By now, most of you have heard of the Trump Administration’s plan to create a sixth branch of the military called the Space Force. While exact details on the organization are still a bit fuzzy, Vice President Mike Pence has claimed that it will likely focus on matters such as defending spacecraft and procuring military satellites. In a speech in early August, Pence claimed, “The space environment has fundamentally changed in the last generation; what was once peaceful and uncontested is now crowded and adversarial.”
The reactions to this idea have been wide ranging. Critics say that a new branch is unnecessary and could worsen an institution already known for cumbersome bureaucracy; it also signals an aggressive course of action in an environment where the United States has primarily committed to self-defense operations. In contrast, proponents say that it is a necessary step to maintain U.S. military dominance in a new frontier.
My initial thoughts were that it was probably a stupid idea, but I might have been biased; I’d spent more than a year of hearing bad ideas from the White House and started assuming they were all terrible. And that’s wrong, because you should judge individual proposals on their own merits instead of the merits of those who proposed it. As the saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day.
Frankly, it is a little tough to judge the Space Force plan, because we can’t know for sure what it will be used for. If the Space Force is just a way to separate the duties of the Air Force Space Command (which currently handles military operations in space) from the overall Air Force then my thoughts go to redundancy. I won’t pretend to know about how to best structure the largest military in the history of the world, but as astronaut Mark Kelly has pointed out, there’s probably a good reason that we haven’t separated submarines from the Navy and called it the “Under-the-sea Force.” There’s such a thing as an overabundance of division.
So, the separation of space military operations from the Air Force does seem, at least at this time, to be a waste of time and resources. Besides that, though, it doesn’t appear to be a horrible or dangerous idea. The real risk in this new branch revolves around whether or not its creation will lead the United States to take more aggressive actions in space. While the 1967 Outer Space Treaty prevents the presence of weapons of mass destruction or the claiming of territory, experts say that a country could probably put weapons like intercontinental ballistic missiles without violating the letter, if not the spirit, of the agreement.
This is what worries me the most. I am a strong believer in maintaining outer space as a place where we can coexist peacefully and focus our attention on things like science and the betterment of all. [It says something that people from countries that may be at each other’s throats, like Russia and the United States, can work together to achieve a common goal on the International Space Station.] There’s a reason that when NASA was established by Eisenhower, who was a former general mind you, he didn’t make it a part of the military. He wanted it to be a separate entity, one that would work with other nations to further human discovery and progress.
Now, however, that vision is threatened. Considering the kind of person Trump has proven himself to be, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that he is considering aggressive military action or at least posturing in space. And that could very well prompt a new arms race; traditional adversaries such as China and Russia may feel pressured to engage in a belligerent response. Even the name, Space Force, carries with it a connotation of violence and hostility. If we want a chance at preserving the neutrality of space and securing a brighter future, then we should avoid its militarization unless there is no other option. Rejection of the Space Force as an entity is therefore the best option available to us.
Jacob Kowalski is opinion editor for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.