Janine Jackson interviewed EnviroVideo’s Karl Grossman about the weaponization of space for the February 7, 2020, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.
Janine Jackson: Gen. John Raymond, the first “Chief of Space Operations,” says he knows the newly created Space Force he commands is widely mocked, but it is, in fact, “nationally critical.” He shares the White House view that outer space, while previously a “benign environment,” is now “competitive, congested and contested.”
What does the public need to know about the activities of this new military branch? AP tells readers that while Trump talks up Space Force to get applause,
for the military, it is seen more soberly as an affirmation of the need to more effectively organize for the defense of U.S. interests in space—especially satellites used for navigation and communication. The force is not designed or intended to put combat troops in space.
Troops in space were not precisely the concern, of course. And how does AP’s sanguinity sit with statements from Defense Secretary Esper, and Trump himself, clearly and proudly declaring outer space a “warfighting domain” in which the U.S. must “dominate”?
Our next guest wrote the book Weapons in Space, as well as the TV documentary Nukes in Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens. Karl Grossman is a journalism professor at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, and a longtime associate of FAIR. He joins us now by phone from Long Island. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Karl Grossman.
Karl Grossman: Pleasure to be with you, Janine.
JJ: When we spoke with you back in August 2018, Trump had announced plans for a Space Force, and while people laughed, we noted corporate media’s slippery slope of inevitability when it comes to things military. Stories started off saying, “this Space Force would be,” and then they slipped into “will be.” And then this new branch of the military is created last December, reportedly in a trade-off for paid parental leave for federal employees. It just seems kind of surreal and, yet, here we are.
But what’s the first thing to say about this Space Force, Karl—that it’s a treaty violation? What’s the first thing that comes to mind?
KG: The first thing, I mean, it’s of historical proportions, and there’s no going back if it happens, and it seems to be happening. It opens space, it opens the heavens, to war, to conflict; it it brings war up into space, flying in the face of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which sets space aside as a global commons for peaceful purposes.
And, in fact, the United States, the former Soviet Union and the United Kingdom put the Outer Space Treaty together, and it’s been now supported by virtually all the countries of the world. For example, in Nukes in Spac e, I interviewed Craig Eisendrath, who was a young U.S. State Department officer deeply involved in the creation of the Outer Space Treaty. And he says that what we were trying to do was to de-weaponize space before it got weaponized. And now, Trump with his Space Force, the sixth branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, he would just leave the Outer Space Treaty in tatters, and there’d be the arming of the heavens.
JJ: It’s sort of presented as though it’s a natural evolution, or a step, you know, “We have war on land, on sea and, well, now outer space.” And what I hear you saying is the treaty was based on folks recognizing, “Yes, this is possible.” It’s not like no one thought about it; they were thinking ahead and saying, “Let’s make sure we don’t do this.”
KG: And so importantly, too, because the mainstream media is parroting the Trump line that we have to do it because of China, because of Russia, because of threats the U.S. has in space. But in fact, there’s been an effort for decades to expand the Outer Space Treaty, through something called the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space, or PAROS, treaty.
The Outer Space Treaty prohibits the placement of weapons of mass destruction in space. The PAROS Treaty would forbid any weapons in space, indeed, truly keeping space for peace.
Which countries have led, pushing, promoting the PAROS Treaty? Our neighbor Canada, China and Russia! Year after year in recent decades, they’ve brought the PAROS Treaty up for a vote, and I’ve been there at the United Nations to see what occurs. What happens is “Yes, yes, yes, yes,” say countries from all over the world. And then the U.S. ambassador raises his hand and says, “No.” And essentially, what the United States has been doing is vetoing the PAROS Treaty—again, broadening this vision of keeping space for peace—at the United Nations. Frankly, it’s baloney that the U.S. has to move up into space with a Space Force. It’s really, in many ways, Star Wars of Reagan déjà vu to do this; it’s so wrong.
And I’ve interviewed—through the years, I’ve been to Russia several times, I’ve been to China—I’ve interviewed Chinese diplomats, and what they’ve told me is that this isn’t like, oh, acquiring a Bradley fighting vehicle; to deploy weapons is enormously expensive. And what they say is that, “We don’t want to blow our national treasuries on this. We want to feed our people and house our people and educate our people and provide healthcare.”
