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Obama's Proposed Space Weapon Ban 550

eldavojohn writes "Obama's proposed ban on space weapons is a complete 180 from George W. Bush's stance on them. Space.com looks at the two sides of the issue and quotes Michael Krepon explaining, 'The Bush administration rejected space diplomacy. We refused to negotiate on any subject that could limit US 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 US national security.' You may recall discussing the necessity of space based weapons and Michael Krepon from 2005."
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Obama's Proposed Space Weapon Ban

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  • Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by halivar ( 535827 ) <bfelger.gmail@com> on Thursday February 05, 2009 @10:29AM (#26736713)

    For the most part, agreements between one or two are effective (a bilateral agreement is like a contract), while agreements between many are simply meaningless gestures that only bind the honest.

    Remember that governments aren't honest.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      how many nations have space weapons? usa, china & russia, now my maths isn't that great but i count that as an agreement between the us and one or two other nations.

      • by halivar ( 535827 )

        What about Pakistan and India, both of whom have both nuclear and space programs? What about Iran now being a space power, and claiming to be a nuclear power? The days of Russo-American nuclear hegemony are now over. The old cold war agreements are no longer effective at promoting worldwide security.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ByOhTek ( 1181381 )

      Translation: Illegalizing guns means only criminals will have guns.

      Illegalizing space weapons means only criminals will have space weapons.

  • by Jogar the Barbarian ( 5830 ) <greg@supersilly.DALIcom minus painter> on Thursday February 05, 2009 @10:30AM (#26736731) Homepage Journal

    Obama: "Today I have signed an executive order banning all space weapons."

    China: "Yay! We fully support this."

    *China blows up all U.S. satellites*

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by rubycodez ( 864176 )

      U.S.: responds to first strike and rains down 1,400 nuclear warheads on China

      so what's your point again?

      • by Shakrai ( 717556 )

        U.S.: responds to first strike and rains down 1,400 nuclear warheads on China

        See, there's the folly in your thinking. You leave the United States with no other response than a nuclear one if China blows our satellites up? Flexible response [wikipedia.org] has been our policy since the 60s and seems much more likely to deter someone than being limited to killing hundreds of millions of people.....

        • wrong, blowing ALL our satellites up could only be interpreted as precursor to chinese nuclear strike. Your imagined body count in that scenario is low, over a billion would die. your Flexible Response would apply to destruction of one or a few satellites, perhaps. sorry.

      • Blowing up a US satellite does not equal a first strike to a US city. It would be very hard to convince the rest of the world (much less the citizens of the US) that such a disproportional retaliation is warranted.

        However, the ability to also destroy China's satellites is a nice deterrent due to the fact that retaliation is swift, proportional, and no one is vaporized in the process. Well... Not yet.

        I have to agree with the GP that Obama may not have what it takes to maintain a national defense. I mean sp

        • wasn't talking about A satellite or even a few, but ALL. Being severly near-blinded in our global monitoring capability, the only possible valid assumption U.S. could make in that case is that nuclear strike by China was next.

      • U.S.: responds to first strike and rains down 1,400 nuclear warheads on China

        One good hit on the Three Gorges Dam would probably suffice.

        Let's hope there is sufficient deterrence value for all sides not to go down that road.

    • by flitty ( 981864 )

      *China blows up all U.S. satellites*

      This is as good as an arguement as saying "Cylons show up and nuke earth". Also, why would you piss off your favorite customer who buys all of your cheap crap?

  • Iran... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Skiboricus ( 597702 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @10:30AM (#26736739) Homepage
    Iran puts a satellite in orbit... We take ourselves out of the space based weapons party? Makes sense to me. HopeNChange will get us through the day!
  • Saves money, too (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @10:31AM (#26736741)
    As I recall, the US economy got a boost from reduction in arms spending post-Communism, in the Clinton era. I remember discussions in the UK before that on how Japan benefited commercially from not having a significant military, meaning that not only did they not have to pay for it out of taxes, but engineers who might be making missiles could work on things like better cars.

