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Disarmament Diplomacy No. 87, Cover design by Calvert's Press, Photo by Rebecca JohnsonDisarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 87, Spring 2008

Space War, the Logical Next Mistake for US Exceptionalism

Mike Moore

"[W]e Americans are the particular, chosen people - the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of the liberties of the world.

"God has predestined, mankind expects, great things from our race; and great things we feel in our souls. The rest of the nations must soon be in our rear. We are the pioneers of the world; the advance guard, sent on through the wilderness of untried things, to break a new path in the New World that is ours... Long enough have we been sceptics with regard to ourselves, and doubted whether, indeed, the political Messiah had come. But he has come in us, if we would but give utterance to his promptings. And let us always remember that with ourselves, almost for the first time in the history of Earth, national selfishness is unbounded philanthropy; for we cannot do a good to America, but we give alms to the world."

The quote comes from White Jacket, Herman Melville's largely autobiographical account of life aboard an American Man-o'-War, published in 1850.[1] It could almost have been written now, especially in relation to outer space.

Readers of Disarmament Diplomacy are painfully aware that the world is not likely to get a Prevention of an Arms Race in Space (PAROS) treaty soon, if at all. In tracing that dismal history, one is forced to conclude that the United States has been the principal naysayer.[2] So it has been; so it is today. But why?

The standard reasons don't wash. There is no arms race in space, so why worry? It is not possible to define a space weapon, so why get in a sweat over it? Even if a treaty could be drafted, it would be impossible to verify, so why do it in the first place? I believe that all of these objections could be overcome if all space-faring nations truly wanted a new treaty. The plain fact is that the United States does not want one. It prefers to "keep its options open".

America's knee-jerk resistance to a new treaty is puzzling and dismaying to those of us who think a tough new treaty is the surest way to prevent an arms race in space and - possibly - a new cold war. The United States, which has roughly half of the world's 800-plus satellites, would have the most to lose if a conflict in space ever broke out. Further, the United States is so many years ahead of everyone else in the military uses of space that it could safely afford to spend time exploring whether a new space treaty was feasible and verifiable. If it became clear after, say, two or three years that negotiations weren't going anywhere, the United States would still have the option of going its own way in space. Yes, the United States is that far ahead.

The underlying reason space warriors so dismiss the treaty route seems obvious to some: the United States is a new kind of imperial nation and a policy of space dominance serves that new imperium. A 2004 videotape produced by one activist organization begins with a montage of American rockets blasting into space, most of which were launched by NASA, the civilian space agency. The narrator asserts that the "glory days of NASA are over. Today, the military-industrial complex is marching toward world domination in space technology on behalf of the global corporate interests...." Later, we learn that these corporate interests already "control" the White House and Congress, and that corporate goals include controlling Earth from space for multiple reasons ranging from securing the lion's share of the world's oil to mining asteroids for their (presumed) mineral riches.[3]

World domination? That's over the top. The men and women I have met whom I call "space warriors" are decent, honourable, and forthright. They are dedicated to defending the nation, and they believe that the capability to exert full spectrum dominance in space, when required, is a necessary requirement for fulfilling that mission. I think they are misguided, but that does not make them imperialists. I have yet to meet a twenty-first century space warrior who dreams of world domination. Hegemony, maybe; but not domination.

The America-as-Empire debate is both old and still vital. But are we looking at the right "e" word? Space warriors I have met reject the notion of an American empire, of global domination. At the same time, they ardently embrace the idea that the United States is the most exceptional nation in the history of the world. Moreover, the United States has a long collective history of describing itself as history's most exceptional nation. That idea may well be the overarching American paradigm, and it has immense consequences for the rest of the world, as well as for the prospects for a PAROS treaty.

The spirit of American exceptionalism, not outright imperialism, may be the most fundamental reason why PAROS is a non-starter, because this underpins American beliefs that they alone have the right to develop and deploy a comprehensive capability to control near-Earth space and - possibly - to place weapons in space.

Can that exceptionalist paradigm be overcome in Geneva? I'm sceptical that it can, but surely the first step toward overcoming it must be to understand the power it has on US policy. Exceptionalism promotes unilateralism in foreign policy as well as in space policy, and has been particularly noticeable since the collapse of the Soviet Union, America's last "peer competitor".

