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Yevgeny M. Primakov, the former prime minister of Russia as well as a former foreign minister and intelligence chief, sits on U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's commission on the future of the United Nations. The article includes a sidebar on the history of the arms race in space. This excerpt is taken from his forthcoming book "A World Challenged" (February, 2004), a co-publication by the Brookings Institution and the Nixon Center.

By Yevgeny M. Primakov

MOSCOW -- Militarization of space is not a new issue. But the need for us to reject development in this area is now more acute than ever. If we let the opportunity to bring this about slip through our grasp, humankind will face a long-term, intractable strategic problem. Time is also of the essence because the United States has announced its intention to develop a space-based antimissile defense system. Not only does this have nothing to do with efforts against terrorism, but it exacerbates these efforts by dividing nations and setting their interests at odds.

The U.S. policy on a national missile defense system (NMD) -- space based or otherwise -- is motivated by the desire to maintain its dominant position. On this matter, I am in complete agreement with Russian experts A.A. Kokoshin, V.A. Veselov and A.V. Liss, who write about this in great detail: "The motives for creating a national missile defense system are no longer just military in nature. These systems represent more than just a way out of nuclear stalemate or protection against some hypothetical missile attack by North Korea. What the Americans want more than anything else is something to make them stand out from the crowd in the 21st century's new strategic landscape." The authors see the U.S. push to "maintain its exclusivity" through -- among other things --technological breakthroughs in the realm of antimissile defense as a way to avoid dealing with the multipolar world that is taking shape.

Likewise, U.S. efforts to curb the role of the United Nations in the world today and continual assertions of its right to unilateral use of force are obvious and are aimed at interfering with the processes moving us toward a multipolar world order. A more multipolar world is in the best interests of the entire world community -- even, perhaps paradoxically, the United States. A multipolar world makes it easier to respond to new security demands, especially international terrorism. The alternative -- a unipolar, American-centric world -- is already unacceptable to the majority of the world's nations.

It is not unlikely that international confrontation and violence would spread in such a hypothetical, unipolar world. During the Cold War, the two superpowers caused no small amount of harm (the question of who was worse is not for this discussion) to other countries. During that time the balance between the United States and U.S.S.R. limited some of the negative effects their policies might have had. There would be nothing and no one to provide any balance in our hypothetical unipolar world. If this world becomes a reality, the inequality between nation-states will express itself mainly in antagonistic ways. Imagine for a moment, in a world utterly dominated by the United States, the possibility that China might try to wrench free to form another pole and center of world power.

This example is instructive in that it shows how there is no interim unipolar step on the path to a multipolar world order. Some international-affairs analysts share the opinion that although the current trend may be toward a U.S.-centric world -- which is happening regardless of what other countries want -- in the future many countries may be vying to claim their own centers on the world stage. This scenario portends a future of our world that is rife with conflict and a return to brutal global confrontation. As American political analyst Samuel Huntington put it, "a unipolar system would have one superpower, no significant major powers and many minor powers." According to him, the dominant power in such a system would be in a position to effectively resolve international problems as it wished, and no combination of other powers would be capable of acting against it. The world today has little use for a dominant power of this kind, though no globally dominant power has ever succeeded in bringing forth a unipolar world order.

There are two possible outcomes that would result from America's uniltateral efforts.

If the United States were to use its enormous economic and technological resources to establish superiority in the militarization of space, other states would be powerless to present any competition. Then the United States would have a monopoly not only in missile defense but also in a new strategic offensive space-to-Earth weapons system and a space-based anti-satellite system. This would fundamentally change the world's present military and political balance. With no real opponents to the United States in the world today, such a situation would only encourage those in the United States who advocate more unilateral U.S. action and perhaps the use of force not only against rogue states.

A second variation would be that other industrially and technologically advanced states would seek to block the U.S. monopoly in space by developing and deploying their own space-based weapons, thereby causing the arms race to soar into space with unforeseeable consequences. How could this possibly help strengthen international security in the 21st century, or even ensure the security of just the United States?

To bring antiterrorism efforts closer together, it is important that one power alone not build up new kinds of weaponry or monopolize the move into space while challenging others to compete with it in this as-yet-non-militarized sphere. What we need is the kind of well-thought-out and organic agreement embodied by the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (which banned mass-destruction weapons in space). An agreement of this type could be joined by all countries with an interest in preserving scientific and commercial access to space. The number of countries directly or indirectly interested in this would grow, thus creating yet another basis on which the world community would come closer together.