    To generalise wildly, countries with large military R&D spending and manufacturing tend not to be good at consumer products. Military "GNP" is akin to making lots of expensive goods and then putting them all on a bonfire.

    In the present case, Obama can achieve several things: reduce the cost of government, please the bluer segments of the US, and perhaps give Bill O'Reilly and co heart attacks. Potential triple win for the new Administration, and no-one gets hurt.

    • by Shakrai ( 717556 )

      To generalise wildly, countries with large military R&D spending and manufacturing tend not to be good at consumer products.

      Yeah, I can't think of any consumer products developed and produced by American companies that anybody would want to buy.

      and no-one gets hurt.

      Until some adversary emerges and we don't have the means to deal with him short of total war. Imagine if the French and Brits had addressed a particular problem in the early 30s instead of waiting until they had rearmed?

      • Re:Saves money, too (Score:5, Informative)

        by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @10:58AM (#26737191)

        Then we'd have seen terrorism emerge way earlier. Learn your history, but learn it well.

        Germany was economically crippled and, worse, humiliated after WW1. A swift retaliation after Hitler decided to occupy some of the countries, wiping him off the map and forcing Germany to surrender yet again would not have solved this problem. What led to WW2 wasn't simply the emerge of Hitler. The core reason was the humiliation of Germany at the peace treaties of WW1 and the ensuing thirst for revenge, and the extreme fear on the French side with a doctrine that dictated that Germany has to be crippled to the point where it could never pose a threat to France ever again.

        The solution was only found after both sides found that it's better for peace to accept the mutual right to exist.

      • Examples (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @11:39AM (#26737937)
        OK, then explain why it is that Samsung and Nokia are eating Motorola's lunch in mobile phones, VW, Mercedes, BMW, Toyota and Honda seem able to make better designed and built cars than the US, US white goods are generally inferior to those from Bosch, Electrolux etc., most LCD monitors come from Korea, Taiwan or China, laptops get designed in Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, the Long Island railway runs on imported French trains, most printers come from Japan, China or Korea, and how long is it since Kodak was last a major camera maker (though a lot of their Retina models were actually German.) As for the UK - well, we have massive military R&D per capita and our consumer products, such as they are, are obligingly made for us by foreign owned firms.

        As for your knowledge of WW2 history - I'm sorry, it is utterly inadequate. Apart from the possibility that, had Britain defeated Hitler in the mid-30s the main language of Europe would be Russian, what makes you think the US, which was pretty pro-Hitler at the time, would have let us? Roosevelt had to overcome some pretty entrenched attitudes to give the UK the limited support that he did.

        If you read the European history books, you will see that the 30s were pretty much a diplomatic failure. Had the West had the support instead of the fence-sitting attitude of the US, had Britain and France properly supported Austria, Poland and the Czechs, and had Weimar been supported instead of undermined, would Hitler have been allowed to form a Government? We will never know, but one thing is clear: despite its military buildup, Germany lost.

    • To generalise wildly, countries with large military R&D spending and manufacturing tend not to be good at consumer products. Military "GNP" is akin to making lots of expensive goods and then putting them all on a bonfire.

      That's definitely wild generalizing.

    • by Kiuas ( 1084567 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @11:02AM (#26737247)

      Military "GNP" is akin to making lots of expensive goods and then putting them all on a bonfire.

      Exactly. Orwell had a point about this in 1984. And since everybody in /. loves Orwell here it is:

      The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labour. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent. Even when weapons of war are not actually destroyed, their manufacture is still a convenient way of expending labour power without producing anything that can be consumed. A Floating Fortress, for example, has locked up in it the labour that would build several hundred cargo-ships. Ultimately it is scrapped as obsolete, never having brought any material benefit to anybody, and with further enormous labours another Floating Fortress is built. In principle the war effort is always so planned as to eat up any surplus that might exist after meeting the bare needs of the population. In practice the needs of the population are always underestimated, with the result that there is a chronic shortage of half the necessities of life; but this is looked on as an advantage. It is deliberate policy to keep even the favoured groups somewhere near the brink of hardship, because a general state of scarcity increases the importance of small privileges and thus magnifies the distinction between one group and another.