Monsters to destroy

Long before there was a United States, the English colonies in the New World were widely seen by liberal thinkers in Europe as a new promised land where spiritual and civic regeneration was possible, even encouraged. Moral and material Progress with a capital P would be worked out to its fullest extent in the New World rather than in the tired and corrupt Old World.

A phrase uttered by John Winthrop in 1630 is still recited nearly four hundred years later, thanks in part to Ronald Reagan's revival of Winthrop's metaphor. Winthrop, governor of the new Massachusetts Bay Colony, told his band of English émigrés, mostly Puritans, that life would be rigorously hard in America. But if they loved God and one another; if they worked together with meekness, gentleness, patience, and liberality; and if they rejoiced together, mourned together, laboured together, and suffered together, they would find that God would dwell among them and their community "shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the Eies of all people are uppon us."[4]

The Founding Fathers were exceptionalists too, as one would expect of men willing to die for an idea. If the American experiment should fail, wrote Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist No. 1, that failure would deserve "to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind". After retiring as president, Thomas Jefferson described the United States as the world's "sole depository of the sacred fire of freedom and self-government".[5]

It makes no difference whether the United States was actually singled out by God for greatness or whether it was merely a land blessed with abundant natural resources, good and deep topsoil, a relatively benign climate, energetic immigrants from the Old World, and a lot of room to expand in once the original inhabitants had died of smallpox or been otherwise "removed". What is relevant is that so many opinion shapers and policymakers have preached American exceptionalism over the centuries that is has penetrated deep into the national psyche.

In America's formative years, exceptionalism generally meant that the people of the United States would build a new kind of nation that would become a model to the world, while also practising a live-and-let-live policy toward other nations. That was prudent. European history was one of war interrupted by short and uneasy periods of peace. Why get caught in the middle of a European conflict by taking sides?

"What has America done for the benefit of mankind?" John Quincy Adams famously asked in 1821 while serving as James Monroe's secretary of state. Answering himself, Adams said America had "proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature" as the "only lawful foundation of government". She had consistently held forth to all nations the "hand of honest friendship". She had spoken "the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights". For nearly a half century, Adams said, America had "respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own". She did not interfere in the "concerns of others". Indeed, "Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy."[6]

The splendid little war

In 1898, the United States abandoned its neutralist foreign policy and went abroad to smite a monster - the colonial empire of Spain, which was pretty rotten. The proximate cause of the Spanish-American war was that the battleship Maine had blown up February 15, 1898 in Havana harbour while on an extended "courtesy" call. Two hundred and ninety-eight men were killed. Although the explosion was probably accidental and many newspapers counselled patience while the cause of the explosion was investigated, Spanish provocateurs were widely blamed and a "yellow" press beat the war drums incessantly.[7]

The United States freed Cuba from Spain in the spring of that year, although it reserved extensive rights of future intervention, converting it into a quasi-colony. It also gained control of Puerto Rico, Guam and Manila, the principal city of the Philippine Archipelago. From an American standpoint, the Spanish-American War was a tidy affair with outcomes measured in days and weeks, not months or years. Three hundred and thirty-two Americans died as a result of combat, while nearly three thousand succumbed to disease, mainly malaria and yellow fever. Secretary of State John Hay characterized it as "a splendid little war begun with the highest motives, carried on with magnificent intelligence and spirit, favoured by that fortune which loves the brave."[8]

Following America's declaration of war in April 1898, the cover of Harper's Weekly, the self-styled "journal of civilization," captured the prevailing American mood. Standing tall on the cover was a lithe, handsome, dark-haired Cuban woman wrapped in the Stars and Stripes, face uplifted, arms stretched heavenward, palms turned upward in joy, the just-broken shackles of tyranny and enslavement falling away. The caption: "Cuba Libre!" [9]

A regenerating idea

That the Caribbean should become an American lake after the liberation of Cuba and Puerto Rico was not an especially contentious issue for the United States. Geography and the ever-present threat of great-power depredations in the Western Hemisphere made it seem both inevitable and proper. But the Philippines, where the Spanish fleet had fallen with immoderate speed to the Asiatic Squadron commanded by George Dewey, was another matter.

The Philippine Archipelago was terra incognito to most Americans. London was closer to San Francisco than San Francisco was to Manila. The United States had demonstrated that it had the military power to take over the entire archipelago, if it so chose. But did it have the moral and constitutional right to retain the Philippines as a colony? After all, Filipino insurrectos had been fighting Spain, however ineptly and sporadically, for their freedom long before the Americans intervened. Between the formal end of hostilities with Spain in August and peace-treaty negotiations scheduled for December, President William McKinley had to decide what to do.

