Concerns mount over arms in space in the wake of U.S. missile strike

Editorial from the Chugoku Shimbun

There can be no rejoicing at this success. The fact that the United States recently launched an interceptor missile, the Standard Missile-3 (SM3), hitting and destroying one of its spy satellites in outer space. Such success may only trigger a new arms race.

The satellite was the size of a small car and it contained highly toxic fuel that some believed to be carcinogenic. After its launch in 2006, control over the satellite was lost and it was projected to plunge back to Earth in the first week of March.

Shooting down this satellite prevented its toxic fuel tank from falling to Earth and unleashing contamination. At the same time, debris from the impact of the missile--which had been a concern--is reportedly minimal.

However, suspicion remains that this event fulfilled other objectives, too. It was the first test of the U.S. missile defense system in which a tactical missile was launched from sea and it is thought that the downing of the satellite was a demonstration of its cutting-edge military technology in space.

In January 2007, China successfully destroyed one of its weather satellites with a ballistic missile. Though the Chinese government professed that this incident was simply a technological experiment, the international community, including the United States, responded sharply and denounced the act as “contrary to the peaceful use of space.”

This time, however, the tables are turned. Some suspect the shooting down of the satellite was a means of preventing the exposure of military secrets if the craft had returned to Earth. Russia and China have expressed concern that the incident could prompt the expansion of military might into space. These fears of military functions seem to be justified.

One factor which invites suspicion is the unilateral withdrawal by the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2002. It appears this treaty, which imposes strict provisions relative to arms in space, stood in the way of developing the U.S. Missile Defense Initiative.

Japan, in fact, has enabled this situation. In cooperation with the United States, Japan conducted a test launch of an SM3 missile from an Aegis destroyer in the waters off Hawaii in late 2007. With the success of this launch, Japan's SM3 missile has entered an operational stage, along with its deployed ground-to-air missiles.

A move to review the 1969 Diet Resolution, which stipulated that the development of space is “restricted to non-military objectives,” has also arisen. In 2007, Diet members of the ruling party submitted a bill which would permit Japan to utilize space in a security capacity that is defense-oriented. This bill is now being deliberated by the Diet. If the measure passes, spy satellites could then be employed, a prospect that many in Japan view with apprehension.

In order to allay such concerns, an international framework that will place new limits on the military use of space must be drafted and Japan should be actively dedicated to its ratification. If the United States continues to show opposition to measures designed to restrict the use of space for military purposes, broader suspicions will then be warranted. The United States should demonstrate its commitment to averting the use of space as a battleground. Space wars must remain in the movies.