      Prophet or not, the man has/had a point there, although it's not directly applicable to modern societies of course.

    • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @11:17AM (#26737561)

      As I recall, the US economy got a boost from reduction in arms spending post-Communism, in the Clinton era. I remember discussions in the UK before that on how Japan benefited commercially from not having a significant military, meaning that not only did they not have to pay for it out of taxes, but engineers who might be making missiles could work on things like better cars.

      There was the talk of the peace dividend we'd see after "winning" the Cold War but it never materialized. We're spending more now than ever on the military.

      To generalise wildly, countries with large military R&D spending and manufacturing tend not to be good at consumer products. Military "GNP" is akin to making lots of expensive goods and then putting them all on a bonfire.

      There was a good little book, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers (I think) and the author said there was a rule of thumb that could be seen through the nation-state era -- exceed a certain percentage of GDP spent on the military and see yourself become marginalized. Anyone who has played Civilization immediately grasps the principle here. Your have x resource units per turn. Your economy will grow at a rate of y and your military power at a rate of z. Too much money spent on the military, you end up not having an economy that can support it, not to mention you'll be driving around with obsolete weapons while your opponents have modern kit. Too little money spent on the military and your thriving cities will be snapped up by your militant neighbors. And it doesn't help that the bastard computer cheats.

      The rule of thumb the author came up with was 5%. Keep it at or below that, your economy will keep up a reasonable rate of growth. Exceed that and you risk hollowing yourself out. He calculated that the Soviets were spending something like a third of their GDP on the military. The result is that they had a first world military by some standards but a third world economy that simply could not support it. An analogy would be the freakish weight-lifters who have so much muscle mass that their hearts are struggling just as bad as if the guy was a 500lb tub of lard.

      The whole problem with the military-industrial complex is that there's too damn much money to be made in producing weapons. Get enough weapons lying around, people are inclined to use them.

    • Re:Saves money, too (Score:4, Interesting)

      by hey! ( 33014 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @11:26AM (#26737707) Homepage Journal

      To generalise wildly, countries with large military R&D spending and manufacturing tend not to be good at consumer products.

      There's no evidence to support such a broad generalization. For example, the country that brought you the Stealth Bomber also designed the iPod.

      That doesn't mean that spending more on defense than all the other countries on the planet put together does not have an impact on our general competitiveness, but that impact is complex. For example, high tech military R&D encourages people to go into engineering. On the other hand, the firms or divisions of firms doing military engineering aren't doing much directly relevant to consumer products, and the practices aren't very transferable to consumer products. On the other hand to the other hand, military R&D and engineering supports infrastructure useful to all kinds of R&D and engineering, such as engineering schools and basic research.

      There's probably at least a score of "other hands" to consider in a generalization like that.

      I would venture one alternative explanation. This explanation doesn't explain everything, but it is certainly worth thinking about. The fact that we spend so much money on defense technology reflects our affluence. We are so wealthy that we buy the military equivalent of luxury goods. A Honda Accord is for most situations perfectly adequate for commuting, but many people who can afford it prefer a Mercedes. Likewise, we might not necessarily need one all weather ultra-flexible (and complex) defense system where two cheaper ones might do, but whether or not it is truly cost-effective, there is no doubt that the more complex system is a tour de force.

      The relevance to consumer products is this: they're expensive to make in a country that can afford a bomber that can fly from the US Midwest to the Middle East to 100,000 lb of ordnance. And in consumer goods, while you can make lots of money with luxury niche products, the greatest gross figures are in catering to the masses.

