The United States has the highest reliance on satellites of any country in the world, not only in the national security sector, but the private sector as well. Although it has recognized the importance of protecting satellites as strategic assets since their inception, different times and circumstances have yielded different approaches regarding how vigorously this should be accomplished. During most of the Cold War, the United States' desire to protect its satellites was overridden by wanting to avoid what were considered potentially destabilizing efforts, and what seemed as an inevitable arms race in space that would result from those latter efforts. During the Reagan Administration, however, the United States tacitly engaged in a space arms race with the Soviet Union, called the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, or Star Wars). This paper suggests that the varied strategic arguments that pervaded in past ASAT debates are now, for the most part, gone. Another broader argument has, however, replaced them, and in some ways presents a more nuanced organizational issue. That issue concerns determination of the relative importance of space weaponry designed toward negating space-based threats, the traditional role of ASATs, within the parameters of U.S. space control capabilities specifically and military planning generally. In that context, it is argued that although past political impediments to the development of ASATs have dissipated, ASAT development will likely continue conservatively much as it has in the past, now as a part of a broader spectrum of efforts. In a change from the past, however, organizational politics and fiscal prioritization rather than macro strategic political and public debate now determine such a course.
INSS Occasional Paper 30
Space Policy Series (January 2000)