More international delusions
by Taylor Dinerman
|Why does anyone on Earth need a new version of ESA in order to explore the solar system?|
This brings up the whole question of how much international cooperation is compatible with actually getting anything done. In spite of their post-Soviet problems, the Russians have maintained a very high level of expertise and are now looking to sell it on the open market. The Chinese are buying some elements and the Americans have had considerable success incorporating the RD-180 engine into the Atlas 5. The Europeans have been buying launch services from them, and have been trying to negotiate a “privileged partnership”. For the moment Russia is sitting pretty: naturally they are taking advantage of their position to try and make money. Quoi de plus naturel?
Meanwhile ESA has decided to cut off cooperation with NASA on their planned Mars rover, using the excuse that American arms export regulations are too onerous. ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) is indeed a pain, but instead of trying to work with the US to establish a solid framework of agreements among Western nations on what can and cannot be exported and to whom, the Europeans have decided to use ITAR as a pretext to build satellites with no US parts and to export them to China and who knows who else in the future.
For a different view of this problem check out Louis Friedman’s piece in the latest issue of The Planetary Society’s magazine The Planetary Report. He points out—correctly, I believe—that “today, because of ITAR, Cassini-Huygens probably would not be possible.” However, when that mission was being planned the idea of space cooperation with India would have seemed absurd, yet that relationship is growing just as the relationship with ESA is beginning to fade. ITAR is not a wholly insurmountable obstacle, given enough political goodwill.
Friedman also points out that the Iran Nonproliferation Act (INA) is a serious obstacle to cooperation with Russia on the ISS. He may have written this before Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, the former head of the House Science Committee’s space subcommittee, pointed out that the INA has failed in its objective and it’s time to try something else. The White House has come out with some suggestions to modify or eliminate the INA, but that will be up to Congress. It will be interesting to see if Congressional leaders want to make time for comprehensive hearings and debate on this issue. Alternatively, they could decide to quietly include the modifications to INA in some sort of omnibus budget bill. However, they could decide that the whole question is too complicated and decide to do nothing.
|International space projects present many opportunities for the leakage of militarily useful technology, and getting the balance right between cooperation and security is always hard.|
This debate touches on several very old issues that just will not go away. One is the natural tension between scientists, who tend to want maximum levels of international cooperation, and the national security establishment, which wants to keep tight control over the proliferation of technology and knowledge that strengthens future enemies. Another related issue is the desire of companies, entrepreneurs, or even nations to freely sell whatever they can develop or make. One notable example was Britain’s 1946 sale of jet engines to the Soviet Union, which led to the deaths of hundreds of American flyers a few years later in Korea.
International space projects present many opportunities for the leakage of militarily useful technology, and getting the balance right between cooperation and security is always hard. Alberganti’s fantasy IASA would not be able to deal any better with these issues than the real existing space bureaucracies.