Sunday, May 11, 2008

New Space Law and National Security

"It is a matter of course that space be developed and utilized from the perspective of helping protect national security. A basic law on space should be established during the current Diet session, and the nation's strategy on space should be reexamined at the initiative of political leaders.

"A basic space bill jointly submitted by the Liberal Democratic Party, the Democratic Party of Japan and New Komeito passed the House of Representatives Cabinet Committee on Friday.

"The bill allows the use of space for defense purposes. By creating a headquarters for space development strategy in the Cabinet Office, the bill aims to facilitate the comprehensive implementation of space policy for the nation's security and industrial development.

"Although the nation spends about 250 billion yen annually on space development, the scope of research and development projects in this field have been limited. The projects have therefore failed to significantly foster technological innovation for industrial applications.

"One of the reasons lies in the 1969 Diet resolution that limited the use of space to peaceful purposes.

"In Diet deliberations at that time, "peaceful" purposes were interpreted as "nonmilitary" ones. This has prevented the nation from conducting certain space-related activities, such as launching satellites for defense purposes.

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"Current law ties Japan's hands

"The bill sponsored by the three parties is meant to redefine the peaceful use of space by taking into account the positions of both the U.N. Outer Space Treaty, which upholds a nonaggression policy, and the pacifist Constitution, which touts an exclusively defense-oriented policy.

"It was significant that the DPJ joined the ruling parties to submit the bill, which would unshackle the nation from a situation that is unusual in terms of international perspectives.

"The capabilities of intelligence satellites that were introduced in 2003 in the wake of the test-firing of a Taepodong missile by North Korea are limited to the same level as those of private sector satellites. Meanwhile, the development of early-warning satellites that can detect missile launches also has been put on hold.

"Another problem is that even if Japan develops advanced rocket engines, it may not sell them to U.S. companies that might launch military satellites.

"If the bill is enacted, the nation could go ahead with space-utilization projects without such constraints.

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"Cooperative approach needed

"Newly emerging economies such as China and India have started full-fledged work on the development and use of space in cooperation with the United States, Russia and some developing nations.

"To ensure it is not left behind, Japan must rectify slow decision-making processes that result from bureaucratic sectionalism and strengthen cooperation among industries, the government, academia and other nations by clearly demonstrating its long-term space strategy.

"The government has lacked a "control tower" for space development and use. At the envisaged headquarters for space development strategy headed by the prime minister, government officials should work together to rebuild the nation's space strategy.

"At the DPJ's request, the bill included a provision that a tentatively named space bureau be set up in the Cabinet Office a year or so after the legislation comes into force. We hope that a substantive system to rebuild the nation's space policy will be established."

By Yomiuri Shimbun (Editorial, 5/10/2008), Link to article (last visited 5/11/2008)

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