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Space: Deter, Defend, Defeat And?

Notwithstanding those three staunch, tough words underling the stakes in space, most of the experts seem to agree that the Obama administration’s new national space policy should create a much more amenable international environment for the United States to hammer out guidelines, agreements and treaties governing issues such as how to handle space debris and more general military and civilian uses of space.

One huge difference between the Bush and Obama administrations: the Bush White House took almost six years to turn out its first space policy. Obama's people did it in roughly 18 months.

The core paragraph dealing with national security space issues reads thusly: "The United States will employ a variety of measures to help assure the use of space for all responsible parties, and, consistent with the inherent right of self-defense, deter others from interference and attack, defend our space systems and contribute to the defense of allied space systems, and, if deterrence fails, defeat efforts to attack them."

But those words do not vary greatly from past space policies. The difference that allies and competitors such as Russia and China will note is the difference in tone between the Bush administration's policy and the Obama's administration's new national space policy.

Marcia Smith, long the Congressional Research Services expert on space and now editor of SpacePolicyOnline, believes "the tone, the tenor" of the Obama policy sets it apart from the Bush effort. "I do think the Obama policy is trying to reach out to other nations and to industry," she said at a quickly organized conference on the new policy put on today by the Arms Control Association and the Secure World Foundation. The new tone is much less "nationalistic" than was its predecessor's.

"I think from the international perspective this is going to open up a lot of doors," said Ben Baseley-Walker with the liberal Secure World Foundation.

For those who don't closely  follow space issues, this is likely to mean more dialogue and results at COPUOS -- the UN's Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space -- and in bilateral talks between the U.S and its allies, as well as the U.S. and Russia and China, the two other principal space powers. The hope would be that the international community and the individual countries could come to understandings on issues such as the mitigation of space debris and rules of the road in space for orbit deconfliction and space awareness (sharing data etc.). Don't expect any grand space treaties banning weapons in space and the like.

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