The United States Space Force has just released a document titled “Spacepower” which sets out to define its doctrine and role in peacekeeping on the high frontier of space. The document recognizes the truth that space has changed from a relatively benign domain, where peoples and nations peacefully undertake exploration and trade and avoid conflict, to a potentially warlike domain, where nations can attack space resources of others and defend their own.
Space has become the fourth battlespace environment, after land, oceans and air (or the fifth if cyberspace is included). The nation that dominates this new combat space will by definition dominate the planet. Already, the economic life and national security of the nations of the world depend on constellations of communications, GPS and Earth observation satellites. Already, countries like China and Russia are developing weapons to destroy these satellites. The main mission of the United States Space Force will be to prevent the appearance of a space version of Pearl Harbor, not only by defending American space assets but also by threatening those of a potential enemy.
Space Force doctrine is no different from that of the Air Force, Navy, Army, or Marine Corps. The goal of any army is to deter war by possessing overwhelming force and, should war ever arise, to prevail as quickly and completely as possible. Roman author Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus said it best when he wrote, “Si vis pacem, para bellum,” which roughly translates to, “If you want peace, prepare for war. “.
Naturally, not everyone is happy with the Space Force doctrine or the idea of a Space Force. Keith Cowing, of NASA Watch fame, sniffed: “It is abundantly evident from this document that the current space administration is focused on unquestioned leadership and control of all aspects of space by military means. All other uses – scientific, exploration, humanitarian, commercial, societal – are of secondary importance to the mastery of space that Space Power seeks to impose.
One suspects that Cowing thinks all this talk of military domination of space is a bad thing. He is also wrong to say that NASA and its promotion of peaceful space exploration and commerce is of secondary importance. In fact, NASA, as an instrument of political soft power, is the other side of the coin occupied by the Space Force.
If other nations want to participate in human exploration of deep space, the moon, Mars and beyond, they can stay on good terms with the United States. One of the goals of the Artemis program and the accompanying Artemis agreements that would govern conduct in space is to bind as many people as possible into a coalition to explore and economically develop space. NASA promotes peace and friendly relations in pursuit of a common goal.
On the other hand, countries that choose to be hostile (China, Russia, and Iran in particular) can expect to encounter the full power and majesty of Space Force. In short, NASA represents the olive branches in the talons of the American eagle. The Space Force represents lightning.
No discussion of the United States Space Force can be complete without a mention of the ongoing discussion of rank structure. Currently, the Space Force uses Air Force ranks. However, a provision in the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act would change these ranks to a naval structure.
The main objective of the proposal is to take Space Force out of the mindset that sees space as simply an extension of the Earth’s atmosphere. In fact, space is an ocean. As President John F. Kennedy noted in his speech at Rice University, “We have set sail on this new sea because there are new knowledges to be gained and new rights to be conquered, and they must be conquered and used for the progress of all.” As human civilization moves to the moon, Mars, and beyond, Kennedy’s insight will become even more apparent.
Associations with the fictional Star Fleet in the various Star Trek franchise television shows and movies have not gone unnoticed. Indeed, the idea expressed by Elon MuskElon Reeve MuskManchin shoots down Biden’s new billionaire tax plan The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump’s missing Jan. 6 call logs raise questions The Hill’s Morning Report – Biden touts record US military budget, hits Putin again MOREthat with the Space Force, Star Fleet begins, is just the icing on the cake. One wonders what the late Gene Roddenberry would have thought.
Mark Whittington, who writes frequently on space and politics, published a political study on space exploration titled Why is it so hard to return to the Moon? as well as The Moon, Mars and beyond. He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner. He is published in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Hill, USA Today, LA Times and The Washington Post, among others.