April 4th, 2020

The Final Frontier

Pence leaves open the possibility of nuclear weapons in space

 Robert Costa

By Robert Costa The Washington Post

Published Oct. 24, 2018

Pence leaves open the possibility of nuclear weapons in space



Andrew Harrer for Bloomberg
WASHINGTON - Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday declined to rule out the idea of deploying nuclear weapons in space, saying the current ban on their use is "in the interest of every nation" but the issue should be decided on "the principle that peace comes through strength."

"What we need to do is make sure that we provide for the common defense of the people of the United States of America and that's the president's determination here," Pence said in an interview with The Washington Post, when asked if nuclear weapons should be banned from orbit.

Pence added, "What we want to do is continue to advance the principle that peace comes through strength."

The new positioning comes as the Trump administration moves to potentially exit a major nuclear weapons pact with Russia and possibly bolster U.S. military operations in the heavens by forming a "Space Force."

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty outlawed weapons of mass destruction from space, including nuclear weapons, and stopped the arms race between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union from entering space.

Pence said the 1967 treaty "does ban weapons of mass destruction in space, but it doesn't ban military activity. It actually is - it gives nations a fair amount of flexibility in operating for their security interests in space. And at this time, we don't see any need to amend the treaty."

In recent days, President Donald Trump has signaled a willingness to withdraw from or renegotiate long-standing treaties. Trump told reporters last Saturday in Nevada that the U.S. would exit a landmark 1987 arms control agreement with the former Soviet Union, due to his belief that it constrains the U.S. from developing its own weapons and that Russia has violated the pact.

Pence's remarks on Tuesday came during a "Transformers: Space" policy summit hosted by The Post at its Washington headquarters, where he provided an outline of the Trump administration's plans for space in the coming year. Pence announced in August that the administration hopes to establish Space Force as the sixth branch of the U.S. military as soon as 2020, the first since the Air Force was formed after World War II.

Later Tuesday, the National Space Council, convened by the White House and chaired by the vice president, met at the National Defense University.It will send a series of recommendations to Trump about creating a U.S. Space Command that would oversee space activities.

Space Force, however, could meet resistance on Capitol Hill, where some conservative Republicans are reluctant to back a sweeping new federal program. The Air Force has estimated that Space Force could cost $3 billion in its first year and would likely need $13 billion in its first five years. Some military leaders have criticized the proposal as too expensive and cumbersome.

Speaking at The Post event, Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., said that many members of Congress are have a "wait and see" view of Space Force.

Pence maintained that he and Trump would like the next round of defense spending to include "language that authorizes the establishment of the United States Space Force, and a department as the sixth branch of the service."

On the GOP reluctance for more federal spending, Pence said, "I would just ask my old colleagues in the Congress, 'What price, freedom?'"

Pence argued that Space Force is critical for U.S. national security as China and Russia expand their footprints in space and "ensuring that America remains as dominant in space militarily as we are here on Earth." Pence also said Space Force would be needed to provide security for civilian missions to put "American boots back on the Moon" and eventually "seeing Americans land on Mars."

"In 2015, China essentially stood up its own space force. Russia, in the very same year, assigned a part of its aerospace division to a space force," Pence said. "What President Trump has initiated here, in a very real sense, while America continues to lead in technology and in innovation and in military strength, in terms of organizational structure, this is what our competitors are already doing."

Russia and China are engaged in robust efforts to fight wars in space, developing technology and weapons designed to take out U.S. satellites that provide missile defense and enable soldiers to communicate and monitor adversaries, according to reports earlier this year from the Secure World Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

While Pence spoke on Tuesday with a measured tone, Trump has made Space Force a rally cry at his campaign events in the weeks ahead of November's midterm elections.

"So we have the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, the Coast Guard, but we have the Air Force. Now we're going to have the Space Force because it's a whole - we need it. We need it," Trump said this summer at a rally in Minnesota as the crowd chanted, "Space Force!"

Pence dismissed the suggestion that Trump's approach may have put a partisan sheen on Space Force.

Trump has "been able to communicate that in a way that's captured the imagination of the American people," he said.