      It is always the high end of the low end that you have to watch, which is why Linux equipped Netbooks are such a threat to Microsoft's monopoly. It's not doom, it's just a beachhead on the edge of their profitable territory that they can neither afford to occupy, nor leave unoccupied.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sexconker ( 1179573 )

      Japan didn't spend money on the military because they weren't allowed to. It worked out for them because they basically got a free military from the US.

      The US has to spend money on a military, and lots of it. No other country will seriously come to our aid in the event of actual war. We have a HUGE area to protect. I'm all for trimming the fat, but if you think our military budget can be slashed without putting the US at serious immediate risk, you're incredibly naive.

      Also, it seems to me that the vast

  • No worries (Score:4, Funny)

    by pondermaster ( 1445839 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @10:32AM (#26736785)
    No worries, we have a new line of defense - Bill Gates and his mosquitos.
  • Why can't we deliver equivalent weapon systems from the ground, sea, air? Those have been well used in past conflicts. Is there some special benefit to having a weapons platform in space other than the fact we can pass it through enemy territory without a diplomatic incident? There has to be some major benefit that offsets the cost of launching and maintaining something that is extremely remote. I get surveilence satellites but not weapons platforms.
    • Yes there is. The weapons are virtually undetectible until it's too late. So if you target a countries known military bases/silos/leadership from space you can prevent them from retaliating. It just takes a very shrot period of time for the missile to hit, and again detection is harder.

      Conventional methods could mean a missile will take an hours to get there. In that time the receiving country can detect, arm and launch their missiles at you. So targetting their missile silo's is kind of pointless, a
      • by Ihlosi ( 895663 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @11:04AM (#26737295)
        The weapons are virtually undetectible until it's too late.

        Yes, because launching a big freakin' rocket (big enough to put stuff in orbit) will go unnoticed. Especially when you already have satellites in orbit looking for events like that. Do you really think that the militaries all over the world aren't keeping track of the stuff the other side has put up there?

        So if you target a countries known military bases/silos/leadership from space you can prevent them from retaliating.

        Yes, if you can orchestrate that one, magnificent strike that will take out a few hundred targets in fifteen minutes or less (with weapons coming from satellites that are scattered over several orbits all around the globe). Oh, and don't forget bagging all those missile subs, too, because each one you missed will mean a dozen nukes coming your way.

        Conventional methods could mean a missile will take an hours to get there.

        If an ICBM (or any other ballistic missile, for that matter) takes longer than an hour, it's probably not going to come down at all anymore.

  • by Shivetya ( 243324 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @10:45AM (#26736959) Homepage Journal

    Because we all know that everyone else will uphold the same morals.

    Sorry, but this is just political grandstanding for his base. If the does follow through he will simply gimp the US going forward

    • 1) Ban arming space
      2) Secretly arm space
      4) Blow the crap out of everyone, from space, and celebrate in the nuclear holocaust
    • by King_TJ ( 85913 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @11:30AM (#26737799) Journal

      Realistically, it's still a promise any leader can make with no repercussions. (Technology still isn't advanced enough to make "space weapons" feasible.)

      The things that we DO make use of in space are spy satellites, which don't really fall under the category of "weapons" - since they're passive devices.

      And don't forget, just because a nation promises they're banning the USE of such devices doesn't mean they aren't still spending big R&D dollars on their development. Once a prototype emerges that really looks promising and affordable enough for the military to accept - you'll see a leader lift the ban.

  • "Great idea!" (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LittleLebowskiUrbanA ( 619114 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @10:46AM (#26736975) Homepage Journal

    says the ghost of Neville Chamberlain.

  • When you outlaw space weapons, only outlaws will have space weapons.

  • Space is the ultimate high ground. Just having something up there you can drop is a heck of a weapon. More and more countries are moving into space, and several of them are unfriendly to the U.S. (Some for understandable reasons.) At least being able to defend the satellites we critically depend on is necessary.

