By Mairead Stone
Trump’s consideration of a US Space Operations Force is one among many of proposed moves to pull America away from its role in the global community to a position of military and economic dominance.
In June of this year, Trump instructed the Pentagon “to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces”, adding to the current US military branches of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coastal Guard. However, amid the recent midterm results, with a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, the Republicans will have difficulty passing this idea through Congress.
On October 23, Vice President Mike Pence addressed the implementation of a Space Force at the fourth meeting of the National Space Council. In a reflection of America’s Cold War ego of superiority, he stated, “space is a warfighting domain, just like the land, air and sea, and America will be as dominant there as we are here on Earth”.
“Today, other nations are seeking to disrupt our space-based systems and undermine our economic and military might, as never before,” Pence continued, claiming Russia and China’s electronic attacks on US satellites facilitated the necessity of a new armed force.
This is not the first time a US President has suggested fanciful projects seeming to arise from science fiction. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative, later deemed the ‘Star Wars’ program, to protect the US from intercontinental ballistic missiles. The initiative deliberated lasers, particle beam weapons and a space-based command centre for missiles. Whilst the project never reached realisation, due to lack of technology and immense cost, Trump’s US Space Force is an achievable possibility.
Contrary to its fictitious connotations, Todd Harrison of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies asserts, “this isn't about creating space marines or some expeditionary space force that is going to go out and conquer the universe.” Instead, he believes the Space Force would serve to respond to existing public security issues through a more focused department. This fragmentation of the US military could impede the effectiveness of administration and simultaneously contribute to the prominence of bureaucracy within the US government.
Logistics aside, the militarisation and potential weaponising of space holds consequences for diplomatic foreign relations. Loren Thompson, a Defense industry consultant, has assessed the proposal critically, suggesting "it will disrupt existing military relationships and add nothing of value.” The establishment of a Space Force could be interpreted as a move of aggression by Russia and China, two other leading nations in space exploration, whose current relations with the US are already complex.
However, idealistic hopes of global cooperative space exploration may be misplaced. Whether or not by consequence of Trump’s declaration of a future Space Force, on 11th November at a conference in Zhuhai, Senior Colonel Wang Zhonghua announced the intention to extend the scope of the Chinese Air Force into space. According to Lieutenant General Xu Anxiang, China “will have integrated air and space capability and balanced strength in both defensive and offensive operations” by 2020, the same proposed year for the establishment of the US Space Force.
If China’s aims are realised, the necessity of a US response cannot be denied. Yet, despite its possible essentiality, the enactment of the US Space Force could deteriorate global cooperation in space and instead introduce a new domain for potential warfare.