It's A Matter of Vision

In the mid 1980s Dr. Bernard Lown and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) had a vision called Satellife, which would use space as a platform for the exchange of life-saving information among health professionals in developed nations and the developing world. The launch of the low-earth-orbit satellite HealthSat1 in 1989 established HealthNet, an e-mail based global communication network. The technology continues to expand; a new handheld computer project helps to collect vital health data on the African continent. Ten thousand health professionals in 120 countries currently access Satellife information on a daily basis. In 1995 Satellife was responsible for alerting the world about the outbreak of the Ebola virus, and in the following year it helped transmit information to contain an outbreak at Lambarene.

A similar humanitarian vision for space is found in the Outer Space Treaty (1967), that states “the exploration and use of outer space…shall be…for the benefit…of all countries…and shall be the province of all mankind”. This treaty banned the use of weapons of mass destruction in outer space. At the UN General Assembly this year a reaffirmation of the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) was again called for. Kofi Annan has stated (1999) that “We cannot view the expanse of space as another battleground for our earthly conflicts”. Canada has stated that “Humanity demands that our heavens remain forever a sanctuary free of weapons of any description,” and has pushed for action in the Conference on Disarmament (CD).

Unfortunately alternative ideas exist. The US Space Command noted that globalization would probably cause a widening gap between the “haves and have-nots” and that therefore the Americans would be challenged. It promoted its Vision for 2020 for “Full Spectrum Dominance”, including dominance of space, to protect its interests. Instead of allocating funding to ameliorate the conditions of inequity which would arouse hostility against the US, the US Vision for 2020 proposes to use funds for continual surveillance, to support missile defence and force application. Among the technologies being researched and developed are strike weapons in orbit which could target sites on Earth, anti-satellite systems, space-based lasers and high power microwave weapons, and Ballistic Missile Defences. American withdrawal from the ABM Treaty has facilitated the last-mentioned. The new Missile Defence Agency proposes spending $1.33 billion in the next four years on orbiting kinetic kill vehicles designed to knock out enemy ICBMs in the boost phase. President Bush has requested an extra 1.5 billion dollars in addition to already budgeted yearly expenditures of 8 billion for Missile Defence. Many believe that the push for Missile Defence by 2004 will end any restraint on major expenditure.

This would end previous US restraint about going beyond research and development to actual placement of weapons in space. Such concepts can only lead to an arms race in outer space. Even space weapon testing could damage commercial and scientific research assets in space. All peaceful activity in space such as Healthnet, communications systems, global positioning systems, could be damaged. Canada’s $1.8 billion space industry would be threatened. Not all Americans share this Vision for 2020 view. IPPNW and like-minded organizations do not. Some US military experts call for diplomatic methods for collective security building, passive defenses (e.g. improved resistance to jamming) and avoidance of active defences (weapons).

Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) has stated that artificial satellites, infra-red and microwave information and chemical and radiation detectors can be used to verify arms control agreements, including ones that apply to space weaponization. Earth-based surveillance, information, and inspections, as well as on-board sensors on space objects, could also hopefully be used. One would hope that Canadian involvement in the development of such tools does not include research and development of weapons technologies. Some hope to convince Canadian industry that it is in their interest (and that of the US) to preserve space for peaceful activity.

Other efforts to prevent weaponization of space are notable. Although progress in the CD has been stalled on PAROS for several years, a new Russia-China compromise proposal seeks to move the process along.

ICIS (Institute for Cooperation in Space) has drawn up a model Space Preservation Treaty which would ban the use of all space-based weapons or weapons that would be used against objects in orbit in space. Congressman Dennis Kucinich has presented a parallel Space Preservation Act to the US Congress. This treaty would allow activities such as surveillance and early warning satellites, so that some militarization, but not weaponization would be allowed in space. Indeed we know that the militarization of space already exists, and our first task is to prevent weapons in space. The Space Preservation Treaty could come into effect through an “Ottawa process” if the CD fails to act. This model treaty has been introduced to the House of Commons and many petition signatures in support have been obtained. It has been introduced to many other countries. Congressman Kucinich spoke eloquently at the Canadian Conference on Unity, Sovereignty and Prosperity in Toronto on Nov. 30, 2002, urging Canada to hold a treaty conference on weapons in space, as was successfully done for banning land mines. On Dec.1 2002, Senator Doug Roche spoke of the importance of peace in space to the Senate. Moreover, Lloyd Axworthy addressed a conference in the spring advocating the concept of space as a sanctuary.

Other members of civil society have grouped as NOWIS (NO Weapons In Space). It will educate its members and the public and “convince the government of Canada to take an unequivocal position in support a permanent ban on space-based weapons.” A meeting in Toronto in June convened representatives from Science for Peace, ICIS, Project Ploughshares, Voice of Women, WILPF, Physicians for Global Survival, Homes not Bombs, IHTEC, UN Association, Oakville Centre for Peace, Ecology and Human Rights, Canadian Peace Alliance, and the Canadian Network for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons to plan strategy for this campaign. Work continues amongst the members; more information is available at

In September, the Berkeley, CA City Council passed a resolution supporting the Space Preservation Act and declaring the space above all citizens in Berkeley a space-based weapons-free zone. With this inspiration it has been suggested that we ask our own city councils to do likewise, just as many of them declared their cities nuclear-weapons-free zones twenty years ago. Two British Columbia towns have already followed the Berkeley lead. Other citizens in Denmark/Greenland, Australia and the UK are asking questions about the use of bases in their countries for Ballistic Missile Defence.

Let us all encourage the Canadian government to stand fast for 20-20 vision and healthy citizens throughout the planet, not for Vision 2020.

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ISSN 1925-170X (Print) | ISSN 1925-1718 (Online)