The decision was not easy, according to McKinley. He was not an a priori imperialist. He knew that Filipino insurrectos had joined forces with Dewey, at Dewey's express or implied invitation, to help bring down the Spanish. McKinley dithered over what to do for weeks, then months. Should the Filipinos be granted independence after a suitable tutorial in self-government? Should the Philippines become a protectorate complete with American naval bases? Or should it become an outright colony?

"One night [while seeking the Lord's guidance] it came to me this way," McKinley later explained. "We could not turn them [the Philippines] over to France or Germany, our commercial rivals in the Orient - that would have been bad for business and discreditable." Nor could the United States "give them back to Spain - that would be cowardly and dishonorable." And yet, America could not let the Filipinos rule their homeland because they were manifestly "unfit for self-government - and they would soon have anarchy and misrule." The divinely inspired answer: Keep the Philippines and "educate the Filipinos and uplift and Christianize them as our fellow-men, for whom Christ also died." McKinley then went to bed and "slept soundly".[10]

The decision to convert the newly freed Philippines into an American colony did not go down well with everyone in the States. An extraordinary anti-imperialism movement took shape and nearly carried the day. Mark Twain, America's most popular author, said the United States might as well produce a flag for the new "Philippine Province". It would be based on the stars and stripes, but "with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by a skull and cross-bones". William James, philosopher and psychologist, characterized the administration's ultimatum to the insurrectos as: "We are here for your own good; therefore unconditionally surrender to our tender mercies, or we'll blow you into kingdom come."[11]

The insurrectos did not surrender. The war that followed was nasty, brutish, but not short. Early on, US troops were outnumbered but had superior firepower. The insurrectos turned to guerrilla tactics, which the Americans were hard-pressed to counter. Both sides engaged in torture and committed atrocities. By the time the war wound down in the spring of 1902, 4,234 American soldiers had died, as had about sixteen thousand Filipino soldiers and irregulars. Perhaps as many as two hundred thousand Filipino civilians also died, mostly from war-related disease and malnutrition. In some respects, the war was a preview of Vietnam, sans helicopters and gunships.

William McKinley - a man chiefly remembered today for having been killed by a deranged anarchist - had become, in the aftermath of a short and decisive war, a partial convert to a new vision of America, a truly exceptional vision. No longer would the United States simply be a model for the nations of the world; rather, it would go abroad from time to time to remake the world.

After taking his senatorial seat in January 1900, Albert J. Beveridge, a young Indiana lawyer who had become a national sensation by extolling America's exceptionalist mission in taking over the Philippines, was invited to make his maiden speech on the Senate floor. Not surprisingly, it dealt with the Philippines. In those days, freshman senators were expected to sit and observe and keep their mouths shut. If they spoke at all on the floor of the Senate, it was with diffidence. In contrast, Beveridge's speech astounded the political world for its length, its confidence, its fire. Near the end, the junior senator from Indiana said that God had "marked the American people as His chosen nation to finally lead in the regeneration of the world". This is the divine mission of America, and it holds for us all the profit, all the glory, all the happiness possible to man. We are trustees of the world's progress, guardians of its righteous peace. The judgment of the Master is upon us: "Ye have been faithful over a few things; I will make you ruler over many things."[12]

Although there was a powerful anti-imperial backlash at the turn of the century, the regeneration idea expressed by Beveridge and others excited the nation. Orators and editorialists repeated it endlessly. In February 1902, while the guerrilla war in the Philippines still raged, Alfred Thayer Mahan, the nation's premier naval strategist and one of the nation's leading imperialists, spoke of the "conversion of spirit and ideals - the new birth - that has come over our own country" as a result of the Spanish-American War. "What the nation has gained in expansion is a regenerating idea, an uplifting of the heart, a seed of future beneficent activity, a going out of self into the world to communicate the gift it has so bountifully received."[13]

America's founders had had a rather different notion of "regeneration". Their nation would a model to the world, a nation in which sovereignty would be vested in the people, and it would be a nation ruled by laws, not men. In contrast, turn-of-the-century imperialists such as Beveridge and Mahan favoured a profoundly interventionist regeneration rather than a mere model. Progressive thinkers of the day loved this newly muscular exceptionalism.

