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Space: The next battlefront


Eighteen years ago last week, President Ronald Reagan announced plans for the Strategic Defense Initiative, or “Star Wars,” as it popularly came to be known. The program that refuses to die is now high on the agenda for President George W. Bush; his new secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, was in office for barely a week when he told NATO allies that the United States again envisions a full-blown missile defense program — land, sea, air and space — not the scaled-back system under review during the Clinton administration.

In the forefront of space weapons critics is Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, based in Gainesville, Fla. A seasoned activist who formerly worked for the United Farm Workers, Gagnon has worked on space and nuclear issues, including the “Cancel Cassini” campaign in opposition to the launch of a plutonium-powered space probe.

The Metro Times talked by phone to Gagnon, who speaks in Detroit next week.

Metro Times: Why isn’t Bush’s national missile defense just a marvelous idea for spending the United States’ budget surplus?

Bruce Gagnon: Well, because he’s going to make the world more unstable. It’s not only a national missile defense that he wants to deploy. In fact, even before a national missile defense — that’s the one to ostensibly protect the continental United States from attack — there’s another part of it called “theater missile defense”; that involves forward-deploying systems on ships and airplanes and trucks in different parts of the world, primarily in the Middle East and Asia.

The idea is that we’re going to encircle China with theater missile defense deployments, putting them in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Australia. So China, with only 20 nuclear warheads today capable of hitting the United States, while we have 7,500, China will have to respond, right? And most likely they’ll build more nuclear missiles, as Russia said they will do. So I would like anyone to tell me how we are going to be more secure in this world, have a more stable world, when deploying these systems forces other countries to build more nuclear weapons.

Today the number one industrial export of America is not shoes, it’s not refrigerators or TVs or VCRs — it’s weapons. And so the aerospace industry recognizes that if they can move the arms race into space they can keep their hold as the number one industrial exporter for many, many years to come.

MT: NPR’s Michael Shuster recently described an “air of inevitability” on Capitol Hill about a national missile defense’s eventual deployment.

Gagnon:Well, I think the media in a sense are reporting what they see in Washington. And what we see in Washington, in all honesty, is the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. You can’t put all this on Bush — Clinton got it going, and Gore was going to keep it going. When the politicians say that it is inevitable that it’s going to be deployed, you can’t deny that there’s a certain truth in what they’re saying. But they do have problems. One is the massive cost — they still have to come up with the major, major monies involved and that’s why they’re talking about more social-program cuts and privatizing Social Security and things like that.

MT: How significant is nuclear power in this incarnation of Star Wars?

Gagnon: Very significant because of what is called the “follow on” technology; the third layer (after theater missile defense and national missile defense) is called the space-based laser. The space-based laser is now under contract to Lockheed Martin, Boeing and TRW who are all working on it. They’ve just decided to build a test facility for the space-based laser at the Stennis Missile Testing Center in Mississippi. It’s going to cost $30 billion.

So the idea is that it would be a constellation of 20 to 30 orbiting lasers. While orbiting the Earth, the lasers would hit targets in space, knocking out other countries’ satellites; they would hit ground targets and knock out other countries’ ground receiving stations and other targets. How and where would they get the massive power for these space-based lasers? We’ve read in several Air Force documents that they would require nuclear reactors to do that.

MT: Describe who the U.S. Space Command is and the importance of their document “Vision for 2020.”

Gagnon: The Space Command is what the military calls a “joint” command made up of Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy. Their operational mission is to give the U.S. control and domination of space. On their headquarters building their slogan reads “Master Of Space.” In fact, they wear that slogan as a patch on their uniform. The “Vision for 2020” is the planning document they’ve written that’s now getting around quite extensively. In it they say the United States intends to control and dominate space and that we will deny other countries access to space.

MT: In 1995 a CIA intelligence estimate stated that the United States was not in danger from ballistic-missile attacks by so-called “rogue states.” Then along came Donald Rumsfeld with a government commission challenging that. What was his rationale for concluding that some national leader would commit national suicide to launch a limited nuclear-missile attack against the United States?

Gagnon: I’ll say that his motivation was to create a justification for moving forward with early deployment of missile defense — knowing that unless they could fabricate such a fear factor there would be no real reason to do it.

MT: Does that remind you of George Bush Sr.’s group of CIA analysts that deliberately overestimated Soviet military strength during the ‘70s?

Gagnon: It’s exactly the same thing. It’s important to know that Rumsfeld, during the intervening years after he was secretary of defense during the Ford administration, was working with and for major right-wing think tanks that were promoting Star Wars. These right-wing think tanks are funded by the aerospace industry who just so happen to have an interest in seeing this thing stay alive and come back like Dracula.

MT: Do you believe that George W. Bush’s embrace of national missile defense combined with a downsizing and continued modernization of the United States nuclear arsenal is a conscious policy decision aimed at actually fighting and “winning” a nuclear war?

Gagnon: I don’t think that George W. Bush necessarily wants to have a nuclear war. But what I do think is that we have to take him at his word. During his campaign and since he’s said he wants to modernize our weaponry and our military into a 21st century military.

During the Persian Gulf War, it became evident that whoever controls space wins the wars on the Earth because you can see everything and you can target everything. So when they talk about denying other countries access to space, they mean that. The U. S. would thus be what I call the “übermeister” of the planet. Space technology is not only about fighting war in space, but it is also about giving them the capability to control the Earth below, too.

Bruce Gagnon will be featured at a free public forum sponsored by Peace Action of Michigan and several other metro Detroit organizations Monday, April 2, at First Unitarian-Universalist Church, corner of Cass and Forest in Detroit, at 7:30 p.m. Call 248-548-3920.

Keith Gunter has contributed to the Metro Times since 1984 on nuclear power and weapons-related issues. He is a co-chair of Metro Detroit Peace Action. Send comments to

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