From Venus to Mars


December 18, 2008 8:11 | by Frank Slijper

How space has become part of Europe's emerging military policies

In just about a decade the European Union has done in the field of defence policy what was beyond imagination in the decades before that. Of course the end of the Cold War and the to some extent lesser dependence on the United States have played a role in that. The 1999 Kosovo war is considered a turning pont by many security experts. The inability of Europe to act in common against the atrocities happening in the Balkans, is seen as a psychological threshold that contributed to a growing feeling of urgency to come up with a European alternative that could take concerted action under EU umbrella.

While there is still no standing European army, considerable progress has been made with the creation of specialised Battle Groups consisting of troops from different European nations. In addition, the number of EU-led military interventions has mushroomed in just a decade. Part of the same development has been the creation of the European Defence Agency and the inclusion within the Lisbon (and previous Constitutional) Treaty texts of far reaching and ambitious goals in the area of European security and defence policies (ESDP). One of the more controversial parts has been the statement that "Member States shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities". The Lisbon treaty also opens inroads to military interventions without UN mandate.

In all these military developments there has been tremendous influence by the arms industry's lobby operating both in Brussels and in national capitals. Not only were they invited to present their opinions and views on the draft constitutional texts, they have literally become part of the decision making process in Brussels. Numerous so-called expert groups have been set up by European Commissioners, including significant numbers of key industry leaders who have had excellent opportunities to have their wish lists included in the expert groups' reports, that to a great extent have become part of current EU defence-related policies. It also shows clearly the dominance of industrial interests in the political arena.

That is where one of Europe's crucial shortcomings lie, and especially so in the security and defence policy area: the non-transparent and highly undemocratic decision making processes embody the caricature that so many Europeans have of Brussels. It gives the strong impression that eurocrats, just because of the sensitivity of the issue, have chosen to develop it under the radar as much as possible. No wonder that there is not much attention given to this issue in the mainstream media.

One of the latest areas conquered by the Commission is outer space. Only five years ago the first steps towards a common space policy were taken, including sections on its military purposes and the importance of the industry. "Lack of action could leave Europe vulnerable to two dangers: decline of space power capabilities [and the] decline of leading space companies" reads a 2003 Commission slide show.

Their first common undertaking is the Galileo satellite navigation system - the equivalent of the US GPS, which most people probably know for traffic navigation systems. Huge delays have now caused the loss of at least one of Galileo's proclaimed advantages - higher accuracy - as the new generation GPS is now being introduced. But of course, especially for the parties most interested in Europe's space adventures - most notably France - independence from US space dominance has at least been an equally important goal. A specially encrypted signal (PRS - Public Restricted Service) will allow tailor-made use of Galileo by the military and security community. As public perception is that Galileo is a civilian project - and that is what European officials continue to claim too - hardly anyone questions the undesirability of space becoming part of Europe's military ambitions. It should be noted here that only in recent years the US has started using GPS guided missiles and artillery in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It might be a few more years and European users may have the opportunity, bombing and shelling with Galileo guidance. Similarly the Kopernikus project aims for a European observation satellite capacity, one which, despite very useful environmental monitoring possibilities, in a battlefield surveillance mode becomes part of Europe's military agenda.

A clear signal of this process in which Europe has embarked upon a military role in space is the transformation of the European Space Agency (ESA) from a purely civilian, scientific operation into a dual-use agency that has now redefined 'peaceful' use of space as 'non-aggressive' rather than 'non-military'. This has been a significant departure from previous policies. The ESA ministerial meeting that was held last month in the Hague further cemented its military course.

The recent European tendency to integrate military aims into the civilian space domain has dangerous consequences for Europe, as it puts itself into the context of an international contest to dominate the 'high ground' of space. Over the past two years we have witnessed increasing rivalry between space powers Russia, China and the US - with the latter continuing to insist on its space dominance doctrine. While Europe still takes a backseat in the growing international rivalry in space, it should rather use its position to enhance and push negotiations, especially within the UN, to prevent any arms race in space from further escalation. Therefore it is high time for the broader European public to become more aware of Europe's creeping military ambitions and to become more vocal in their disapproval of a Europe that uses military rather than peaceful means to show leadership.

Frank Slijper is an activist with the Campagne tegen Wapenhandel [the Dutch Campaign against the Arms Trade]. He is the author of The European Union's Steps Towards the Militarisation of Space, published last month.

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