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Santa Maria Sun / Commentary

The following article was posted on October 4th, 2011, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 12, Issue 31 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 12, Issue 31

Protest spotlights space militarization

Vandenberg's testing of strategic missiles and launches of intelligence satellites from the base shouldn't be mistaken for defensive or deterrent measures


When demonstrators gathered for a vigil on Wednesday, Oct. 5, outside Vandenberg Air Force Base, they joined a series of actions in more than 40 locations worldwide marking Keep Space for Peace Week. Actions took place in such locations as Menwith Hill, England; Jeju Island, South Korea; Nagpur, India; Kaua’i, Hawaii; and National Security Agency headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. Keep Space for Peace Week has been observed for nearly 20 years by the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space (, which was founded in 1992.

The demonstrators at Vandenberg felt confident base authorities would not try to arrest them on public roads adjacent to the base, following a ruling in the Ninth Circuit Court in mid-September in the case of U.S. vs. Hobert Parker, Jr. In previous U.S. District Court decisions in other states, judges rejected the Air Force contention that the boundaries of military bases are malleable, that protesters therefore could be charged with trespass even when they are on public property. The Ninth Circuit ruling specifically refers to Vandenberg and says base boundaries are fixed and may not be re-set by base commanders for reasons of security. Because similar rulings have been made in other federal courts, the judgment is expected to stick, even if the Air Force appeals.

The actions of Global Network members during Keep Space for Peace Week oppose a tenet central to Vandenberg’s mission: Neither the testing of strategic missiles from Vandenberg launch sites, nor the launch of intelligence and communication satellites from the base, should be viewed as defensive or deterrent in nature. Since at least the mid-1990s, such military organizations as Air Force Space Command and U.S. Strategic Command have explicitly declared their mission is to “serve the warfighter.”

For many decades, the world’s military organizations have been the largest users of space, and the 21st-century mix of orbital platforms is 70 percent dominated by the military. During the Cold War, space-based intelligence platforms were claimed to be stabilizing, a deterrent force that provided the “national technical means of verification” for arms control. But since the Cold War ended, the Pentagon has made it very clear space is intended as a “force multiplier to enhance the kill-chain from sensor to shooter.” The talk of defensive use of space has vanished.

Nevertheless, the specific systems addressed by Global Network protesters have changed over the past two decades. The focus on ballistic missile defense systems, which include a space component, has waxed and waned depending on the interest of the particular White House authorities in power. Today, although President Obama has said he is less interested in Star Wars weapons than was his predecessor, Global Network focuses on continued missile-defense weapons used in the ocean, as well as on radar networks and short-range missile systems in Central Europe and Turkey.

During the George W. Bush presidential era, large satellite systems intended for waging war, among them the Transformational Satellite, were challenged by Global Network. Though many of these planned satellites fell victim to budget cuts, current Pentagon doctrine calls for clusters of microsatellites and airborne drones to provide space support to the battlefield.

More recently, Obama’s escalation of the drone wars in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen has underscored the need to explain the way in which navigational and

intelligence satellites enable killer drones. It is true that drones provide a cheaper and politically palatable alternative to troops on the ground and massive air assaults, but the ability of robot planes to target individuals raises this question: When the U.S. targets a U.S. citizen, such as al-Qaeda member Anwar al-Awakli, who was killed on Sept. 30 by a drone, does it violate the pledge made in the 1970s to not use military or intelligence assets to commit assassination? When the ACLU tried to raise that question in a lawsuit six months ago, Obama’s Justice Department declared the entire issue of assassination-by-drone a state secret.

   The case of drones is one example of a troubling trend in the Obama administration, one in which Vandenberg plays a critical role. Conventional weapons that can strike anywhere on the Earth’s surface in two hours, including two new breeds of space plane and conventionally armed Minuteman missiles, are now lumped together under a mission called Conventional Prompt Global Strike. These weapons have been assigned to a new Global Strike Command that also has authority over strategic nuclear weapons. Could this joint authority erode the traditional firebreak between conventional and nuclear missiles? Certainly, when the commander of Global Strike visited Vandenberg in the summer of 2010 to witness a Minuteman missile test, there was no longer any mention of intercontinental missiles as a strategic deterrent to global war—only a mention of the Minuteman’s role in “warfighting.”

This year’s theme for Keep Space for Peace Week is “Even in the heavens, war is hell.” Citizens involved in a vigil outside Vandenberg want to remind Lompoc-area residents that Vandenberg’s mission is seldom defensive or deterrent in nature. The militarization of space does not just mean a future war in space—space support allows the perfection of war on the ground, acting in global, instantaneous ways. m


Loring Wirbel is a board member of  Global Network, and the author of Star Wars: US Tools of Space Supremacy. He writes about advanced technologies for several online publications. Send comments via the opinion editor at econnolly

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