top of page

84.29 Book Review

It is scarcely necessary to be familiar with the details of Canadian Arms Control Policy to know that our leaders in Ottawa have for long been interested in the prevention of the militarization of outer space. As recently as February 1983, Secretary of State Allan MacEachen, in an address to the Committee on Disarmament in Geneva, focussed on four important issues “on which I wished to put Canada’s position strongly”: one of these was the prohibition of “all weapons for use in outer space”.

Mr. Karas’ new book is of tremendous importance, as it provides us with much of the information which we need to assess the arms race in space, the driving forces behind it, its technical aspects, the financial aspects, the threat that it poses, and the prospects of arms control.

On the whole it is a book which may very well cause dismay, because the forces driving the race in space are strong and vigorous; U.S. technical expertise tends to lead to illusions about the increase in security which further armaments can provide; the resources which could go into the militarization of space would further distort world economy; the threat to peace of the military space programme is extremely difficult to assess; and the prospects of arms control are dim.

And yet, the knowledge presented by this book is absolutely vital. To “keep the lid on things” we must have knowledge of what is actually going on, and we must not fall into the trap of dubbing the entire military — industrial complex irresponsible warmongers. Karas makes it clear, simply by quoting people he talked to, that the viewpoints and attitudes in the military hierarchy are not the product of a simple stereotype. Take his reference to Col. Charles Heimach on p. 174, for example, who “likes the idea of an agreement that would make U.S. satellites safer — he just doesn’t think it is possible.” Heimach’s views are presented in contrast to the view of Major Lance Lord of the Pentagon office who “sees space as a place where we can get the jump on the Soviets, take a lead in the arms race, and restore American superiority.” What Karas does is to paint a very full and complex picture so that the reader really knows what society is up against. On the whole the corporations which benefit from large space contracts emerge as the primary generators of the contest, with the military divided between determined drivers and reluctant realists.

The Soviets are of course not blameless in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, but in Karas’ work it becomes clear that they lag in important aspects of the most modern Control, Command and Communication technology, as well as in the development of anti-satellite weapons. The most dangerous anti-satellite weapon is the PMALS — the Prototype Miniature Air-Launched System — which can seek out and ram a satellite at a relative speed of thousands of miles per hour. To destroy present-day satellites PMALS doesn’t even need to carry an explosive charge. Nevertheless, this weapon, propelled into space by a rocket that is launched from an F-15 fighter in the upper atmosphere, could destroy the network of satellites from which a part of Soviet security is derived. Karas does not say that soon the Soviets will have developed a corresponding weapon. There is no need to say it: it has always happened in the past that they catch up and usually the retaliation has given us cause for regret that the first step had ever been taken. Space lasers emerge as much less important, in Karas’ presentation, except that they could result in the most extraordinary expense the world has perhaps seen if a full complement of laser space stations was even built. The consequences of deploying such stations do not seem to have been thought through by the proponents of laser defence.

And after this dazzling run through establishments, opinion, high technology and science near-fiction, what impression is left? For me it was the quoted opinion. Karas has been generous in his inclusion of direct quotes from military officers and people linked with them on the industrial side. All of them, perhaps with the exception of Heimach and his ilk, seemed not to be able to take the really broad view, the view which might resolve rather than exacerbate conflicts, which sees security of the individual in the nuclear age as being nonsensical except within the broad framework of security for all.

Karas has some gems waiting for you to read, like his comments on the Disarmament Game in Chapter four, so it isn’t just a tough grind. And he concludes nicely with six brief propositions in an epilogue. An important book. Please read it. Please.

Recent Posts

See All

SfP Bulletin archive

SfP Bulletin February 2017 The President’s Corner: Science for Peace as a Foreign Language Metta Spencer Report of the Working Group on Global Governance Helmut Burkhardt Report of the Working Group o


bottom of page