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European-American space battles

Népszabadság Online - 30 novembre, 2004
Hajnalka Vincze

It is not "in a galaxy far, far away", but nevertheless beyond the Earth's atmosphere that one of the most enthralling rounds of the transatlantic match takes place. Although we cannot speak about genuine competition. Whereas for the United States the stake is to ensure an absolute control over all space activities, Europe, for its part, can only aspire to try to avoid total dependence.

The American space policy ambitions officially what they call "space control" or "space dominance" (namely control and domination of the entire space sector by the United States). It is so to speak the natural prolongation of Washington’s foreign and defence policy obsessed and guided by the concept of "overwhelming supremacy". Already in 1996, a directive of President Clinton had specified that "the United States will develop, operate and maintain space control capabilities to ensure freedom of action in space and, if directed, deny such freedom of action to adversaries. Another directive, coming from the Department of Defence this time, back in 1999, considers that " Space is a medium like the land, sea, and air within which military activities will be conducted to achieve U.S. national security objectives". The “Space” Commission of Congress at the beginning of 2001 counted with the scenario of a "space Pearl Harbor". Chaired by the current Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, it estimated that sooner or later war would inevitably extend to space: consequently, it is necessary to do all that is possible, and this as of today, so that the United States preserves there (also) its hegemony. In the eyes of America, the fact that it spends 90% of the sums devoted to military space programs in the world is not sufficiently reassuring. Washington wants always more and better. In this precise case, that can be understood to a certain extent. Indeed, since the beginning of the 1990’s, a series of decisions has locked the United States in the trap of the need for an increasingly absolute control of space. As its armed forces start to depend in an exponential way on space technologies, and national security is entrusted to what they call "the system of systems", they cannot not become aware of their increasing vulnerability. Hence their hostility towards what they perceive as the "proliferation" of space technologies, and their obsession to preserve an actual monopoly in this field. The Pentagon’s response goes primarily in two directions. The maximum protection - in the form of "preventive strike" if needed - of their own space devices on the one hand, and capacity to prevent the access to space of any other actor if Washington so decides, on the other. Of course, in the pursuit of this noble ambition, the United States does not let itself obstructed excessively by international constraints. Just like they do not bothered by the fact that simulations of space confrontations end in general in a nuclear apocalypse. Given that an adversary deprived of its “eyes and its ears" is tempted to reach, one never knows, for the red button. On our continent, for a long time only the French had become aware and drew the conclusions from the importance of space policy with regard the safeguarding of a certain margin of maneuver. But the Washington’s abusive behaviour in the 1990’s, their refusal to share information during the Kosovo crisis, or the memory of Colin Powell’s audio-visual performance in front of the Security Council, all contribute to open the eyes of European friends and allies, however frightened they always are by the very idea of independence. One of the major obstacles relates to the nature of European space co-operation, which is limited – as stated in the charter of the European Space Agency created in 1975 - to "pacific" aspects. It is true that this approach had undeniable results (once again thanks to France’s force of attraction, be it the independent access to space (Ariane launchers), the cosmodrome (the space center of Kourou, in a quasi equatorial position, is regarded as the best located in the world), or the technological and industrial base still competitive on a global scale. But all this is not enough any more. The absence of military dimension at the European level means an increasingly insurmountable handicap in a sector where the majority of "sure" investments and orders come from the state’s military institutions. Nevertheless, some shifts are to be noted even from this point of view. In spite of American pressures and blackmails, EU countries approved in 2002 the Galileo programme (satellite navigation system) which would enter in service as from 2008. The official position according to which any military application would be excluded is neither credible, nor sustainable. Also, the White Paper on the space policy, published in 2003 by the Brussels Commission, made mention of the reinforcement of the common foreign, security and defence policy among its arguments in favour of a stepped-up co-operation in the space field. This awakening can be explained by several factors. The American efforts to annihilate any kind of alternative to their monopoly figures in it as well as the recognition of the key role of space technologies in a number of European policies (from environmental protection to humanitarian assistance, let alone the requirements of economic competitiveness). The launching of ESDP (European security and defence policy) should not be forgotten either, its starting point being the need for autonomy of decision and action. Which would be rather difficult to conceive without "eyes and ears". As regards future progress, one of the keys resides in the systematic exploration of overlaps between the civil and military sectors. The field of intersection is, indeed, considerable, as shown not only by the Galileo system mentioned above, but also by the fact that in many civilian-labeled projects the term "security" occupies an increasingly central place. At the same time, the search for lower-cost solutions pushes the Member States towards bi- or multilateral co-operations. Obviously, and as in other fields, the fundamental question relates to the existence or the non-existence of political will. In the majority of the Member States, it takes a painfully long time to recognize that the arguments and efforts aimed at avoiding total dependence and powerlessness are not guided by a kind of mythical anti-Americanism. That this is a necessity that should be, on the contrary, a strategic precondition for any policy worthy of this name. Instead of what, European leaders are all too often engaged in debates of accountants on this vital issue.

Full text in Hungarian.




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