National security experts recognize that there are pivotal points when a nation must choose between disaster and surrender or triumph and victory. Most military disasters that have led to the downfall of a nation — or even a civilization — have been caused by their strategists’ failures to spend the time and resources needed to adapt for the future.
Failure to Appreciate Technological and Strategic Advances Leads to Disaster throughout History
This lack of political foresight was evident in Athens in the Peloponnesian wars and in the Roman Empire in the fifth century. It was also in China in the 19th century and France and most of Europe in the 20th century.
In each case, the problem was that national leaders failed to appreciate the technological and strategic advances that made their political and military doctrines obsolete. Those leaders believed that:
- Fixed fortifications could withstand gunpowder.
- Heavily-armored knights could not be felled by longbow arrows.
- Wooden ships could stand against armored battleships.
- French troops stationed on the Maginot Line could defend France against a German invasion.
History is littered with the bodies of soldiers whose political leaders lacked foresight and imagination.
In 1897, the American naval officer and historian Alfred Thayer Mahan warned of the consequences of ignoring major advances in military tactics and armaments in his book, “The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future“:
“Those who hold that our political interests are confined to matters within our own borders, and are unwilling to admit that circumstances may compel us in the future to political action without them, look with dislike and suspicion upon the growth of a body [the navy] whose very existence indicates that nations have international duties as well as international rights, and that international complications will arise from which we can no more escape than the states which have preceded us in history, or those contemporary with us.”
Mahan predicted that a nation that invested in advances in sea power would dominate the globe. His prediction was ultimately demonstrated by the strength and power of the aircraft carrier during the Pacific campaign in World War II. However, those days are numbered, as were the days of the now obsolete wooden battleship.
The United States is at a similar crossroads now. This crossroads presents us with decisions on whether or not we will lead in space, advance medicine through space technology and have the capability to dominate the next battlefield.
The Militarization of Space Is Inevitable
Whether we like it or not, the militarization of space is inevitable; the question is not if, but when. The nation that is first out of the gate will remain first permanently. Nothing short of American superpower status is at stake.
The nation that dominates space and space exploration will also enjoy the most vibrant and dynamic economy, the most advanced and high-paying jobs, and a technological edge that is second to none. Taking the lead in space exploration and domination is a national security and economic imperative. Failure to act on this front will make ISIS, Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea seem like a distraction, a sideshow for amateurs.
It is not enough to point out a problem; there must be a solution. The first step in this solution is to support and endorse the creation of a Space Corps as a separate military branch. The basic plan was created and endorsed by President Trump, Vice President Pence and Congressmen Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Jim Cooper (D-TN).
A Space Corps, independent of the other service branches, would begin by prioritizing the U.S. mission in space, create plans to clean up dangerous space debris and eliminate the natural threats that could emanate from space, such as errant asteroids. This new service would be responsible for creating a true spacefaring component of our national security. To do so, the Space Corps will need its own academy, training, uniforms, budget and hierarchy.
Foes of the Space Corps: Status Quo Military and Left-Wing Politicians
However, this proposal faces two unlikely foes. The first enemy is the “status quo” brass in the Pentagon, who understand that a new service would mean different priorities, budgets and officers. They fear that payment for these additions would come from their service budgets.
We saw this shadow play before in our nation’s history, when General Henry “Hap” Arnold pushed for the creation of an independent Air Force in the aftermath of World War II. This makes the Air Force’s opposition to the Space Corps the ultimate irony.
The Air Force and the Navy have the most to “lose” from a bureaucratic perspective and a potential loss of some of their missions. This is a good reason why grand strategy should never be left to generals and admirals of the status quo.
The other opposition comes from many on the left wing of American politics who instinctively dislike any increase in defense spending. They will automatically bemoan the “militarization of space” as if that is a choice we actually have. Meanwhile, Russia and China already made changes in their defense strategies in 2015 that put them squarely on this road to a more active role in space.
In an interview with the author, General Peter Worden, former Director of the NASA Ames Research Center, summed it up best:
“The first human settlements will be in place on the moon within a decade, and large-scale space manufacturing starts soon after. By the middle of the [21st] century, the global economy will likely be based on space resources. These developments are, and will increasingly be, driven by private commercial concerns. Now is the time for us to consider the security underpinnings of human expansion into outer space. The concept of a military force, a Space Corps, to protect and nurture this expansion is a key question for today. The history of human expansion into unknown regions shows that military capabilities are necessary. Why should outer space be any different?”
To keep the United States in its position of primacy, we must reinvigorate our space program because any future military conflicts will be won by the nation that achieves dominance in space. The 5,000-year evolution and history of military technology have proven the validity of this trajectory.
If we surrender to the status quo mindset of the mid-20th century, we will be surrendering more than our imagination and innovation. We will be surrendering our nation’s peace.