    But we can do it right. Stick some money into nuclear propulsion (not Orion, try a closed cycle gas core nuclear rocket [wikipedia.org]). If we're not limited to chemical power we can lift a lot more weight [nuclearspace.com]. Make

  • Misleading Summary (Score:5, Informative)

    by manekineko2 ( 1052430 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @10:59AM (#26737205)

    This is a misleading summary, albeit cribbed from the first story linked.

    This is the basis of the story for both articles linked, it's a part of the Agenda found on Whitehouse.gov:

    Ensure Freedom of Space: The Obama-Biden Administration will restore American leadership on space issues, seeking a worldwide ban on weapons that interfere with military and commercial satellites. They will thoroughly assess possible threats to U.S. space assets and the best options, military and diplomatic, for countering them, establishing contingency plans to ensure that U.S. forces can maintain or duplicate access to information from space assets and accelerating programs to harden U.S. satellites against attack.

    link [whitehouse.gov]

    A ban on weapons that interfere with satellites is very different from a ban on space weapons. The former I could support, it's an agreement to protect the common good, mankind's access to space, from the possible disastrous consequences of ringing the planet with debris. The latter I would have deep reservations about.

    • Astronauts (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jgtg32a ( 1173373 )
      Does an astronaut with a hammer count as a weapon, just float over to the satellite and hit it with the hammer.
  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @11:05AM (#26737329)

    This is a game we can't afford to play. The cost of wrecking satellites is trivially low compared to the cost of replacing them. I would put space warfare on the same level as chemical warfare, if not in terms of human cost but damage done to the treasury. In WWII, both sides had the gas masks in case the other side used it first but neither did for fear of the chemical counter-attack. And this is in a war where carpet-bombing cities was considered an acceptable tactic.

    Here's a question: years ago I read that a poor man's ASAT would be a booster capable of reaching a retrograde orbit on the same orbit as the target. It doesn't contain a guided kinetic kill video, just a big bucket of sand. The sand is released after the orbit is circularized and it becomes a giant, fine-grained shotgun blast that will destroy any satellite on the same plane. Is this one of those hoary chestnuts that just isn't true or is it very plausible?

    The other question which I know is serious and yet unanswered: how much shrapnel would be left from an unrestricted space war? Would we be denying ourselves the use of certain orbits for hundreds of years? Low earth orbits will see the junk slowed by the atmosphere and burn up in time but high orbits would be free from the drag and could be there indefinitely. Would it even be possible to armor satellites sufficiently to survive the debris or would we have screwed ourselves but good?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by amoeba1911 ( 978485 )
      The muzzle velocity of a pistol is about 300 m/s.
      Sniper rifle is about 900 m/s.
      Satellites in Low Earth Orbit travel at about 8000m/s.
      It seems all you need to do is put some sand in orbit in opposite direction for a nice head-on collision with devastating results.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by caluml ( 551744 )

      Would we be denying ourselves the use of certain orbits for hundreds of years?

      Man! That would be annoying! No amateur radio contacts via the satellites put up there for that purpose [amsat.org] :(

  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @11:42AM (#26738009) Journal

    The whole space weapons ban was a farce when it was signed, why would that be any different now?
    Aside from the FOBS system developed in 1966 and deployed in 1968 (the Space Weapons treaty was signed in 1967, I believe):

    "...Nor were the anti-space-weapons treaty advocates anywhere to be seen in the face of other Russian orbital weapons: hardware built to go into space and operate there, not just merely fly up and down on earth-launched vertical sorties. The Russians built an orbital anti-satellite system that apologists pooh-poohed as "unreliable". The Russians put an air-to-air cannon on a manned spacecraft in order to kill astronauts who got too close--not a peep from the "weapons-free space" crowd. In 1987 the USSR launched the 80-ton Skif-DM, what was to be the first in a series of "space battle stations" to carry a 1-megawatt carbon-dioxide laser into orbit for anti-missile and anti-satellite tests, while preparing the Kaskad cruisers to be armed with space-to-space missiles tested on Progress missions--no objections ever recorded from keep-space-free-of-weapons advocates."


