Twilight War: The Folly of U.S. Space Dominance

By Mike Moore. Independent Institute, Oakland CA 2008.

By Ron Shirtliff (reviewer)

The Defensive Shield currently being developed by the US is a ruse. It has no value in protecting the US from missile attacks, but it has great potential for taking unilateral American control over space. That is the thrust of this book.

Mike Moore, the author of Twilight War and former editor of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, home of the Doomsday Clock, is not likely related to Michael Moore, the documentary filmmaker. He probably would not want to be called a peace activist though he is powerfully committed to realizing a world ruled by law and with the least likelihood of major wars. He is an academic and a historian who brings his considerable scholarship and writing skill to bear on a topic that is of vital interest both to soldiers and citizens who think seriously about future prospects for war and peace, especially as it relates to the use of weapons in space. His argument against American deployment of weapons in space is long and detailed, and may carry as much weight with professional soldiers as with peace activists. On the book jacket our own Nobel Laureate, John C. Polanyi, says his work "should be required reading, for its masterful account of war and law in space."

Moore carefully positions himself as a realist, not an idealist, perhaps to maintain his credibility with the military and high-level decision makers. On the basis of his detailed knowledge of and close attention to the histories of significant American military figures of the past century, he is an admirer of the best of the military mind. He even goes out of his way to say that the American space warriors that he knows are honorable men, not villains, just very wrong. But his argument in support of the efforts of the world's nations, including China and Russia, to achieve a comprehensive ban on weapons in space never falters. He also does a fine job as a historian, showing how America has come so very close to fully embracing the folly of space domination.

Space Warriors

"Space warriors" are defined as those who urge that the US should deliberately take control of space to use as it sees fit, set its own weapons there, and use space as a military base to assert full spectrum dominance of the world. Other nations would be free to use space as permitted by the US.

First it must be acknowledged that the space warriors have a powerful metaphor on their side: in conflict there has always been a military advantage to holding the physical high ground. Castles are on the peaks of hills for the advantages of improved reconnaissance and improved ballistics (stones and bullets fly further and faster down the mountain than up the mountain). Balloons and aircraft, and now satellites, are the modern equivalent, providing eyes in the sky to overcome the fog that obscures targets. The atrocities of World War II, such as the fire bombing of cities in Germany and Japan, they argue, would not have happened if the accuracy of modern, space-directed weapons guidance systems had been available to attack military rather than civilian targets. Hence, if there is a need to prevail in major conflict, the most humane way to conduct war is to use the high ground of space to dominate an enemy. To deny the enemy an equal opportunity one must be prepared to deny him access to that high ground: it is not enough just to use space; it is necessary to be able to deny others the use of space. Space Dominance! American weapons and only American weapons in space. Not all the world approves.

Moore likes a little turn of irony. One of the reasons that Bush and the neo-cons were able to sell the disastrous attack on Iraq so easily was because they could argue that they could wage a short "humane" war -- that their accurate weapons would produce few civilian casualties, and very few American casualties. They were partly right: the great majority of the casualties on both sides came, and continue to come, after the Saddam regime was utterly defeated. Weapons directed from space won the war so smartly there was no need to give thought to winning the peace.

President Eisenhower's Contribution to Free Access

Moore reviews history to show how American thinking about space has developed over the years. He devotes a lot of space to President Eisenhower's desire to constrain the Cold War conflict with the Soviets, especially that part relating to use of nuclear weapons. Knowing that lack of information led to misunderstandings of the enemy, the military bureaucracy used fear to boost budgets and escalate the dangers,

Ike made the Open Skies proposal in 1955. It allowed each side to assure the other that their intentions were primarily defensive and their power balanced. The secretive Soviet state could not accept such a proposal, so Ike turned to the U2 spy plane, at least in part so that he could control his own over-enthusiastic cold warriors. This sort of worked and shortly after a U2 was finally shot down on May 1, 1960, superior American surveillance was provided by the first super secret spy satellite, CORONA, launched in August of the same year.

Space as a Commons for all Nations

Ike made clever use of The International Geophysical Year (IGY) that began on July 1, 1957. The Soviet Sputnik was launched in October 1957 and caused much consternation in the West but no direct challenges to its right to pass over other nations. Eisenhower countered this great victory of the Soviets by declaring that an American satellite would be for peaceful purposes and its information would be shared with the rest of the world for the benefit of mankind. This would look good in the eyes of the world, and most importantly, from Ike's point of view, establish space as international territory, beyond the control of individual nations. Though the first American failure was ridiculed as a "Sputternik," the principle of "freedom-of-space" was soon re-established by the 31-pound Explorer I, (launched by a Werner von Braun rocket) in January 1958. The data it collected was shared as part of the IGY project and was received enthusiastically by the world's scientific community. What was not shared was that the nascent secret spy satellite CORONA was better financed and ready in two years to collect information on every nation in the world. Despite this, and most importantly for the future, Ike had won out against the generals and politicians and pundits who argued passionately and publicly for US dominance in space. In office subsequently, Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, space warrior hawks when seeking election, came to recognize the essential wisdom of the approach pioneered by Eisenhower.

The First, and Only, Space Treaty is Obsolete

Later President Johnson worked with Soviet leaders to create the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which banned weapons of mass destruction from space. This treaty has held for forty years, but as modern space warriors point out, there is no blanket prohibition in international law on placing or using (conventional) weapons in space, applying force from space to Earth or conducting military operations in and through space. President Reagan had his "Star Wars" ambitions and currently under Bush there is the so-called Defensive Shield. The former was a flop for lack of adequate technology. The latter is a lie. Everyone acknowledges that the Shield would offer no protection in the event of a major missile attack from Russia or China. No one believes that so-called rogue states have the ability or the temerity to attack the US with long-range missiles. It would be suicidal.

