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Why Australia should have a military space policy

By Marko Beljac - posted Tuesday, 2 December 2008

The Senate Economics Committee has just released a report recommending that Australia adopt a space policy, which is defined as a co-ordinated whole of government program to support space science and industry. It quite categorically states, "The Australian government should have a space policy and, like most other comparable countries, an agency to implement it".

One of the interesting aspects of the report was its comments on Australia and the militarisation of space.

The Committee firmly "opposes any moves toward militarising space".


Even though the author supports what some derisively call "the peacenik Left" nonetheless one may well argue that Australia should have a space policy that looks favourably upon the militarisation of space.

A case could be made for a two-pronged approach, namely developing indigenous military intelligence and communication capabilities and supporting a global arms control regime covering space. This would equate to support for the militarisation of space while opposing the weaponisation of space.

The problem with the Senate Committee conclusion is the rather muddled conceptual analysis upon which it is based. This lack of clarity further adds to a rather poorly developed military space debate in Australia, which is unfortunate because the further militarisation of space will be an important strategic development in the first half of the 21st century.

There is a big difference between the "militarisation" of space and the "weaponisation" of space. The weaponisation of space refers to the deployment of weapons in space, the use of ground launched weapons in space or attacking terrestrial targets from space platforms.

The militarisation of space refers to the use of space capabilities for military related purposes, which could include space weapons but by no means is synonymous with space weapons.

Space has been militarised from the onset of the space age. For example, satellites that provided imagery of, say, strategic missile silos or large scale troop movements would be instances of the use of space for military purposes, yet these satellites would not be classed as weapons.


GPS satellites are used to provide targeting information for some precision guided munitions, such as Air Force delivered bombs, but these too are not weapons. This could have dangerous implications for stability if strategic nuclear missiles become GPS guided, as they will be.

The militarisation of space is not necessarily a bad thing. For instance, Russia and the United States are currently engaging in talks on what may prove to be a verifiable strategic nuclear arms control agreement.

Should such an agreement come into being it would be verified by what is referred to as "national technical means of verification", which would include the use of satellites. This would be an example of military based space assets that enhance strategic stability; nobody should be against that.

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About the Author

Mark Beljac teaches at Swinburne University of Technology, is a board member of the New International Bookshop, and is involved with the Industrial Workers of the World, National Tertiary Education Union, National Union of Workers (community) and Friends of the Earth.

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