Vice President Mike Pence delivered a speech on Thursday outlining President Donald Trump’s vision of a Space Force, an idea that Trump has repeatedly riffed about at rallies over the past several months.
“Now the time has come to write the next great chapter in the history of our Armed Forces, to prepare for the next battlefield where America’s best and bravest will be called to deter and defeat a new generation of threats to our people, to our nation,” Pence said. “The time has come to establish the United States Space Force.”
Described by the Vice President as a new sixth branch of the Armed Forces “separate from and equal to” the other branches, the Space Force would be tasked with confronting the “new battlefield” of outer space.
Though Defense Secretary James Mattis previously opposed the concept, and the Pentagon recently declined to fund it, the Department of Defense will still release guidelines for its creation on Thursday. These suggestions will include the establishment of a Space Operations Force that Pence said would be “an elite group of joint warfighters specializing in the domain of space, who will form the backbone of the nation’s newest armed service.”
But despite the Vice President’s best efforts to portray the Space Force as a serious and necessary development, his remarks failed to explain why a new branch focused on space warfare would remotely justify the $8 billion cost (at least) of its establishment. The speech was also riddled with contradictory language and jingoistic flourishes that sound as if they were sourced from Starship Troopers.
“America will always seek peace in space, as on the Earth, but history proves that peace only comes through strength,” Pence said. “In the realm of outer space, the United States Space Force will be that strength in the years ahead.”
That Heinlein-esque image of military dominance in space is what Trump has been pushing at his rallies. While Pence stated that the Space Force would be established by 2020, he was vague about what this peacemaking “strength” would actually look like in the future, or how it would be significantly different from current US military strategies in space.
For instance, Pence referenced troubling anti-satellite technologies developed by rival spacefaring nations, and referenced a maneuver in January 2007 in which China shot down one of its own satellites with a missile. He framed this saber-rattling as external to the US, claiming that “while our adversaries have been busy weaponizing space, too often we have bureaucratized it, and over time our ability to adapt to new and emerging threats has been stifled by needless layers of red tape.”
Taking aside the hinkiness of decrying red tape and bureaucracies while calling for an entirely new military branch, Pence makes it seem like the US has not been participating in similar military maneuvers. The US military has performed kinetic kills of its own satellites, in 1985 and 2008, and is hardly a passive bystander in the militarization of space.
Pence also repeatedly made use of a rhetorical strategy that permeates the Trump administration. He spoke of the need to “restore” American leadership in space and establish American “dominance” in space while also proclaiming that “since the dawn of the Space Age, America has remained the best in space.”
If America has remained the best in space, there is no need to restore leadership or secure dominance. These kinds of contradictions are unfortunately baked into Trump’s general “Make America Great Again” mantra, which is, at heart, a neg directed at the US.
The Space Force is the latest return to that tired refrain. We’ll likely see a few Potemkin-style tricks in the coming months—I predict the debut of a new military Space Force uniform, for instance, maybe in a pageant format. But the concept as Trump has framed it is as much a pipe dream as the Border Wall, and no amount of sugary coating from Pence or Mattis can disguise it.
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