Satellite Shootdown: Safety Precaution or "Star Wars"?

In 1983, Ronald Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative. It was quickly and consistently derided as "Star Wars". Reagan hated the term. It was never his intention to use it as an offensive weapon, but will his successors use it offensively? Some, including the Russians, believe that with the shootdown of a reconnaissance satellite last night, that's exactly what the United States is doing. The counterclaim was that the satellite was shot down at high altitude as a safety precaution.

Who's right?

China was roundly criticized--and the US secretly worries about the military implications of it all--when, just over a year ago, it shot down one of its older satellites.

Very similar criticism of the US came from the former Soviet Union last night, when America shot down one of its satellites, officially as a safety precaution.
The satellite was traveling at upwards of 17,000 mph with 1,000 pounds of hydrazine--that's "a hazardous fuel which could pose a danger to people on Earth," as the Department of Defense explained in a release.

U.S. plans [for] destroy[ing] the satellite sparked an outcry from Russia, which accused the United States of using the incident as a thinly veiled excuse to test its missile defense systems. The Russian Defense Ministry argued that the Pentagon had failed to provide "enough arguments" for the operation.
Are the Russians right? In this case, I don't think so, because the satellite contained hydrazine as a fuel, which is dangerously unstable, and which can cause serious symptoms in humans.

It didn't help anything that a senior, unnamed US Defense official exclaimed that
"It was like something out of Star Wars!"
In the long term, maybe the Russians are right.

When Ronald Reagan envisioned the Strategic Defense Initiative, he clearly saw it as a defensive endeavor. Now that China can shoot down satellites, perhaps we need that kind of defense in space. But one thing I never thought of, although it's pretty obvious (I'm very naive at times...): I always imagined America's Strategic Defense to be America based.

Well, that's not how it's turning out.

Instead of reducing American dominion throughout the world, we are using the "War on Terror" to vastly increase it. Infoshop News reports that
Over the past forty five years, the US has been developing various missile defense systems... The basic idea is to combine satellite technology with the use of anti-ballistics missiles (ABMs)which would counter first strike missile attacks. The most famous of the US projects was SDI, Reagan's infamous "Star Wars" program. Its current incarnation, the US National Missile Defense Program, is being sold to the world as a necessary element in the "war against terror". The US claims that, in order to protect itself from missile attacks from such "rogue states" like Iran, it needs to install elements of its anti-missile defense system on bases in Europe. Most notably, it wants to build two bases in Central Europe, one in the Czech Republic to house radars, and another in Poland to house missiles with nuclear warheads.
Ah, the bogey monster! It solveth a multitude of Orwellian problems!

I am convinced that if Ronald Reagan were still alive and politically active that he would be appalled at current American imperial military overstretch. That's not what Reagan had in mind at all. But, unfortunately, that's the monster that he helped to unleash.

Perhaps "Star Wars" is the right term after all. Perhaps the Russians are right as well.


  1. Danger Room has had a series of excellent posts on the rogue spy satellite shoot-down, including how we paid $10 billion for what turned out to be a practice target.

    Meanwhile, the satellite programs I care about are underfunded. Landsat 5 and Landsat 7 did a great job and outlasted their designed life expectancy. They need to be replaced soon but there's no money.

  2. It probably was a legitimate threat but hitting it in one shot must of sent a tingle down the spines of China, Iran, and Russia. Hats off to our Navy for pulling off an outstanding feat.

  3. Ken,

    I agree that it sent a lot of tingles.


    The Wired article is rather interesting, as it highlights an increasingly obvious problem with American government--corporate greed. Large corporations are often believed to be right-wing, but in reality they usually have an affinity for that portion of fascism that benefits them.

  4. "Large corporations are often believed to be right-wing, but in reality they usually have an affinity for that portion of fascism that benefits them."

    As the neo-con, interventionist position has become the primary position of the Right, your second statement agrees with your first; it should be "and," not "but."

    Considering the fact that Reagan very much bought into the neo-con "New American Century" agenda (see his foreign policy actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, S. America), I think he would have very much applauded.

  5. I'll accept your amendment--changing "but" to "and"--but I disagree with your opinion of Reagan. He was about freedom, but not about empire. He would not approve of what neo-conservatism has wrought 20 years later.

  6. Yes, Reagan's support for Iraq, not to mention his okay to sell Iraq WMDs, certainly promoted the cause of freedom--just to name one example.

    Wolfowitz, Pearl, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Kristol, et al, all also claim that their agenda is about freedom as well.

  7. You might be right, but at the time Iran was enemy number one, so I think the issue is much more complicated than you paint it.

    I harbor no feelings of good will toward Wolfowitz, Pearl, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Kristol, etc. Nor do I think Reagan would. I don't think these men are about freedom; rather they use the word as a smoke screen for "empire". We'll never know, but I don't think these people could have cowed Reagan into an ill-advised attack on Baghdad.

    Reagan, on the other hand was involved in true freedom rather than extending American empire. His support for the people of Poland is the greatest, not-generally-known example of this. Poles revere Reagan to this day, and Poland became the first domino in toppling Soviet Communism.

  8. Reagan formed the hand sized snowball nudged it down the hill to become the behemoth avalanche that the PNAC and other right wing think takes have become. That was a really long sentence. I hope it was coherent.

  9. The ignoble, self serving, or corrupt decisions of every Imperator are always "complicated."

  10. Ryan,

    Thank you for your comment. It was coherent. But to blame Reagan for modern-day neo-conservatism is, I think, an incorrect reading of history.


    It seems that you have your mind made up and care not to trifle with my assertion that Reagan was different than the Neo-Cons.

  11. Frank, my mind isn't made up. I am always evaluating evidence. But all the evidence I've seen suggests that Reagan is no different than most of the leaders we've had, willing to coddle dictators when it suited him; and eager to sacrifice principle rather than pursue a truly moral policy when it served powerful U.S. interests.

    Yet it isn't accurate, Ryan, to blame Reagan for the Neo-con chickenhawk agenda. He was merely one in a long line of Presidents who abused U.S. power: Nixon, LBJ, JFK, Ike, Truman, Wilson... The list began long before Reagan.

  12. Now that I can see where you're coming from, I generally agree with you. It was probably approximately the time of Woodrow Wilson where this abuse of power began.

    Would you agree that Reagan was much less likely than the presidential average since Wilson to sacrifice principle?

    I think he was.

  13. Actually, the first most prominent example of U.S. adventurism/imperialism is the Spanish-American War a couple decades before Wilson. A case can also be for the Mexican-American war as well; isn’t Manifest Destiny just a euphemism for imperialism? In any case, the list I made was not meant to be comprehensive, but merely several of the more prominent offenders which immediately came to mind.

    And no, I do not believe that a president who reignited the fires of militarism and the military-industrial complex after they’d dimmed slightly for a few years, who was willing to to cultivate brutal, repressive dictators to use as cats-paws against other brutal, repressive regimes or to promote U.S. economic interests (not to mention cultivating brutal insurgencies in various nations when it suited his purposes) is one whom I would respect as more principled than any of the other warmongers we’ve had in office. If you insist that he was more principled, I can only reply that I do not appreciate the “principles” for which he stood.


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