It is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space.
With the U.S. seeking to control space, and, from space, control Earth, to have this dominance, China and Russia are not going to sit back; they’re going to meet us in kind. And other nations will be up there too. And so this development of enormous historical proportions is going to happen. War being brought into space, and all the destruction that will lead to—not to mention the expense, of course.
JJ: Right, and the misprioritization of resources. I wanted to pick up on one thing: I think folks may think that they’re seeing media that’s critical, or even dismissive, of the Space Force. But, you know, that’s a bit on the margins.
And the Washington Post Magazine, for example, had a many, many word piece by David Montgomery, called “The Case for Space Force.” And it was a doozy. The first point it said was that what people mocking Space Force don’t seem to appreciate is “the sheer range of problems that could ensue if other countries are able to establish extraterrestrial military supremacy.” It goes on, “Consider the value of our satellites to our way of life, not to mention our way of war.”
You talk about parroting the line that the Space Force is defensive. Here is a many-thousand-word Washington Post Magazine piece doing exactly that: It talks about a ‘Space Pearl Harbor’; it has a Democratic congressman saying, “We got so distracted by the war on terror that we didn’t keep an eye on our solar system.”
All of this—and there’s a lot more to it—but all of it is saying, “We have to do this. You might think it’s funny, but other countries are going to get there. And we have to get there to protect ourselves, somehow.”
KG: I got into the issue of space, way back in 1986, I broke the story in The Nation of how the Challenger’s next mission, in ’86, was to loft a plutonium-fueled space probe. And that led me to, actually, the book The Wrong Stuff.
And then I got into weapons in space, because it turned out that NASA was marching in lockstep with the military, and the military is very committed to the use of nuclear in space. Star Wars was predicated on orbiting battle platforms, with laser weapons and particle beams and high-energy weapons, energized by reactors up on those battle platforms. In fact, the Strategic Defense Initiative commander at one point, James Abrahamson, said that “without reactors in orbit, we’re going to need a long extension cord back down to Earth bringing up power.”
I’ve been on this issue for decades and the media—I mean, I’m a professor of journalism; it’s just utterly outrageous. In fact, I quote the former editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, William Boot, in my book The Wrong Stuff, talking about NASA and the spellbound press: “Dazzled by the space agency’s image of technological brilliance, space reporters spared NASA the thorough scrutiny that might have improved chances of averting” the Challenger disaster. He talks about how at NASA press conferences, reporters would use the first person: “When are we going to launch?” I mean, journalists then—and frankly, now—these space reporters think that they are participants in some sort of great cosmic quest.
Walter Cronkite, I think, formed the image of this noncritical stance by journalists toward space. And now we have the Space Force, and you don’t see critical—I mean, the places I’ve been interviewed on this, since the Space Force story broke, have been Pacifica stations—thank heavens for Pacifica!—and the program Loud and Clear With Brian Becker. And there was one breakthrough: The Long Island newspaper, Newsday, published an op-ed that I did. But otherwise, it’s been that same space cheerleading, and a lack of providing information to the U.S. public about what’s involved and what this will lead to: again, war, war in space, turning the heavens into an arena of war.
JJ: And you’ve mentioned nuclear power, which is under the radar in this story; we don’t talk about how it will be literally fueled; it’s as though those nuclear issues are a separate issue, and now we’re talking about Space Force. And that’s an artificial division, because, of course, as you note, that’s at the center of the story.
I wanted to ask about another area. Donald Trump said the Space Force is going to be important “monetarily and militarily,” and one imagines that the sequence is important for him. We know that reporters “following the money” is key on any story, particularly about public spending.
And just to tack on, that Washington Post Magazine piece said that it’s not just that the United States has to dominate in space because of warfighting. The reporter cites someone saying that “the biggest strategic problem is, what if our competitors gain an industrial/logistical advantage in space?” An example of the urgency of that is, “What if China is able to secure the logistical advantage of the south pole of the Moon?” So we now have folks talking about the Space Force as being a kind of a land grab as well. I mean, it’s just this is a piece where following the money would explain a lot, yeah?