    To suggest that space will NOT be a field of conflict is naive to the degree of the papal ban on crossbows in the middle ages, or the early calls to prevent the arming of aircraft. To claim unilaterally that the US *won't* do it will eventually be seen as the 21st century equivalent of "not reading other gentlemen's mail".

    Pollyannas don't do geopolitics very well.

  • by graymocker ( 753063 ) on Thursday February 05, 2009 @07:53PM (#26746109)

    Far too often in these discussion I encounter ideologues that, instead of approaching each potential negotiation and evaluating it on its merits, apply ideological assumptions and assert that we shouldn't "appease" our enemies. The fact of the matter is, all negotiations have a winner and a loser - and as a global hegemon, the US is in a position to make sure we win. Reflexively spurning negotiation for ideological reasons takes one potential tool out of our hands. Part of the problem is the practical difficulty in selling a hard-nosed analysis of a potential treaty to the public: policymakers can't exactly tell the electorate "Don't worry, we're totally taking Ivan to the cleaners on this one" and then turn around and say "Please sign on the dotted line, Mr. Putin." With that in mind, I present some historical examples of successful applications of "soft" power in order to advance a nation's interests.

    (1) England and anti-slavery: By the mid 19th century, there was a Western European consensus that slavery was evil. England successfully argued that since it was so evil, nations should have broad authority to investigate and disrupt the slave trade, and secured agreements to that effect. England happened to have the world's largest navy and command of the sea. Obviously, it was incumbent upon them to take their warships and investigate and disrupt your merchant shipping, dock in and poke around the coastal cities of your client states, etc. etc. to defeat the evil practice of slavery. All it all it was a great excuse to give Her Majesty's Navy an excuse to poke their noses into other people's business and ignore traditional maritime borders. (Not that there wasn't genuine abolitionist sentiment behind these agreements as well. That was the beautiful thing: the abolitionist sentiment could be exploited to emphasize England's existing strategic advantages.)

    (2)Petraeus and Iraqi Nationalists. Concurrent with the troop surge in Iraq, General David Petraeus reached out to Sunni insurgents who previously were hostile to American forces and started paying their salaries while encouraging them to oppose foreign fighters and join the political process. I suppose appeasement is OK when it comes from a 4-star general. Consequently, the "Anbar Awakening" occurred and former insurgents became the "Sons of Iraq." It may be premature to describe this as a success, as Petraeus himself readily acknowledges that our gains are tenuous unless we build on them, but for now no one - and certainly no one on the right - has stepped up to argue against the all-but-sainted Petraeus' strategy.

    (3)1790s America and the Barbary Pirates:In the 1790s the US had no navy to speak of. For about a decade we paid tribute to the Barbary pirates, because it was more cost-effective than letting them sink our ships. Tribute payments accounted for up to 20% of the federal budget at that time. A full fifth of the budget: imagine the neocon howls of outrage at this indignity. Both Washington and Adams were opposed to tribute in principle and understood that tribute would eventually lead to more piracy, but saw that it was the practical solution for the short-term: transatlantic shipping was essential in growing the young nation's tax base, as there was no income tax then and tariffs were a substantial source of federal revenue. By 1800 America had a brand-spanking-new Navy built just in time for the more hawkish Jefferson to suspend tribute payments, send in the Marines, and kick some pirate butt. Many people are familiar with the butt-kicking "Shores of Tripoli" part, but tend to overlook the decade of swallowing our pride and paying up that made it possible.

"Conversion, fastidious Goddess, loves blood better than brick, and feasts most subtly on the human will." -- Virginia Woolf, "Mrs. Dalloway"