What's Wrong with a Space Force?

August 25, 2019 at 5:26 am by Frank White
President Trump has signed a directive creating a “Space Force,” a new branch of service for the United States...

President Trump has signed a directive  creating a “Space Force,” a new branch of service for the United States  that will be a part of the Air Force (France has recently announced that they will follow suit).

Citing the dangers posed to the country by the ambitions of other nations in the space environment, the president’s support for such a force is consistent with his “America First” policies.

The directive said the following:

“Although United States space systems have historically maintained a technological advantage over those of our potential adversaries, those potential adversaries are now advancing their space capabilities and actively developing ways to deny our use of space in a crisis or conflict.” 

While many anti-Trump observers opposed the creation of the Space Force without giving much detail about their concerns, there was also opposition within the Pentagon to the whole idea. The Air Force, in particular, which has its own Space Command, did not look kindly on the idea and won a major battle when the new organization was placed under its structure, similar to the Marines’ relationship to the Navy.

Some have said that creation of the Space Force heightens the possibility of war in space, which may well be true, but it is not inevitable. That depends on civilian leaders, not the Space Force itself.

And fighting wars on the Earth increasingly depends on space assets, especially satellites. It is not unreasonable to assign someone to make sure that those assets are protected from an adversary.  

So what, you might say, is wrong with the Space Force?

My concern is not with the existence of the organization or the cost of it. My issue is with the language that is necessarily being used to justify the creation of this new branch of service.  President Trump has justified the force because of threats, not opportunities. In other words, as he looks outward to the solar system, does he contemplate working with the Chinese or the Russians on joint expeditions to the Moon or Mars, or does he focus more on how these countries could harm the United States? This marks a change in rhetoric from that of presidents over the past 50 years.

Those of us who have advocated space exploration as a great adventure for humanity have often argued that it could be an opportunity for adversaries to cooperate in unprecedented ways. Contrast President Trump’s rhetoric with that of John F. Kennedy in his historic speech at Rice University in 1962 when he said: "There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again." (https://er.jsc.nasa.gov/seh/ricetalk.htm)

President Kennedy went further, viewing collaboration in space exploration as a way to unwind the Cold War. While he was committed to winning the space race to the Moon, he reached out to the Soviet leadership many times before his assassination, suggesting to them that Apollo might be a joint mission and even a multinational endeavor.

So we had an opportunity in the early days of Apollo to begin a grand collaborative effort by all the nations of the Earth to explore the universe rather than to pursue a competitive zero-sum game. Now, as we contemplate mass migration out into the solar system, we have the same set of choices. Will we compete for resources and prestige or will we come together as a planet and as a species and go forward "in peace for all mankind?"

The military can play a positive role as humanity expands its reach beyond our home planet. They know how to operate in hostile environments and are adept at protecting civilian populations, when ordered to do so. Come to think of it, how about a Space Force drawn from all the nations of the world, with the mission of supporting a positive evolution of humanity into the universe?

Perhaps there is nothing wrong with a Space Force except the words that are used to justify it. But words have meaning, don’t they?

Copyright, Frank White, 2019, All Rights Reserved