KG: Well, following the money and following intention here. There’s been a lot of discussion over recent years of mining the Moon, going to asteroids. I mean, the notion is there’s gold out there, and more rich minerals. And lots of corporations would like to jump into the space-based gold rush, so to speak. And then, jumping back to the media, where is the following of the Watergate dictum, “Follow the money”? Because this has a lot to do with money. And then, furthermore, it has a lot to do with—getting back to dominance—with control, what U.S. military documents have said for years—because there’s been a Space Command, there’s been space activity, not a separate Space Force—but what these documents—and I quote from them, and actually use facsimiles of them in my videos and in Weapons in Space—what they talk about is that the U.S. would seize control of the “ultimate high ground,” space, and from space, be able to control the planet below.
It’s sort of like the great empires of Europe centuries ago, having these fleets and being able to control Earth by controlling the seas, the oceans. The U.S. intends to control the oceans of the Earth, and beyond that, and from that, control the planet. And the documents are very explicit:
“Protect U.S. interests and investment”; over and over again, that line is used, “to protect U.S. interests and investment.”
This stuff has been percolating for decades. In fact, the origins of U.S. space policy involve the Nazi scientists, the space scientists, Wernher von Braun and others, who were brought to the United States after the war. For example, Wernher von Braun, who became associate director of NASA, his big deal was taking the V2 rocket, the Nazi V2 rocket, and making a U.S. version of it, the Redstone, the first U.S. rocket capable of carrying a nuclear missile. And there were others; it goes way back, and it goes through Reagan’s Star Wars, and now it’s, like the Reagan Star Wars program, a full-throated push to weaponize space, with Trump and Pence very, very much, much in the middle, and the Democrats.
The New York Times explained that it was Jared Kushner who convinced the Democrats in the House of Representatives to vote for the enabling resolution which essentially creates the Space Force, based on providing parental leave for government employees, something, in fact, common all over the world. But what a trade off, to allow something—again, of historical proportions—to happen, space becoming a war zone, based on this Kushner-arranged deal for parental leave. Those Democrats should be ashamed of themselves.
JJ: Absolutely. Well, let me just ask you, finally: We see their vision, about dominating above as below, and for military, and just taking and controlling. There are other visions. There are other visions, as represented in the Outer Space Treaty, that many people around the world are still fighting for. What can still be done to rein this in? I mean, there are other people who don’t see outer space as a place for warmongering.
KG: I wish the Space Force might have been mentioned a little bit in all those Democratic Party debates. I think what we need here—and we need it now—is grassroots pressure. And what I would urge listeners to do is to get in touch with the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space. It holds protests, it has conferences every year, at Space4Peace.org. It’s been the leading group for decades now, challenging, fighting, the weaponization of space. I would urge listeners to log into Space4Peace.org. Learn about the organization, get involved with the organization, and learn about this grave issue. I mean, the Doomsday Clock has been moved ahead just a couple of weeks ago. I hate to sound like this is an apocalyptic future that we’re facing, but it is, if space is weaponized,
JJ: We’ve been speaking with Karl Grossman, the website he mentioned is Space4Peace.org, and you can find his article, “Don’t Militarize the Heavens,” on Newsday.com. Karl Grossman, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.
KG: A pleasure, Janine.
Janine Jackson is FAIR’s program director and producer/host of FAIR’s syndicated weekly radio show CounterSpin. She contributes frequently to FAIR’s newsletter Extra!, and co-edited The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the ’90s (Westview Press). She has appeared on ABC‘s Nightline and CNN Headline News, among other outlets, and has testified to the Senate Communications Subcommittee on budget reauthorization for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Her articles have appeared in various publications, including In These Times and the UAW’s Solidarity, and in books including Civil Rights Since 1787 (New York University Press) and Stop the Next War Now: Effective Responses to Violence and Terrorism (New World Library). Jackson is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and has an M.A. in sociology from the New School for Social Research.