‘Star Wars’ isn’t just a movie:
Activists from around the world have gathered this weekend in Berkeley for the annual meeting of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space conference, giving both the public and various group affiliates from around the globe the chance to convene and share information, perspectives, and strategies on preventing the further militarization of space.
According to the U.S. Space Command’s “Vision for 20/20” report, the Star Wars defense system will consist of 24 orbiting lasers, with the first functional laser platform going up in 2012. The Star Wars program has so far cost the U.S. an estimated $60 billion, and is slated for an additional $8.3 billion this year alone.
“Space is currently a weapons-free zone, but the launching of a laser platform for missile defense would set the precedent for weapon-ization. It is so much easier to prevent weapon-ization from happening in the first place then to try and dismantle it afterwards,” said Regina Hagen, member of the German-based International Network of Engineers & Scientists Against Proliferation and one of today’s plenary speakers. “This would lead to a possible arms race with China and Russia,” she said.
The United States withdrawal from the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty, which prohibited the deployment of a missile-defense system, sparked protests from the European Union, Russia and China, and officials from over 20 countries criticized the U.S. during an international disarmament conference held in Beijing on April 4.
“The world is very concerned over this issue. It is not just a few activists. It is the General Assembly of the UN, and the majority in Geneva, who wish to discuss prevention of an arms race in outer space, but the U.S. often prevents a consensus from being reached,” Hagen said.
The Global Network conference kicked off yesterday with a rally at Lockheed Martin’s Sunnyvale campus, where the company is purportedly developing space-based laser and other theater missile defense technologies. An estimated 150 demonstrators gathered before company grounds, listening to spontaneous concerts and speeches.
“We have a very spirited crowd of students and protesters from over 12 countries,” said Bill Sulzman, a protest participant. “This is a very symbolic place to hold a protest — very apropos to addressing the profit-motive behind defense spending.”
Informational presentations, workshops, and strategy planning sessions have been scheduled for today and Sunday here in Berkeley. Conference registration began 8 a.m. this morning at the Valley Life Sciences Building Auditorium, UCB campus.
“Saturday’s conference will be an equal amount people talking about what’s wrong with the current picture and what we can do to make it right,” Sulzman said.
Speakers flew in from all over the States, the UK, India, Japan, Germany, Australia and the Philippines to participate in the conference, and represent varied groups opposed to space-based and nuclear weapons proliferation. Over 20 workshops are being held today on issues ranging from global perspectives, military weapons, spy capabilities, and the environmental impact of star wars programs after keynote speeches by journalist Karl Grossman and activists Stacey Fritz and Kathy Kelly.
“What’s actually going on is a strong push for missile defense, which most people don’t equate with weapons in space,” said Fritch, head of the Alaska-based No Nukes North. “But ‘missile defense’ is the weapon-ization of space,” she says.
Fritch’s organization has been lobbying against the U.S. military’s use of Alaska for ABM test and shield sites. Pentagon officials have said they hope to open the first missile shield site in Alaska by 2004.
Sunday’s strategy session will focus on steps the Global Network can take over the next year to activate people for protests, engage the public and media, and to organize a global appeal to stop missile defense testing, according to Hagen.