Josiah Strong, a popular and influential American preacher and a key figure in the Protestant "social gospel" movement, asserted time and again that God had "honoured" the Anglo-Saxon race in general and Americans in particular for a reason: America's destiny was to save the world. The United States, he said, "has been made powerful, and rich, and free, and exalted - not to make subject, but to serve; rich, not to make greater gains, but to know the greater blessedness; free, not simply to exult in freedom, but to make free; exalted, not to look down, but to lift up."[14]

Messianic mission

Theodore Roosevelt vaulted into the presidency in September 1901 after the death of McKinley. Roosevelt's guiding principle was the regenerative power of personal and national righteousness combined with vigorous action. He also believed that geography and national character played pivotal roles in determining a nation's destiny. In Europe, the major powers - especially Britain, France, Germany, Russia and Italy - would balance one another's ambitions, thus preserving peace. In northeastern Asia, Russia and Japan would presumably balance one another. Meanwhile, the major European colonial states (plus Japan) would exercise collective hegemony over the less developed world.

But in the Caribbean and in Latin America, Roosevelt decided that the United States, acting alone, should exercise hegemony. The United States did not want nor did it require the assistance of anyone else. The isthmian canal, not yet built, was Roosevelt's central concern. He believed the United States must not tolerate any local instability that might somehow threaten the canal, the completion of which would make the United States a global power.

Roosevelt was worried that predatory (if righteous) European states might be tempted to poach upon America's natural sphere of influence in Latin America. The chief candidate was Germany, whose ambitions had grown under Kaiser Wilhelm II. Roosevelt was enamoured of Germany's culture and "Teutonic vigour", but he mistrusted the Kaiser, who had built the largest land army on the continent and was putting together a formidable navy.

In December 1904, Roosevelt put both the Old World and Latin America on notice that the United States, acting alone, would maintain law and order - mainly fiscal order - in the Western Hemisphere. That was a bold expansion of the earlier Monroe Doctrine. The 1823 doctrine said, in effect, that as long as European powers refrained from grabbing new territory in the New World, the United States would leave European interests in the New World alone. In his "amendment" to the Monroe Doctrine, Roosevelt said the United States, and only the United States, would look after the welfare of its southern neighbours. As long as a "nation shows that it knows how to act with reasonable efficiency and decency in social and political matters, if it keeps order and pays its obligations, it need fear no interference from the United States." But "chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society" may "ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation". That nation would be the United States. "In flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence" America would be forced - "however reluctantly" - to exercise an "international police power".[15]

Roosevelt's new initiative was not altogether popular among the sovereign states of Latin America, many of whose national leaders and intellectuals feared that US interventions were more likely to promote American corporate interests than anything else. Nevertheless, the "Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine", as it came to be called, was more of an expression of Realpolitik than of flat-out imperialism. The possibility of European intervention was an ever-present threat and the United States was staking its claim to regional hegemony, something great powers had done for centuries. What was most intriguing about the corollary was its stirringly moralistic language: "The steady aim of this Nation, as of all enlightened nations, should be to strive to bring ever nearer the day when there shall prevail throughout the world the peace of justice... The peace of tyrannous terror, the peace of craven weakness, the peace of injustice, all these should be shunned as we shun unrighteous war. The goal to set before us as a nation, the goal which should be set before all mankind, is the attainment of the peace of justice, of the peace which comes when each nation is not merely safe-guarded in its own rights, but scrupulously recognizes and performs its duty toward others."[16]

Strong, Beveridge, Mahan & Roosevelt - what a corporate name that would have been! - were thorough-going imperialists, although even Roosevelt soon grew weary of the arduous task of running the Philippines. More fundamentally, though, they offered a profoundly messianic vision of America, an exceptionalist vision. The United States was destined to help secure the "peace of the world": by example, when possible, and by force of arms, when required.[17]

A new world order

When the United States finally entered the Great War in 1917, it would have been sufficient for Woodrow Wilson to tell Congress that he was asking for a declaration of war because German submarines were sinking American ships without warning, even though the United States had remained officially neutral, if not quite neutral in reality. He would have got his declaration; the U-boat attacks were intolerable. But Wilson had nobler purposes.

"We have no selfish aims to serve," he said in his war message to Congress on April 2, 1917. "We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make." The United States would not fight merely to defeat the Central Powers; it would fight "for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples." In the most memorable phrase of his presidency, he asserted that the "world must be made safe for democracy."