History has already tried to teach us this lesson.

By Yevgeny M. Primakov

There was a time when the U.S.S.R. and the United States had enough sense and enough will to keep the arms race out of space. The United States conducted nine nuclear tests in space from August, 1958, to November, 1962. The Soviet Union, too, conducted four nuclear tests in space in 1961-62. The goal of this and other testing was to perfect the use of nuclear explosions in space to neutralize the ballistic missiles of a supposed opponent. These and other experiments significantly disturbed the Earth's magnetic field and littered the space around our planet with junk. Both the United States and the U.S.S.R. realized that continued testing could interfere with the normal operation of near-Earth satellites and seriously damage the civil and military communications systems that used them. Worse, it could distort electronic transmissions and knock out nuclear early-warning systems. During the Cold War this posed a dire threat. Nuclear explosions in space would have closed off huge zones to manned space flight.

At that time, the United States and the U.S.S.R. agreed to a mutual moratorium on nuclear testing in space, opening it up instead to scientific and commercial use. The passive military use of space was not excluded: for example, putting into orbit intelligence-gathering satellites and tracking and monitoring equipment. In 1963 the United States and the U.S.S.R. signed the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water. In 1967 the Soviet Union and the United States concluded the Outer Space Treaty, which banned the placement of weapons of mass destruction in space and was open to signing by other states as well. The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I) and Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaties broadened these restrictions: We agreed not to interfere with each other's space-based monitoring systems and not to place into space or to test in space national missile defense systems. As a result, our two states continued to put satellites -- including military satellites -- into orbit. But to this day weapons have not been deployed in space, which has remained, like Antarctica, a demilitarized zone.

However, attempts to turn space into an active military environment did continue, even progressing beyond the planning stage for partially space-based NMD. In January, 2001, the second Rumsfeld commission (the so-called Space Commission) -- headed by Donald Rumsfeld, now U.S. secretary of defense --published a report for the U.S. Congress urging a reevaluation of space-based deployment of U.S. weapons "for the defense of our satellites and space assets." The commission's recommendations opened the doors for an arms race in space and could constitute serious obstacles to national and international scientific and commercial space programs.

The Rumsfeld commission's recommendations drew wide criticism even from within the United States, with some Democratic senators speaking out sharply against its findings. American plans to militarize space slowed, ostensibly for technical and financial reasons. But this does not mean the issue is no longer an urgent one; the time is now to reach agreement on keeping space free of weapons.

The answer lies not, it seems, in simply banning a national missile defense system (NMD) outright. Clearly, we must undertake consultations on NMD research and development that would allow us to restrict the active use of space for military purposes. We have already had some success in this direction. In the 1990s, Russian and U.S. specialists meeting in Geneva were able to agree on a demarcation line for low-speed strategic and tactical NMD. In 1997 in Helsinki, I participated in an effort to identify criteria to be used for establishing barriers to the development of strategic NMD. Among them was a ban on space-based interceptors. The United States and Russia adopted in Helsinki a methodology for dealing with the inevitable scientific and technological advances that await us. This important agreement stipulated that as each side made certain technological breakthroughs, it would consult with the other to reach agreements appropriate for the new conditions.

Apparently, the solution also does not lie in banning the passive military use of space. The train, as they say, has left the station on this one. Anyway, banning the deployment of military monitoring systems would undermine the system of restraint. We must come up with ways not to destroy but to adapt this system to reflect both the familiar threats and the new threats we so clearly face after the Cold War. Among the means of accomplishing this that Russia has proposed is the collective development of antimissile systems to protect not just the United States but also other parts of the world -- Europe and Asia --from possible nuclear attack. Developing these systems collectively would take advantage of the intellectual resources and technology possessed by countries other than the United States and, extremely important, it would eliminate the suspicion that NMD would be used in the interests of only one country.

At the same time, it would be worthwhile to concentrate on developing non-nuclear, non-space-based measures to protect military space assets used for tracking and monitoring from attacks aimed at destroying them or at interfering with their operation. Such measures could include a ban on anti-satellite systems based not only in space, but on land, at sea and in the air as well.

(c) 2004, Yevgeny M. Primakov/Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 1/14/04)