Warfare in orbit is only news when China does it
As a graphic proclaiming “Red Storm” flashed on the screen, CNN anchor Lou Dobbs intoned: “Communist 5China tonight refusing to explain its motives for conducting its first-ever anti-satellite missile test. That test, the latest in a series of dangerous new challenges by the Chinese military to this country’s interest.”
He threw it to correspondent Christine Romans, who declared, “Defense experts see a pattern of behavior that highlights China’s strategy to exploit American weakness.” Romans went to John Tkacik of the Heritage Foundation, who, she reported, “says that American policymakers refuse to recognize China’s hostile intentions toward this country.”
The segment on Lou Dobbs Tonight (1/24/07) didn’t mention anything about the U.S. military’s space strategy of recent years (Extra!, 5-6/99). There’s not a word about a key 1998 U.S. strategy document, the U.S. Space Command’s Vision for 2020, which envisions space-based laser weapons zapping targets on Earth, and speaks of the U.S. military “dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect U.S. interests and investment” and “integrating Space Forces into war-fighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict.”
Nor was mention made of the 2001 Rumsfeld Commission report, which declared, “In the coming period, the U.S. will conduct operations to, from, in and through space to support its national interests both on the earth and in space.” The Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization, chaired by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, also urged that the U.S. president “have the option to deploy weapons in space.”
Also left out was a new U.S. National Space Policy adopted by the White House last year that took a still more aggressive U.S. position on space warfare, announcing that the U.S. will “develop and deploy space capabilities that sustain U.S. advantage.”
Just as the continuing U.S. development of space military capabilities wasn’t reported, nor were the repeated efforts led by China, Russia and U.S. ally Canada to have the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, the basic international agreement setting aside space for peaceful uses, broadened to include a ban on the deployment, testing or use of weapons in space—or the U.S. opposing this initiative, all but alone at the U.N., in vote after vote.
The New York Times (1/19/07) was only somewhat better. After the jump, its lead story (“Flexing Muscle, China Destroys Satellite in Test”) did inform readers that China has “been trying to push a treaty to ban space weapons.” No reference, however, was made to the U.S.’s lonely and sustained opposition to this.
And the quote, on which the story is hung, in the fourth paragraph on Page 1, is Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard astronomer, declaring: “This is the first real escalation in the weaponization of space that we’ve seen in 20 years.” Where exactly has McDowell been as the U.S. has ratcheted up its space warfare program over the past two decades?
The space industry trade newspaper Space News (1/22/07) emphasized the folly of banning weapons in space in its front-page story about the test (“China’s ASAT Test Widely Criticized, U.S. Says No New Treaties Needed”). It filled six of the first eight paragraphs of the piece with long, virtually unbroken quotes from an anonymous “U.S. State Department official.”
A key quote from the unnamed official: “Arms control is not a viable solution for space. For example, there is no agreement on how to define space weapons.” How about “weapons in space”?
Aviation Week & Space Technology (1/17/07) revealed the January 12 Chinese test on its website in an article that omitted any mention of the U.S. space military program. But it did state, “China’s growing military space capability is one major reason the Bush administration last year formed the nation’s first new National Space Policy in 10 years.”
In a subsequent full-page editorial, headlined “China’s ASAT Test: Irrespon-sible and Against International Norms,” Aviation Week (1/29/07) declared that news of the test “that we broke on our website . . . should not come as a surprise. While the precise timing of the test may have startled most of the world . . . the People’s Liberation Army has been signaling its intent to master the space realm for more than a decade.”
Aviation Week might have acknowledged that “Master of Space” is not a motto coined by the Chinese, but by the U.S. Air Force Space Command’s 50th Space Wing in 1992—the words emblazoned to this day above the entrance of its headquarters in Colorado.
The publication made no explicit mention of China’s efforts to ban weapons in space and U.S. opposition to that, but it did remark that
“When I say last week’s coverage was bad, I mean textbook bad, without even token context,” Brian Dominick wrote for the New Standard website (1/25/07). “The only background we’re offered—in some articles—took the form of acknowledgement that the U.S. has the capability to nix Chinese satellites. But even that came in a paraphrase attributed to an expert who appears to be some kind of U.S.-space-domination cheerleader.”
Among the pieces he singled out was an Associated Press story (1/23/07) that spoke about the test by China “carried out under the auspices of its highly secretive, military-dominated space program.” Dominick observed: “It’s hard to think of better terms to describe the U.S. space program other than by adding ‘profit-aware.’ But you’ll never see ‘secretive’ or ‘militarized’ as adjectives describing NASA—at least not in the AP.”
Great detail need not be offered to provide context. For instance, the British journal New Scientist (1/27/07) simply noted:
The mainstream U.S. media coverage of the Chinese test—riddled with omissions and jingoism—is no surprise to Bruce Gagnon, who for 15 years has been coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space (www.space4peace.org). He tells Extra!:
Every year, he notes, the Global Network presses the space militarization issue by holding a Keep Space for Peace Week. “We send information out to the mainstream media locally and nationally but they completely ignore our efforts,” he says. “You’d think that the fact people are holding positive actions to educate the public about preventing a new arms race would be newsworthy.” Last year, during the week of demonstrations and talks, the bellicose new National Space Policy was announced (8/31/06), and thus there was “all the more reason for a story about a global movement working to prevent the weaponization of space. But nothing was reported on it.”
“Why do the mainstream media not report on a growing international movement to keep space for peace?” Gagnon asks.
Could it be that much of the media today is under the control of the very corporations who will benefit, directly or indirectly, from a new arms race in space? The Pentagon has long bragged that Star Wars will be the largest industrial project in the history of the planet. In order to create the fear and acceptance of such a plan, the media must manage the news around this issue so that the American people remain compliant.
The move by the U.S. to turn the heavens into a war zone “has all the elements of a big story—money, power, domination, corruption,” says Gagnon. “But the corporate-dominated media rarely go near it. The big money is keeping a lid on this story for a reason.”
Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at SUNY College at Old Westbury, is author of Weapons in Space (Seven Stories Press) and The Wrong Stuff (Common Courage Press) and host of the TV documentaries Star> Wars Returns and Nukes in Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens (www.envirovideo.com).