The United States, Wilson said, sought to lay the foundation for a new world order that would be supervised by his proposed League of Nations - a "general association of nations" that would guarantee "the political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike". As for America's "quarrel" in the Great War, it was with imperialism, militarism, and the failed European balance-of-power system, not with the German people.

American exceptionalism has had many faces. One year it justifies colonialism in the Philippines; in another year, it provides the rationale for an anti-imperialism policy. European leaders understood America's experiment in the far Pacific; colonialism was what great powers did. But the unrelenting self-righteousness of Wilson's new brand of exceptionalism - his moralisms, his sermonettes, his messianic fervour - annoyed European leaders who were intent on carving up the empires of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey as they converted the armistice of November 11, 1918 into a peace treaty. "Talking to Wilson," Premier Georges Clemenceau of France quipped at one point, "is something like talking to Jesus Christ."[18]

America deserved the "respect due to a great nation which had entered the war somewhat late, but had rendered great service," said Prime Minister William Hughes of Australia. But it would be "intolerable" for the American president to now "dictate to us how the world was to be governed". In his most unkind observation, Hughes added, "The League of Nations was to [Wilson] what a toy was to a child - he would not be happy till he got it. His one idea was to go back to America and say that he had achieved it, and that everything else could then be left for the League of Nations to complete."[19]

Things did not work out in Paris as Wilson had hoped. Too often he mistook his belief in what should happen with what could be made to happen in the real world of conflicting passions and agendas, a presidential failing later repeated by Lyndon B. Johnson and George W. Bush. In the end, Wilson won some battles, lost many, and compromised on others. His proposed Covenant for the League was hacked and mutilated. But even in its savaged form, the Covenant was not acceptable to Republicans in the Senate, many of whom believed that joining the League would compromise American sovereignty.

How Wilson ultimately failed in achieving his vision is an oft-told tale of cynical Old World politicians who regarded Wilson's ideas as dangerously delusionary, of senatorial Republicans who were endlessly sceptical of Wilson's internationalism, and of how Wilson himself aggravated matters with his tendency to preach rather than to negotiate.

For Teddy Roosevelt, America's global mission centred on the need to exercise a manly vigour in the conduct of a righteous foreign policy, a worldview that would have the United States join with the other great powers in the task of policing the world for the good of all humankind. For Wilson, America's primary but still righteous mission was to fix the world. Wilson is often said to have been an "internationalist", which is true. But it was an oddly nationalistic internationalism. The model for the new international order would be the United States and its values.

The New Utopians

During the six decades following the Great War - decades of disillusionment, economic turmoil, and war - the Wilsonian make-the-world-safe-for-democracy mission was widely thought to be too grand, the realities of total war too grim, and the perils of the Cold War too ghastly to permit much rhetorical clarity and purity in foreign policy. Foreign policy became a mulligan stew of balance-of-power maneuvering and idealistic speeches, isolationism and engagement, multilateralism and unilateralism, forbearance and intervention, moral concerns and moralistic posturing.

It was Ronald Reagan who restored Wilson's grand vision - America's divinely sanctioned regenerative purpose - to a central place in the White House. Yet Reagan was hardly Wilson's ideological twin. Wilson favoured multilateralism; Reagan was, at heart, a unilateralist. And yet, Reagan believed, as did Wilson, that American values were the God-given values of humankind. In saving the world from communism, America would liberate humankind from bondage and the American people would themselves experience a spiritual rebirth.

With the election of Ronald Reagan, turn-of-twentieth-century regenerative exceptionalism had been reborn in the century's latter years, midwifed and nurtured by a coalition of American triumphalists, right-wing evangelical Christians,[20] and especially neo-conservatives, who provided much of the intellectual fuel for the renaissance.

Neoconservatism did not suddenly emerge full grown in the 1990s. It had deep roots. The neoconservative label was pinned on a disparate collection of American intellectuals in the 1970s by Michael (The Other America) Harrington, then America's leading democratic socialist.[21] The description was intended to be unkind. Neocons were not wildly popular with Eisenhower-style conservatives, either, men and women who valued the old Calvinist virtues of thrift, good management, balanced budgets, and businesslike prudence in all matters. Neoconservatives were far less concerned with balanced budgets and more accepting of the welfare state. They were flamboyantly argumentative and reckless risk-takers by the standards of old-guard conservatives.

