CURRENT EVENT: Space Weapon Treaty Supported in Russian/American Poll: Keep Outer Space Free of Weapons

January 24, 2008 at 2:00 pm | Posted in Space Law | Leave a comment

by P.J. Blount and the blog faculty
A new poll shows that most Americans and Russians support a treaty to prevent an arms race in outer space. From Newswise:

Newswise – Most Americans and Russians agree that their governments should work together to prevent an arms race in space. Large majorities in both countries favor unilateral restraint and a treaty that would keep space free of weapons.

Treaties that would prohibit countries from attacking or interfering with each others’ satellites and from testing or deploying weapons designed to attack satellites are also supported by Russians and Americans.

These are among the key findings of a poll released today, carried out by the WorldPublicOpinion.org and developed in conjunction with the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland (CISSM) in College Park, Maryland.

The study received development assistance from the Secure World Foundation; additional financial support was provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation and the Ploughshares Fund. Knowledge Networks in the United States and the Levada Center in Russia conducted the interviews.

Results of the poll were presented today at a workshop – The State of Space Security – being held at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Top experts in space policy, law and emerging technologies are taking part in the one-day workshop, geared to help hammer out steps in establishing a global consensus on security in outer space.

Global dependency on space systems

“This poll by World Public Opinion shows that the American public recognizes that keeping space free of weapons is in the best long term interest of the United States even if some portions of the U.S. military establishment do not,” explained Ray Williamson, Executive Director of the Secure World Foundation, based in Superior, Colorado. “The U.S. economy and citizens’ well being has become so dependent on the benefits provided by our civil space systems that we can ill afford to put those benefits at risk,” he said.

Williamson noted that other nations are fast becoming every bit as dependent on space systems to bolster economic growth and are concerned about possible efforts by the U.S. to place weapons into space.

Majorities in both the United States (78%) and Russia (67%) say that as long as no other country puts weapons into space, their own governments should also refrain from doing so.

Most Russians (72%) and Americans (80%) also favor a new treaty banning all weapons in space. Support for such a ban was strong among Americans even when they were presented counter arguments about the potential military advantages of deploying such systems.

The U.S. poll revealed strong bipartisan consensus on the issue. Majorities in both the Republican and Democratic parties believe the U.S. government should refrain unilaterally from deploying space weapons. There is also bipartisan backing for a treaty to ban these weapons, though support is higher among Democrats.

Steven Kull, director of WorldPublicOpinion.org, noted that there was remarkable agreement within and between the two countries on the issue of space weapons.

“What is striking is the robust consensus — among Russians as well as Americans, and among Republicans as well as Democrats — that space should not be an arena for the major powers to compete for military advantage,” Kull said.

John Steinbruner, director of CISSM, added that “the observed consensus also reflects a robust conception of security interest.”

“The use of space for common protection is, in fact, far more important for all countries under the circumstances of globalization than the pursuit of national advantage in performing traditional military missions,” Steinbruner said.

U.S. presidential candidates

Asked how high a priority their governments should place on bilateral cooperation to prevent an arms race in space, large majorities of Americans (86%) and Russians (also 86%) agree that it should be an important priority. A majority of Russians (53%) consider this a top priority.

American respondents were asked how they would like presidential candidates to deal with U.S. national security and space weapons.

Sixty-seven percent overall said they would have more confidence in a presidential candidate “who favors a treaty banning weapons in space,” including 57 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of Democrats. Seventy-three percent would also have more confidence in a candidate who took the position that as long as no other country puts weapons in space, the United States should not do so (Republicans 63%, Democrats, 83%).

Space treaties

Americans and Russians agree that a treaty prohibiting countries from attacking or interfering with each others’ satellites is a good idea, even when given the argument that disabling satellites could be useful militarily. Seventy-eight percent of Americans and 65 percent of Russians say that such a treaty should be negotiated.

Similarly, both Americans (79%) and Russians (63%) favor a treaty that would prevent countries from testing or deploying weapons systems dedicated to attacking satellites, even when given the counterargument that arms control treaties are sometimes ineffective.

Furthermore, majorities of Americans (77%) and Russians (61%) favor a treaty prohibiting interference with satellites. Support for these treaties was bipartisan in the United States, though Democratic support was larger.

Americans and Russians also overwhelmingly reject the idea of preventively destroying another country’s missiles that could be used in an anti-satellite attack.

Williamson of the Secure World Foundation spotlighted one outcome from China’s anti-satellite (ASAT) test early last year.

“One of the unexpected side benefits of the recent Chinese ASAT test is that it showed the world that destruction of satellites will often make things much worse for the safety and long term sustainability of space systems. Our continued ability to reap the benefits of space systems will depend on keeping weapons from outer space. Instead of building new space weapons, the U.S. should assume the leadership in a move to keep weapons from outer space. As a start, it should especially focus on banning ASAT development and tests,” Williamson emphasized.

Poll Sampling Details

Details regarding the WorldPublicOpinion.org poll include the following:
The U.S. poll included a nationwide sample of 1,247 respondents interviewed September 14-23, 2007. Most questions were administered to a half sample, thus the margin of error is plus or minus 4.0 percent.

Knowledge Networks fielded the poll using its nationwide panel, which is randomly selected from the entire adult population and subsequently provided Internet access. For more information about this methodology, go to http://www.knowledgenetworks.com/ganp

The Russian poll had a nationwide sample of 1,601 respondents taken September 14-24, 2007. Most questions were administered to a half sample, thus the margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percent. The poll was fielded by the Levada Center using face-to-face interviews.

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