Tuesday, February 13, 2007

China, Russia Clash with US over Space Arms; Expert Says January Anti-Satellite Test Not China's First

China and Russia clashed with the United States Tuesday over a proposal to the United Nations Conference on Disarmament to create a treaty on space weapons.

During a meeting of the conference in Geneva Tuesday, Beijing and Moscow voiced their opposition to the US refusal to sign a treaty banning space weapons, and warned that it could lead to an arms race in space.

In January, China secretly tested a satellite-destroying missile, shooting down one of its aging weather satellites. It later publicly confirmed the test, arguing that other countries should not view the test as a threat.

Last October, President Bush signed an order asserting the US right to space weapons, and Washington's opposition to the development of treaties or other measures restricting them.

Speaking at the meeting in Geneva today, US Ambassador Christina Rocca voiced Washington's commitment to the peaceful use of space. However, she stressed that the US would also pursue programs to protect its satellites and spacecraft.

Rocca said Washington was very concerned about emerging threats to US space assets.

She criticized China's recent test of its satellite missile, noting that it had created hundreds of pieces of large orbital debris that will stay in orbit for more than 100 years.

The Conference on Disarmament was established in 1979 and focuses on the prevention of nuclear war, the use or threat of nuclear weapons and other disarmament issues.

The organization is comprised of around 60 member countries and meets several times a year.

Meanwhile, John Pike, director of the security research company Global Security, says China's destruction of a satellite last month was not the first time the Chinese military had tested its anti-satellite capabilities.

"It appears that the test in January was the fourth time it had been tested, the first time that it successfully conducted an intercept," he says. "They fire the thing up, it runs into the satellite, the satellite's destroyed, and that's the end of it."

Pike views China's test as a challenge to the US, which relies heavily on information gathered from reconnaissance satellites to help project US power around the world.

"We need communications satellites and we need navigation satellites and we need weather satellites and we need signals intelligence satellites," he says.

John J. Tkacik, Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, says the Chinese are developing another type of weapon that demonstrates a "broad and sophisticated" anti-satellite program.

"US space planners are most concerned about the launching of small Chinese satellites into orbits that are very close to key US intelligence, reconnaissance and communications satellites," he says. "Such parasite micro-satellites are presumed to be time bombs that could blind or cripple American military operations, not to mention communications and even US financial communications, any communications, civilian communications."

Pike says the US is not the only nation that should be worried about China's efforts to develop its ability to destroy satellites.

"They are going to be destroying the satellites of any other country that the Chinese might fear would be sharing reconnaissance data with the United States," he says. "Certainly, Japan. Certainly, Israel. Certainly, Western Europe. And almost certainly, India. So, it's not just going to be the [just] United States."