In the 1960s and '70s, however, neoconservatives came to be viewed as "people with new ideas", thereby gaining in intellectual importance. Many first-generation neoconservatives had been liberal Democrats or socialists, even Trotskyists. They were the sort of men and women who had admired John F. Kennedy and who had not voted for Barry Goldwater. But in the mid- and late-'60s, they became progressively disenchanted with the way things were going. America had lost its way, they said; its culture had become disorganized, unstable, intolerant, vulgar.

Neocons came to believe that the classic liberal values of the republic - private enterprise, indirect self-government, religious belief, and individual liberty tied to individual responsibility - had been undermined by an intellectually-constipated liberal elite, by a doctrinaire New Left, by a hedonistic counterculture, by interest-group politics, by mindless egalitarianism, and by intolerant left-leaning academics who seemed never to have met a social-engineering scheme they could not embrace.

Neoconservative visions and disputations regarding domestic matters were supremely valuable, if only in the old marketplace-of-ideas sense. Neocons aggressively challenged liberal fancies, conceits, and shibboleths, reminding liberals and policymakers that even the best-intentioned policies may have unintended consequences. Policies and plans based on utopian visions, they said, seldom work as planned. Neocons never tired of reminding liberals that the root meaning of utopia was "no place".

The unswerving contempt neocons had for the utopian schemes of "statist" liberals helped define who they were. Equal opportunity was right and proper and long overdue, but affirmative-action quotas were wrong, divisive, and stigmatizing. History had taught us that there were limits to what governments could accomplish in remaking society, went the neocon refrain. Liberal utopianism had created or exacerbated many of the nation's social, political, and economic problems.

But in world affairs, there were virtually no limits to what the United States government could do, according to many neocons. In the neoconservative vision of foreign policy, utopianism ruled. America had emerged from World War II as a nation with a new mission: to defeat the Soviet empire and to remake the world.

The American League

After the fall of the Soviet Union, neocons were among the first to proclaim the challenges and the opportunities of a "unipolar world". The "centre" of world power was now the United States, Charles Krauthammer wrote in a special issue of Foreign Affairs. The United States, he said, was "the only country with the military, diplomatic, political and economic assets to be a decisive player in any conflict in whatever part of the world it chooses to involve itself".[22] As provocative as Krauthammer's essay was, the most distinctive neocon anthem appeared in the July/August 1996 issue of Foreign Affairs during the Bill Clinton-Bob Dole presidential campaign. It was called "Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy":

"In foreign policy, conservatives are adrift. They disdain the Wilsonian multilateralism of the Clinton administration; they are tempted by, but so far have resisted, the neoisolationism of Patrick Buchanan; for now, they lean uncertainly on some version of the conservative 'realism' of Henry Kissinger and his disciples. What, then, should America's role be in this chaotic post-Cold War world?"

According to authors William Kristol and Robert Kagan, it should be "benevolent global hegemony": "Having defeated the 'evil empire', the United States enjoys strategic and ideological predominance. The first objective of US foreign policy should be to preserve and enhance that predominance by strengthening America's security, supporting its friends, advancing its interests, and standing up for its principles around the world....

"In a world in which peace and American security depend on American power and the will to use it, the main threat the United States faces now and in the future is its own weakness. American hegemony is the only reliable defence against a breakdown of peace and international order. The appropriate goal of American foreign policy, therefore, is to preserve that hegemony as far into the future as possible. To achieve this goal, the United States needs a neo-Reaganite foreign policy of military supremacy and moral confidence..."[23]

The Kristol/Kagan message was that a regenerative Reaganite foreign policy would be good for conservatism, good for America, and good for the world. In their ideological purity, neoconservatives are, as has been often remarked, Wilsonians. Like Wilson, they would save the world; unlike Wilson, their peacemaking mechanism would be an interventionist America, not a League of Nations. They would apply the Roosevelt Corollary to the rest of the world. A Pax Americana, they suggest - or, if you prefer, "benign global hegemony" - would promote democracy worldwide and thus enhance US security.

The problem with Wilson, according to many neocons, was not his passion for spreading America's exceptionalist gospel; it was his unbending faith in multilateral initiatives (albeit under American direction) to keep the peace. According to the New Utopians, multilateralism was - and is - too often a dead-end. In their view, the United States is far better suited, temperamentally and militarily, to take on the peacemaking role than Wilson's League of Nations or today's United Nations. Given the political will, the United States, acting alone or with ad hoc "coalitions of the willing" could and should take on the League of Nations/United Nations peacemaking role. Call it the American League!

