The Ultimate High Ground

The U.S. is weaponizing space. Canada is firmly opposed ... but not necessarily
IT’S halfway up a Colorado mountain, past two security stations, through a long tunnel and two sets of nuclear-blast-proof doors. Even with all the secrecy, though, the North American Aerospace Defense bunker here inside Cheyenne Mountain is world-famous – mythologized for saving Western civilization from nuclear incineration during the Cold War, and famously lampooned in Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 Dr. Strangelove or; How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The Cold War may be over, but life for the eight hundred Americans and Canadians based inside Cheyenne hasn’t changed for decades. Change is coming, though: as U.S. war planners prepare for their very own space age, the norad bunker is being readied for a high-powered rebirth.

Ever since it was built in the early sixties to provide early warning of a Soviet attack, the massive, bomb-proof Rubik’s cube of hardened steel harbouring various war stations inside Cheyenne Mountain has been an adventurous – if somewhat surreal – destination for countless Canadian officers assigned to norad. These days, Lieutenant General Rick Findley, a low-key Ottawa native with an uncannily fixed gaze, is second in command in the missile warning centre, a high-tech clearing house for global satellite-surveillance data channelled onto billboard-sized video displays. Findley is here at a crucial time for norad: Washington is set to put weapons in space as part of its drive for a working missile-defence system. Proof of this – compressed into twelve words of Pentagon-speak – was finally made public in February, when next year’s $10-billion missile-defence budget requested $14 million to “initiate technology development and testing of advanced, lightweight space-based interceptor components.” (All figures are in U.S. dollars.) Behind that jargon is a drive to puncture the last peaceful place humans will ever again encounter.

With missile defence on the way, and space weapons right around the corner, Cheyenne Mountain’s place in the Pentagon’s heart seems assured for decades to come. Even now, major renovations are under way to move Cheyenne’s steel-plated suite of missile-tracking screens down the hall into a new lair equipped not just for early warning, but for a central role in the $50-billion missile-defence system the Pentagon promised to deliver before the PA Presidential elections next fall.

One of Paul Martin’s first decisions as prime minister was to negotiate a role for Canada within U.S. missile-defence plans. norad’s Canadian and U.S. generals are already working on the new mission, General Findley confirms. “We’re moving ahead with confidence,” he says, pointing across the low-lit room at a video silhouette of North America.

“That’s going to be the missile-defence screen right there.” Nor does Findley show any doubts about the momentum to put weapons in space: “It has to be inevitable,” he says; it’s “old-think” to suggest otherwise. Space might be kept weapons-free “if the U.N. owned it all,” he says with a slightly cocked eyebrow, “but you can’t be idyllic.”

As candid as General Findley is here in the steel-swathed bowels of Cheyenne Mountain, it seems that word of the new, weapons-intensive space age has yet to reach Prime Minister Paul Martin, who in February swore to Parliament that Canada would not participate in U.S. missile defence if Canadian negotiators decide that “in fact what is happening is the weaponization of space.” Martin was responding to NDP critics who said the Pentagon’s “space-based interceptor” line item is a direct threat to decades of Canadian-led efforts to keep space weapons-free.

Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham also responded to that charge: space weapons are “a figment of the imagination.” he said. Canada’s lead negotiator with the U.S. on missile defence, Jim Wright, offered further information: Canada makes “a clear distinction be-tween the military in space and the weaponization of space,” he told a Sen-ate committee in February. Canadian policy, Wright says, is to keep space a “pristine,” weapons-free environment. “This policy will not change,” Wright promised, before heading back to Washington to land Canada the best missile-defence deal he can.

It’s a situation rooted in sixty years of tradition: once again, Canadian generals with big-league positions along-side aggressively expansionist Pentagon top brass push for greater integration with the U.S. military, while Canadian doves – prime ministers such as Trudeau, foreign ministers such as Lester Pearson and Lloyd Axworthy, diplomats such as Canada’s current Ambassador for Disarmament at the United Nations in Geneva, Paul Meyer, and public activists such as the physicist John Polanyi – travel about promoting international disarmament agreements consistently thwarted by the Pentagon. In February, as Canadian missile-defence opponents continued to demand that Canada pull out of negotiations to join George W. Bush’s New Missile Defence, Paul Martin’s Liberals agreed to a parliamentary debate on the matter.

It’s no secret the U.S. is responsible for two-thirds of world commercial space expenditure and owns 95 percent of military space assets – a domination of space that largely results from a long history of missile research and development. That twelve-word item in the Pentagon budget last February may have been the first official disclosure that the U.S. is building space weapons as part of its latest missile-defence program, but to many observers, U.S. weaponization of space has been inevitable for decades.

The idea first gained momentum in the late 1960s when the physicist Edward Teller, a key player in U.S. nuclear-weapons development from the 1940s through the 1980s, was designing war-heads for a space-guided missile-defence system located in a huge facility in Grand Forks, North Dakota. After the U.S.’s Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty with the Soviets in 1972 led to its closing in 1976, Teller focused on space-based laser weapons, chasing the idea that a laser beam fired at the speed of light in space could disintegrate targets – including missiles – thousands of miles away. During the 1970s, the Pentagon spent at least $1 billion annually on this kind of space-based “hit-to-kill,” or kinetic-energy, technology, and $200 million annually on high-energy lasers as potential weapons. In 1980, a team of scientists that included Teller successfully tested a compact laser weapon in Nevada. In 1983, President Reagan launched the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), a multi-billion-dollar missile-defence scheme that put laser-weapon development at its core.

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