TCS Daily

Mr. Smith Leaves Washington

By Kenneth Silber - November 26, 2002 12:00 AM

When the U.S. Senate reconvenes in January, it will be without Bob Smith (R-New Hampshire). Smith, who lost the 2002 Republican primary to now Sen.-elect John Sununu, was not a particularly high-profile player on the national stage. (His brief run as a third-party presidential candidate only underscores this point.) His departure might be little noticed except in New Hampshire or among opponents of his social conservatism.

But Smith deserves ample credit for pushing space policy upward on the national agenda, and especially for calling attention to space's growing military importance. In a speech on the Senate floor on November 20th, he reiterated these themes. "I hope the 21st century will be the one that takes us into space to help protect our nation and, indeed, perhaps the world," said Smith. "I believe whoever controls space will control peace here on Earth."

Smith has been a forceful advocate of technologies such as anti-satellite weapons, a military space-plane, and space-based missile defense. What he has understood, ahead of the Washington curve, is that space is a potential arena for warfare - and that ignoring this potential is dangerous.

The 1991 Gulf War, in which satellite communications, reconnaissance and navigation gave U.S. and coalition forces huge advantages against Iraq, demonstrated the importance of space as an information medium for combat. During the Clinton years, policymakers and the military talked of space-based "information superiority" - basically meaning that our satellites should be better than the enemy's.

But this was an unduly narrow interpretation of space's military relevance, one that ignored or downplayed numerous worrisome scenarios. What if enemies destroy or jam U.S. satellites? What if they sabotage U.S. launch facilities or rockets in order to deny the U.S. advantage in space? What if hostile governments draw upon the growing availability of commercial satellites that provide sophisticated images and information? Isn't it crucial to be able to disable those satellites? What if, in the longer run, an enemy puts soldiers into space, or a terrorist group gains access to a space tourism flight?

In a 1998 speech at Tufts University, Smith called on the U.S. government and military to recognize and prepare for the broader range of possibilities in space warfare. "If we limit our approach to just information superiority, we will not have fully utilized spacepower," he said.

This put the senator at odds with the Clinton administration, which was wary of any program that could be accused of "militarizing space." Indeed, in 1997, Clinton had used his line-item veto against a military space-plane, the KEASAT kinetic-energy anti-satellite weapon, and the Clementine-2 spacecraft that would test missile-defense technologies.

Pressure from Smith ensured that the Pentagon would maintain some degree of focus on space weaponry during the Clinton years. In 1999, Smith played a central role in the formation of a space commission, led by Donald Rumsfeld, which studied the dangers that hostile powers could pose using space technology or attacking U.S. space capabilities.

Several others in the Senate, such as Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), have shown a laudable interest in space military issues. But none has focused on it as persistently as did Smith. The Bush administration does not display the reflexive hostility to space weaponry that its predecessor did. But the need for legislators to pay attention to this crucial area has not abated.

Smith's interest in space was not limited to military matters. He also has been a proponent of the civilian space program, and of space exploration and technology more generally. He calls space the "permanent frontier," noting that this is a better description than "final frontier." In his recent Senate speech, Smith lauded John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan for challenging the nation to enter space. Smith also praised Kennedy for his criticisms of the Eisenhower administration's relatively limited interest in space.

Smith's advocacy once led a New Hampshire newspaper to mock him as a "spaceman." This is a label the Senator can be proud to embrace.
to embrace.

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