New Utopians and Space War

The old spirit of American exceptionalism and its progeny, the New Utopianism, helps explain the persistent passion space warriors have for developing and deploying the means to dominate space. And it helps explain America's continuing resistance to a PAROS treaty. Such a treaty simply would not square with the regenerative conviction that the United States can do as it pleases because it is a righteous and selfless nation. Who needs a new space treaty when one is already persuaded that a unilateral American military capability to dominate space serves the interests of all humankind?

Everett C. Dolman, a professor at Air University's School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, is among the most thoughtful and articulate of space-warrior theorists. He insists that US control of space would place "as guardian of space the most benign state that has ever attempted hegemony over the greater part of the world". It would be a bold and decisive step, and "at least from the hegemon's point of view, morally just".[24]

Morally just? That phrase lies at the heart of the debate. What is America's message to the world? We are a free and open society, we have a commitment to liberty and the rule of law, we have a generosity of spirit that is uncommon in the history of the world, and we are not averse to tooting our own horn about it. On balance, that sounds like a nation concerned with morality and justice as well as with good P.R. And yet, we Americans sometimes ask, Why do so many people in other nations seem to hate us? One answer comes easily: We are the world's richest and most powerful nation, a nation that lives extravagantly well, thus soaking up an inordinate share of the world's irreplaceable natural resources.

But there is another and harsher answer. Some men and women hate us because they know the common belief among Americans is that the United States - alone among nations - is nearly always right. Indeed, righteous. For more than a century, dozens of US interventions, overt and covert, in the internal affairs of other states have been driven by that sense of righteousness.[25]

National righteousness is not an uncommon thing. It characterizes the elites of any number of states, beginning with France, a nation whose chief exports seem to be wine, cheese, bureaucracy and moral smugness. Britain and Germany are powerfully righteous states, too, as are Norway and Sweden, Russia and India, Saudi Arabia and Israel, China and Japan...

However, none of these states - and that includes China - contemplates developing and deploying a unilateral space-control capability. None of these states is attempting to design space-based weapons. None of these states seeks to achieve military dominance of space. None of these states is intent on extending a triumphalist ethic into space. And none of these states systematically vetoes the negotiation of a new space treaty.

American exceptionalism can have sectarian or secular impulses, or a bit of both. Exceptionalism is a fine thing to celebrate on the Fourth of July, but when applied to foreign policy - or space policy - exceptionalism, can be a dangerous thing. Recall, for a moment, the words of Senator J. William Fulbright in The Arrogance of Power, published during the early days of the Vietnam War. "Having done so much and succeeded so well", Fulbright wrote, "America is now at a historical point at which a great nation is in danger of losing its perspective on what exactly is within the realm of its power and what is beyond it... The causes of the malady are not entirely clear but its recurrence is one of the uniformities of history: power tends to confuse itself with virtue, and a great nation is peculiarly susceptible to the idea that its power is a sign of God's favour, conferring upon it a special responsibility for other nations - to make them richer and happier and wiser, to remake them, that is, in its own shining image. Power confuses itself with virtue and tends also to take itself for omnipotence. Once imbued with the idea of mission, a great nation easily assumes it has the means as well as the duty to do God's work. The Lord, after all, surely would not choose you as His agent and then deny you the sword with which to work His will."[26]

The thing Fulbright called "arrogance" is the natural offspring of regenerative exceptionalism, and both are powerful forces in the American polity. The world will have no PAROS treaty until US delegates come to understand that this built-in bias toward exceptionalism is destructive to America's long-term interests - and therefore must be dealt with. Expunging it from the deepest recesses of their minds will not be easy, but it will be necessary.


[1] Herman Melville, White Jacket, chapter 36.

[2] The history of that effort can be traced through Disarmament Diplomacy and the Acronym Institute website, or via the weekly updates on CD developments from Reaching Critical Will.

[3] Arsenal of Hypocrisy: The Space Program and the Military Industrial Complex, produced by Randy Atkins (http://www.ArsenalofHypocrisy.com) and hosted by Bruce Gagnon, Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. See http://www.space4peace.org.

[4] See http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/winthrop.htm.

[5] "Comments to the Citizens of Washington," 1809. See http://etext.virginia.edu/jefferson/biog/lj33.htm.

[6] See http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/jqadams.htm.

