Hi-tech shiny space bases, lasers cutting through darkness of vain, easy-to-use blasters going ahead any real warfare technology? To most of us, these images of space wars evoke memories of a peaceful childhood guided by brave, honourable space heroes looking at us from cinema screens and movie posters of teenagers’ bedrooms. In real life, however, war in space might be not as shiny and spectacular. Its actors, usually driven by intentions less noble than those of sci-fi movies protagonists, often turn away from people’s daily lives, instead gazing up to the new sources of political and economic capital. Keep Space in Peace Week reminds us to demand the space back for the many – or at least not against the many, and not for the few.   

On December 20, 2019, Donald Trump announced the establishment of the Space Force. This American governmental body, taking over some tasks of the Air Force, aims to achieve, through development of space weapons, ‘American dominance in space’.  Such aim, often associated with the agendas of right-wing American nationalism, is excusive neither to one political option nor to one country. While American military space programme was proposed in 1996 and then initially authorised by Barack Obama during his presidential cadence, similar movements exist also in other countries. In Summer 2020, Russia conducted a test of anti-satellite space warfare. A trend of space armament exemplified by this event is followed not only by countries, but also by international organisations and treaties – such as NATO owning a system of space satellites.

Commonplace as it seems from such diverse examples, placement of any weapons in space is illegal by the international law. The first treaty forbidding such way of space exploration, Outer Space Treaty, was signed in 1967 by both USA and the Soviet Union. Despite the mutual hostility still remembered in political history as Cold War, these two main military powers of that time agreed to keep outer space free from any national interest, whether economic or political. In the late 1960s an object of a ‘space race’ for international prestige and political dominance, in long-term the outer space was to become ‘a province of all mankind’. This neutrality of space declared by the 1967 treaty (and next ones) is not easy to maintain – if any country breaks the agreement and starts its own space warfare programme, other states do same not to allow its domination. This is what is happening now between the USA, Russia, NATO, and other bodies sending their warfare into the space.

So far, the ‘domino effect’ of space warfare has not led to anywhere beyond devices disrupting satellite communication (such as those sent out last Summer by Russia and still developed by the US). This does not even seem anywhere close to spectacular, dangerous, life-or-death battles fought by space heroes of Star Wars and similar movies. It should be enough, however, that disruptions to satellite communications would be likely to disorganise many aspects of our daily lives lived more and more digitally, especially in the time of global pandemics.

Fuelled by huge sums of money and latest achievements of technology, a warfare-space-race can go far beyond a shortage of household multimedia before we even realise. Seemingly harmless, if little annoying, disruptions to satellite communication are all but the worst thing which can happen to us because of these processes. The development of space warfare goes hand in hand with improvements done to the deadliest warfare known in the world history – atomic weapons. These are the only kind of weapons powerful enough to be transported to space. People responsible for space warfare programmes seem aware of it: many countries investing in space weapons at the same time work to improve usability and effectiveness of their atomic warfare.

In space, results of an atomic explosion can be even more destructive than at the sea level. In vain, harmful radiation released by nuclear reactions travels further than in the air, losing its intensity much more slowly. However abstract these laws of astrophysics may seem, we should remember than space weapons are likely to be used for targeting very specific and very tangible goals on Earth. They can be military sites, but also public buildings or even private houses. Rather than movie-like honourable duels of equal opponents equipped with high-tech lightsabers, space fights fought in such way might resemble acts of terrorism, or genocide, done to defenceless civilians. 

Those who will not die hit by a nuclear missile from the space, will have to live in a world of growing inequalities enlarged by growing public spends for expensive space warfare. It is not a secret that the American space warfare programme links to big corporations which will benefit from governmental orders. Representatives of these companies have been involved in planning of the programme. Money paid to them by bodies such as the Space Force will come from people’s taxes, probably at the expense of public services such as healthcare and education. With even less access to schools and hospitals, the only thing left to us might be to hide back to the safe childhood world symbolised by space heroes and colourful blasts. 

Keep Space for Peace week (this year from October 3rd) was brought to life by Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament as a time for reflection on what – and for whom – we want the space to be. While for most of us the idea of war in space is as remote and intangible as a movie watched years and years ago, it can become here-and-now faster than a single shot of a blaster of a sci-fi hero. Now it is a right time to campaign to hold it in the sphere of imagination.

Written by Weronika Tupaj.

Image Credit Yorkshire CND.

Find out more https://cnduk.org/keep-space-for-peace-week-2020/