Sunday,19 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1406, (16 - 29 August 2018)
Sunday,19 May, 2019
Issue 1406, (16 - 29 August 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Space Force

Signals are US-Russian relations will only become more fraught and complex in the coming period, putting in question international peace and security, writes Hussein Haridy


A few days after US President Donald Trump talked about an American Space Force, Vice President Mike Pence addressed the US top brass on 9 August at the Pentagon.

As far as the US administration is concerned, the “time has come to write the next great chapter in the history of our armed forces, to prepare for the next battlefield when America’s best and bravest will be called to deter and defeat a new generation of threats to our people, to our nation… The time has come to establish the United States Space Force.”

If the US Congress would go along with the proposal, this force would be the sixth branch in the armed forces of the United States. The US vice president said the Trump administration would work with Congress on such a plan, and would outline a budget next year.

Earlier this year, US intelligence sources reported that Russia and China are pursuing what they described as “destructive and non-destructive” anti-satellite weapons for use during a future war. This in addition to US worries about cyberwarfare.

The American announcement of establishing a “Space Force” will, undoubtedly, start an arms race in space that will complicate international relations, and runs counter to international commitments for the peaceful use of outer space, to which successive US administrations have subscribed.

If nations have agreed on certain rules to govern warfare on earth, still it would take a long time for the countries capable — financially and scientifically — of launching space forces to regulate warfare in space.

At present, the immediate question is how the establishment of an American space force would impact on the future course of American-Russian relations, and on complicated relations of the US with China in the coming decades. One sure bet is that it would not help in easing present-day tensions among the three big powers. On the contrary, it would tend to make these relations more adversarial. The corollary is that cooperation among them to find solutions to international crises would become more challenging.

In the case of Russia, the Helsinki summit between President Trump and President Vladimir Putin, 16 July, raised hopes around the world that the two superpowers would be in a position to cooperate on various international questions, for example the situation in Syria. And even though the summit was held while Russia was under US sanctions, no one thought that a new set of sanctions would be imposed less than a month after the summit took place. Last week, the US added new sanctions on Moscow for its alleged involvement in an assassination attempt against a Russian double agent and his daughter in the UK.

To make matters worse, the US Congress is working on new legislation to tighten the US sanctions regime on Russia. It is known as the “Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act” (DESKAA). The aim is to prevent Moscow from meddling in US elections. US intelligence agencies believe there is a chance that Russia would interfere in the upcoming mid-term elections in November.

Last month, the White House talked about a possible second summit between the American and Russian presidents, sometime later this year. And President Trump invited President Putin to the White House. Of course, it was a very risky gamble on the part of the US president given the very strong opposition in the US to the way he had conducted himself vis-à-vis President Putin in their joint press conference in Helsinki. If the US Congress were to pass DESKAA, it is difficult to see a second American-Russian summit taking place anytime soon.

With the two taken together — the Space Force and DESKAA — it is anyone’s guess the direction US-Russian relations would take in the years to come. Things could get worse if the November mid-term elections in the United States would bring a Democratic wave to Capitol Hill. In this case, the Trump White House would find it difficult to accommodate the Russians due to expected opposition from a new Democratic majority in Congress. And this without taking into account the probable findings of the Mueller investigation into the alleged meddling of Russia in the US presidential elections of 2016.

The gridlock in US-Russian relations became apparent on 10 August, when Russia blocked an American-sponsored resolution at the United Nations to impose sanctions on Agrosoyuz Commercial Bank, one person and several institutions, all accused of violating Security Council-mandated sanctions against North Korea. The Russian Foreign Ministry made it clear that the proposed sanctions would not have helped Russian-American relations, nor ease tensions with North Korea.

The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

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