Even if such states had the ability to launch against the US, the "Shield" could not protect the US from those missiles. But everyone in the know, Moore tells us, understands that the technology being developed under the ruse of the Defensive Shield would work very well as anti-satellite weapons, capable of destroying the satellites of other nations and crippling their military and commercial communications, indeed crippling them as modern industrial societies.

Today America is the pre-eminent user of space, owning about half of the 800 or so satellites now in orbit, but the other nations of the world are very seriously dependent on the security of their own satellites, which a fully developed "Defensive" shield could quickly destroy. If the US space warriors were to have their way, the shield would be used to exercise that power. No wonder those nations want a new treaty to protect their space assets.

Two recent events have highlighted this situation. In January 2007, the Chinese downed one of their own obsolete satellites. Later the same year the US did the same thing, each proving to the other that they had the technology to threaten the space assets of other nations without the use of weapons of mass destruction and therefore not violating existing international law. The difference between these two acts must be seen in the light of their different attitudes to developing an enforceable international agreement that would ban the use of weapons of all kinds in space. The Chinese, in common with every other space-using nation except the US and Israel, want such a treaty. In contrast, the US, under Presidents Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II, has refused to try to negotiate a treaty, arguing disingenuously that no such treaty is needed because there is no arms race in space. There can be no race when only one nation is in the game and no rule of law is needed in space because no conflict is evident there. The US space warriors have been and continue to be strong enough to convince each of those four presidents to keep open the possibility of using space to attain full spectrum dominance, to become the ultimate world cop, not to speak the word "Empire." (Moore doesn't speculate on the appropriateness of the term "American Empire" but he lists seven of numerous current books on the subject.)

A Monroe Doctrine for Space

Among other things, space warriors urge that a modern version of the Monroe Doctrine, which of course was a territorial assertion, should be unilaterally declared as regards space, with the Americans telling the rest of the world to keep out of that territory except on American terms. The difference, of course, is obvious: Space in its universality is qualitatively different from a mere terrestrial region. To control space is to control the world.

The space warriors are particularly in sync with the current neo-con dominated Bush administration with its open contempt for international agreements. In 2001 Donald Rumsfeld's Space Commission echoed the space warriors' core premise, that conflict in space is inevitable and that only pre-emptive action can secure the interests of the US in the future. References are made to the fear of a space "Pearl Harbor," as if the Americans were not more knowledgeable than any other nation about what is happening in space. Rumsfeld is gone from the Administration, but his spirit lives on.

Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space

To control the access to, and the use of space is so obviously the key to dominating the world that other nations of the world could not willingly tolerate such a regime, which is why they keep trying to get the US to agree to negotiate a treaty, the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space, PAROS. The US has vetoed this effort for more than a quarter of a century. Failing in that effort, nations unwilling to come under an American yoke have no choice but to develop their own space fighting abilities. Moore sees the Chinese destruction of one of their own satellites as a message to the US that the absence of a treaty will result in a race to put defensive and offensive weapons in space, and even more ominously, he sees the possibility of a new Cold War draining the limited resources of the world. Russia is unlikely to feel any more secure than China in this matter.

Why America Refuses to Negotiate a New Space Treaty

Moore ponders over the failure of the US to follow the logic that President Eisenhower established almost six decades ago in the throes of that nuclear standoff. Ike was cool, wise, and forward-looking in the face of great immediate adversity. Why now does the only superpower feel so insecure in its pre-eminent position that it will not even go to the table to negotiate an agreement that would head off a dangerous conflict for control of space? The answers he proposes relate to what he calls "American triumphalism," which has grown out of the great victories of World War II and of the Cold War with the Soviets, as well as a much longer lived strain of "American exceptionalism," which claims that America is above the vices of ordinary nations. This special status gives the US the right to be above the laws that are necessary for the fallen world: America is "saved" and can do no wrong -- an idealistic cop. Moore sees it as a question of values; he believes the values held by space warriors contradict the values of ordinary, fair-minded Americans, and he hopes that his writing will help "the people," the truly constituted authority in America, to take back control in favor of a world ruled by law rather than force. He feels that American democracy has the potential power to reverse this rapid rush to the international arrogance implicit in full spectrum dominance and he hopes his writing will help to bring this about.

I find it interesting that, as an obvious admirer of President Eisenhower's wisdom supporting free access to space, Moore makes only two passing references to the "military, industrial, scientific complex" that Ike warned was a threat to American democracy. Ike was right here too. Unilateral control of space will be a very, very expensive business, and we can be sure massive costs and profits will be diverted from those mundane human needs of food, shelter and justice to serve the dream of an eternal American Empire. Moore notes with reference to ancient Athens that "Hubris" has its price, and usually, its comeuppance.

What Will Happen Next?

His last chapter is titled "The Irony of American History." In it he contemplates the relationship between the great successes of America with the declining respect it receives in the world. He also reviews the ironies of the America's relationship with China, the space warriors' choice enemy. China and the US have a symbiotic relationship: the Americans need cheap Chinese products to keep its consumer society happy; the Chinese need the American market to build their own industrial economy; the Chinese are the main holders of American government bonds which keep the debt-ridden American economy afloat, and makes it possible for the US to invest so heavily in a Defence Shield which may be directed against their satellites and their industrial society.

Twilight War is a thoughtful book written by a man who loves his country and whose style is more thorough and careful than passionate. He includes 47 pages of documentation and five appendices, including a list of primary source websites, which he says, have the potential to make the serious student an expert in this field. This is a fine example of a book that throws light on one of the most important issues of our time, an issue that has succeeded in keeping its true significance obscured in twilight.

Reviewed by Ron Shirtliff, an associate editor of Peace.

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2008

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2008, page 27. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Ron Shirtliff here

Peace Magazine homepage