapitation option", and so we have Cheney in a bunker half the time, with hundreds of staffers from key agencies relegated to working somewhere in the Maryland hills.

The relevance to space, then, is that this is fully expected to become the primary target of anyone seeking to strategically challenge us. The bin Laden rulebook doesn't appeal to everyone. If they're going to challenge us, they need to deal with our top advantage first, and that's our space intelligence systems. Space weaponry is going to be an area of increasing interest for the simple reason that if you don't, your conventional army is toast.

Which is one reason we should be watching the Chinese space program fairly carefully.
posted by dhartung at 8:38 PM on April 9, 2002

Oh, bliss. Be still my beating heart.

The thought of a future devoted to endlessly escalating playtoys for warfare just makes one swoon so. What endless delight (profit) for the drone-like technologists of war, for the armchair warriors, and for the Tom Clancy wannabes.

Unless Americans come to realize that they are not stronger in the world because they have the bomb but weaker because of their vulnerability to atomic attack, they are not likely to conduct their policy at Lake Success [the United Nations] or in their relations with Russia in a spirit that furthers the arrival at an understanding. (Albert Einstein, 1947).

Dr. Strangelove: (speaking with German accent...)
Mr. President, I would not rule out the chance to preserve a nucleus of human specimens. It would be quite easy... heh the bottom of ah ... some of our deeper mineshafts. The radioactivity would never penetrate a mine some thousands of feet deep. And in a matter of weeks, sufficient improvements in dwelling space could easily be provided.

President Muffley:
How long would you have to stay down there?

Well let's see now ah...cobalt thorium G....ah...radioactive halflife of uh,...hmm.. I would think that uh... possibly uh... one hundred years.

You mean, people could actually stay down there for a hundred years?

It would not be difficult mein Fuhrer! Nuclear reactors could, heh... I'm sorry....Mr. President. Nuclear reactors could provide power almost indefinitely. Greenhouses could maintain plantlife. Animals could be bred and slaughtered. A quick survey would have to be made of all the available mine sites in the country. But I would guess... that ah, dwelling space for several hundred thousands of our people could easily be provided.

General Turgidson:
I think it would be extremely naive of us, Mr. President, to imagine that these new developments are going to cause any change in Soviet expansionist policy. I mean, we must be... increasingly on the alert to prevent them from taking over other mineshaft space, in order to breed more prodigiously than we do, thus, knocking us out in superior numbers when we emerge! Mr. President, we must not allow... a mine shaft gap!
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 9:58 PM on April 9, 2002

It's like a beautiful green football field on a rainy day. Kickoff at noon. By five o'clock your mom won't even come onto the field to congratulate her star-of-the game hero son. But what a ripsnorter of a game it was! Where are the groundskeepers in all of this?
posted by crasspastor at 10:18 PM on April 9, 2002

Thank you for that f&m, dr. strangelove is one of my all time favorite anti-war flicks.
posted by insomnyuk at 12:32 AM on April 10, 2002

Normally, I really, really like Sterling. I think he's a talented writer and a brilliant visionary. This time, however...hrm. I hope he's right, for all our sakes.

yeah, it's kind of a 180 from viridian design! disillusioned maybe he's exploring the other end of the spectrum? but then it's not unusual to be loved... for scifi authors, esp. cyberpunk ones :)
posted by kliuless at 5:33 AM on April 10, 2002

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