[7] Joseph's Pulitzer's New York World and William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal, which were in a thuggishly brutal circulation war, featured generous helpings of bizarre and sensational stories as well as doses of imaginative or wholly fictional "news", including lurid (if sometimes true) tales of Spanish oppression in Cuba. Both newspapers carried enormously popular colour comic strips drawn by different artists but starring the same character, "The Yellow Kid." Hence the term, "yellow journalism".

[8] Letter to Teddy Roosevelt, July 17, 1898. See the commentary by Joseph R. Stromberg, "The Spanish American War: the Leap into Overseas Empire," at http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1344.

[9] Vol. XLII, No. 2158, April 30, 1898.

[10] Charles S.Olcott, William McKinley, Vol. II (Boston and New York: Riverside Press, 1916), p 109. McKinley seemed to ignore that the Filipinos had long ago been Christianized by Catholic missionaries.

[11] Both comments as well as many more can be found at "Anti-Imperialism in the United States, 1898-1935," a website edited by Jim Zwick. See http://www.boondocksnet.com/ai/index.html.

[12] For a shortened version of his Senate speech, see http://www.isop.ucla.edu/eas/documents/phlpqust.htm. Emphasis added.

[13] A.T. Mahan, Retrospect & Prospect: Studies in International Relations (Reprinted, Port Washington, New York: Kennikat Press, 1968), pp 16-17. Emphasis added.

[14] Josiah Strong, Expansion Under New World Conditions (Reprinted, New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1971), p 213.

[15] See Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, http://www.historicaldocuments.com/

[16] Ibid.

[17] America's foray into European-style colonialism was short-lived. The American people had no stomach for it. As soon as the United States defeated Spain in the Philippines, it set about improving sanitation in Manila, inoculating children against disease, and generally attempting to win the hearts and minds of urban Filipinos even while fighting the insurrectos in the bush. After the guerrilla war ended, the United States built schools and hospitals, constructed roads and bridges, and preached the importance of eventual self-government. Although the United States imposed English upon the Filipinos as the official language, it also founded the University of the Philippines to train Filipinos for the day when they would take over. On July 4, 1946, the United States finally granted the Philippines independence, although Big Brother continued to maintain an unmistakable economic, political, and military presence in the islands. Guam, an island not quite as large as the city of Chicago that was acquired from Spain after the Spanish-American War, became a self-governing "organized unincorporated" US territory in 1950. Puerto Rico, which had been a de facto American colony since 1898, became a "commonwealth" in 1952, a neither-fish-nor-fowl status that dismays the proponents of statehood, outrages the small but ardent independence movement, but generally satisfies the majority. Ironically, America's record toward Cuba, the nation America went to war in 1898 to liberate, has been a jingoistic disgrace, before and after the Castro revolution.

[18] T. J. Knock, To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), p 199.

[19] H. Hoover, The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1958), p 256.

[20] Many evangelicals, perhaps the majority, are not highly political. Although they tend to vote in great numbers for socially conservative candidates, they are more keenly focused on doing good works and saving souls than in engaging in right-wing political activism. See Sojourners magazine, published by an evangelical organization that is distinctly liberal in its outlook, at www.sojo.net.

[21] I. Kristol, Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea (New York: Free Press, 1995), p 33.

[22] Charles Krauthammer, 'America and the World', Foreign Affairs, Vol. 70, No. 1, 1990-91.

[23] William Kristol and Robert Kagan, 'Towards a New-Reaganite Foreign Policy', Foreign Affairs, July/August 1996, Vol. 75, No. 4.

[24] Everett. C. Dolman, Astropolitik: Classical Geopolitics in the Space Age (London: Frank Cass, 2002), p 158.

[25] See John Prados, Presidents' Secret Wars: CIA and Pentagon Covert Operations from World War II Through Iranscam (New York: William Morrow, 1986).

[26] J. William Fulbright, The Arrogance of Power (New York, Vintage Books, 1966), p 2.

Mike Moore, who retired as editor of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 2000, is a Research Fellow with The Independent Institute of Oakland, California. He is the author of Twilight War: The Folly of U.S. Space Dominance (www.independent.org). Previously, he had been the editor of Quill, the magazine of the Society of Professional Journalists, and an editor or reporter for the Milwaukee Journal, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Daily News, and the Kansas City Star. In 2002-3, he was a member of three national task force/study groups that examined military space policy and other national-security issues.

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