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US-Russian Space Tensions Increase

The years 1957 and 1961 were, without exaggeration, a turning point in world civilization. In the former case, the possibility of an orbital flight was proven, and in the latter a human circled the Earth. Both these landmark events confirmed the unlimited potential of rocket and space technology.
by Andrei Kislyakov
Moscow (RIA Novosti) Mar 20, 2007
"In the exploration of outer space, we (the Soviet Union/Russia and the United States) were not only partners, but also rivals, and that rivalry has brought excellent results," Russian ambassador to the United States Yuri Ushakov told a State Department forum in late February to mark the bicentennial of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

"Then came the era of manned space exploration and our rivalry continued, strengthening our industrial and technological potentials," the ambassador concluded.

Meanwhile, amid the celebratory speeches, the stark reality of our own day is that a new theater of military operations is fast emerging: near-Earth space.

Right off, I would like to pre-empt any remarks about the difference between the peaceful exploration of space and cooperation in that field, and the militarization of the universe; in theory, the difference exists.

But in the stark daily reality of competition, or, to be objective, confrontation, in outer space, the "excellent results" took the shape of a strategic arms race and an extreme exacerbation of tensions between the "partners," while "the strengthening of industrial and technological potentials" in practice meant an extreme degree of militarization of the country's economy.

To be more exact, we allowed the latter to happen in the mid-1980s. But, as history has been proven to move in a circle, the future may have equally "remarkable" achievements in store for us.

The years 1957 and 1961 were, without exaggeration, a turning point in world civilization. In the former case, the possibility of an orbital flight was proven, and in the latter a human circled the Earth. Both these landmark events confirmed the unlimited potential of rocket and space technology.

However, the imagination of the potential enemies of the time did not go beyond the military aspect. The Americans carried out anti-satellite tests as early as September 1959. In May 1962 U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara approved the deployment of the first anti-satellite program (later known as Program 505) using solid-fuel Nike-Zeus interceptors as anti-satellite weapons. And so on.

The Soviet Union was not to be outdone. When, in 1948, Walter Dornberger, former head of the German rocket research center at Peenemunde and the father of the American space program, suggested placing an atomic bomb in space so that it could be dropped on any point and thus be an effective deterrent, the Soviet Union took his words literally and throughout the 1960s worked hard on "orbital bombardment" and "fractional orbital bombardment" programs.

It was not until October 1967 that the Treaty on the Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and other Celestial Bodies came into effect. It committed the participants not to place nuclear and other types of weapons in outer space or on celestial bodies.

But by the time the treaty was signed, the Soviet Union and the United States had been vigorously pursuing military space programs for a decade. Needless to say, neither country was prepared to renounce the goal of achieving strategic superiority by improving missile technologies and developing space strike capabilities.

One should note in particular the disastrous tendency of the time to counter force with force. At least it was disastrous for the Soviet Union. Soviet military programs monopolized the national space endeavor and bled civil programs white.

What impressed the Soviet Union most of all was the Star Wars program initiated by President Reagan after his two famous speeches in March 1983. Referring to the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" the president announced plans to create a nuclear shield over America to protect it against the malign imperium.

But while the Americans never quite believed that a global anti-missile defense system was possible, Moscow had few such doubts. It concluded that the Americans were trying to tilt the strategic balance in their favor in order to launch a surprise nuclear attack.

The upshot of such a position for the Soviet Union was an unprecedented build-up of defenses, notably space strike systems, which was a major cause of the collapse of the socialist economy.

Times have changed of course. But space programs have returned to the foreground. Which means that we may see more "excellent results" of the space race.

(ESA)(Andrei Kislyakov is a political commentator for the RIA Novosti news agency. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti.)

Source: Agence France-Presse

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