In 2012, Dr. Lamont Colucci was approached by U.S. News and World Report to write a weekly column on foreign policy and national security. This is under the aegis of World Report – Insights, perspectives, and commentary on foreign affairs. View the article on USNews.com
The news is full of disaster after disaster on the foreign policy front: attacks by Hamas against Israel, Russians shelling Ukrainians and rebels downing civilian aircraft, Christians being murdered in the Middle East, the American embassy forced to evacuate in Libya, and the Chinese flexing their muscles in the South China Sea. America is on its heels due to inaction and a rudderless national security strategy. It is at a time like this that one should remember a period when Americans dreamed so big in foreign policy and had such creative vision in national security that it extended beyond the bounds of Earth.
In 1959, the United States Army proposed Project Horizon, which was designed to set up a permanent American military presence on the moon. The media have focused heavily on a 1958 plan to detonate a nuclear weapon on the moon in order to study the effect it would have and to send a clear and unambiguous signal to the Soviet Union at a time when the USSR presented an existential threat to American and western civilization. This idea, “Project A119,” was shelved primarily due to the safety concerns, the problem of damage to the moon’s surface, and the perception it would create worldwide.
However, Project Horizon is a different matter altogether. The proposal called for a complement of 10 to 20 personnel that would serve as the foundation for a larger, more permanent presence. The initial landings were scheduled for 1965, and an initial outpost was hoped to be up and running by 1966. It would not only have facilitated the exploration of the moon, but space travel. It would have created countless scientific opportunities for expansion of technology, communications and surveillance.
The base would have used a combination of nuclear and solar energy and be under a “Unified Space Command” created by the U.S. military. Think of the advances that humanity could have made with such an endeavor on the scientific and technological front. Where would we be with “green” technology today if the United States government had pushed this plan at the time?
The United States now suffers from a fear of offending others, combined with a lack of strategy and goals. The Obama administration has shifted NASA from a the tip of the spear for American space exploration to issues of climate change, hostage to the Russian manned space program at a time when U.S.-Russian relations have further soured.
In 2004, the Bush administration attempted to restart the American dream about space and clearly stated what those in national security circles know too well: the nation that dominates space dominates Earth and determines the security conditions for all people. One can joke about Star Wars and Star Trek all one wants, but at the end of the day, serious people understand that this is the next leap in military technology. This will have the same impact as the development of gunpowder, cannon and shot did to the perceived invincibility of fixed fortifications like castles. If the United States fails to determine the terms of this issue, it will be placed in a dangerous situation that it will not recover from.
19th century strategic planners realized that projection of power would be determined by those that controlled the sea lanes. 20th century strategists understood this to be the aircraft carrier. Dominance in space in the 21st century is the simple, logical next step. The country can ignore it, laugh at it and complain about the cost during difficult budget times, but none of this matters to the geostrategic reality that will be imposed on us if another nation reaches this point first.
The dreamers of the 1950s realized the military, cultural and scientific benefits of a lunar outpost; those on the national security side of the coin understood the message this would send to America’s adversaries. In essence, this kind of thinking is the exact opposite of the minimalistic, fearful goals of the present. It was bold, it was audacious, and it was American.