Shield or Sword: Taking War into Space

Scientists for Global Responsibility does not accept that National Missile Defence (NMD) is purely for protection, and believes that it has a clear offensive potential

SGR Statement, 26 June 2001

G. W. Bush's presidency makes no bones about actively promoting the US dominance of space, including the ability to deny global communications and information facilities, and to destroy outright satellites and terrestrial targets.

Destruction of missiles shortly after launching is the stated objective of NMD. This should preferably occur while the missiles are still over the launcher's territory or as they head towards the United States. How can one destroy a rapidly moving object possibly hundreds of miles away, which has only just been detected? Only light is fast enough over such distances, so clearly a laser must be employed. To be powerful enough for its task, it must be a dangerous weapon itself.

Let us suppose that the extreme technical difficulties of building the NMD system can be overcome, that the US taxpayer will accept the estimated (and likely conservative) cost of 60 to 100 billion dollars [2], that it can be done without large nuclear reactors orbiting in space to supply the large amount of power required by the lasers, that the system cannot be overwhelmed by bulk launches or fooled by decoys, and that this vast web of untested technology will actually work. Will the United States then be safe from nuclear attack?

The answer must be NO. In fact, there are many avenues by which a country may be attacked. Retired US Rear Admiral Eugene J. Carroll points out that NMD offers no protection against nuclear (or indeed chemical or biological) weapons being smuggled in or brought by ship. These methods are absurdly simple, cheap, reliable and relatively 'untraceable' - and therefore probably the preferred methods.

Similar criticism has been levelled by a UK Foreign Affairs Select Committee: "if a rogue state did decide to inflict mass casualties upon the US it is unlikely to use one method of attack - ballistic missile - which would leave no doubt as to the identity of the aggressor". This report also "believes that it is reasonable to assume that the President would authorise a pre-emptive destruction of the rogue missile's site or sites regardless of whether NMD had been deployed or not." [3] (Italics added). This further weakens the claim that NMD is necessary.

NMD will not work as a shield. Its role can be offensive, and it does not take much examination of the official literature to find a clear hint of this intention: "Just as Europe [of 1500AD] expanded war and its power to the global oceans, the United States is expanding war and its power into space and to the planets.... Just as Europe shaped the world for half a millennium, so too the United States will shape the world for at least that length of time." [4]

This offensive potential is emphasised with terms such as "full spectrum dominance", "global engagement" and "... allow the fielding of space-based weapons of devastating effectiveness ..." [5]. This is not the language of defence.

Given that even the presence of such equipment for 'defence' would violate the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (this treaty, the OST, being specifically designed to keep space for peaceful purposes [6]) and the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty [7] , and the obviously powerful offensive capability of NMD, together with the USA's clear and explicit intention to break away from the 1967 treaty, and public statements such as the above, the implications are obvious to China and the other 'rogue states' against which NMD is supposed to defend. The predictable result will be a new arms race. [8]

The US clearly recognises that inequality causes conflict ("The gap between 'have' and 'have-not' nations will widen - creating regional unrest" [9]) , but it is choosing to exploit the conflict to its own advantage rather than deal with the inequality. NMD appears to be the strategy chosen by the current US government to maintain the world dominance of the United States. Such a policy is in contradiction to the very first article of the 1967 OST treaty which says, in essence, that any use of space should benefit all people [10], not to seize upon and exploit a divide. If NMD is allowed to go ahead it will at the very least start an arms race with the other 'haves', for example China. The 'have-nots' have the same desire for national security as do the citizens of the United States. If the 'have-nots' are denied equality of security, the conflict created will not go away, but will simply take different forms. NMD could, at best, suppress only one, very specific, form of conflict.

Scientists for Global Responsibility believe NMD as a defensive system is not viable, that its clear offensive capability is intended as a tool to increase US power, that it will open the door to the progressive militarisation of space, and in consequence will provoke a new arms race as other countries try to catch up.

Those paid to build it will benefit. No-one else would.


For brevity, the 1967 "TREATY ON PRINCIPLES GOVERNING THE ACTIVITIES OF STATES IN THE EXPLORATION AND USE OF OUTER SPACE, INCLUDING THE MOON AND OTHER CELESTIAL BODIES" will be referred to below as the OST (Outer Space Treaty), a copy of which can be found at

A press release arguing for the peaceful use of space can be found on SGR's web site, at

[1] Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) is an independent UK organisation of scientists committed to the ethical use of science and technology. SGR, PO Box 473, Folkestone, CT20 1GS, UK. Tel 07771 883696 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              07771 883696      end_of_the_skype_highlighting. Email:

[2] Congressional Budget Office, $59.4 billion for a 'limited' system during 1996 to 2015, estimated $100 billion for the more comprehensive layered system. These summary figures are taken from 'National Missile Defences and arms control after Clinton's NMD decision' by Daryl G. Kimball and Stephen W. Young

[3] UK Foreign Affairs Select Committee Weapons of Mass Destruction 25 July 2000

[4] 'The Future of War - Power, Technology and American World Dominance In The 21st Century', George and Meredith Friedman

[5] All 3 quotes from: New World Vistas, Air And Space Power For The 21st Century

[6] OST, article IV

[7] Treaty Between The United States Of America And The Union Of Soviet Socialist Republics On The Limitation Of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems, 1972

[8] UK Foreign Affairs Select Committee Weapons of Mass Destruction 25 July 2000

[9] 'Long Range Plan' US Space Command, Colorado 1998

[10] OST Article I para 1: "The exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind."