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President Trump’s “Space Force” would escalate US efforts to militarize space just as a new Senate bill calls for a massive $716 billion in military spending. We discuss the stratospheric expansion of the US military with Col. Lawrence Wilkerson

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AARON MATE: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Mate.

The U.S. military apparatus dwarfs the rest of the world. And under President Trump, it continues to expand. This week it got even bigger. First, the Senate approved the $716 billion John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019. This military spending bill is more than $80 billion increase over last year. It includes tens of millions of dollars for developing a so-called lower-yield submarine-launched nuclear weapon. Then, President Trump announced the creation of a sixth branch of the military. A Space Force.

DONALD TRUMP: Very importantly, I’m hereby directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces. That’s a big statement. We are going to have the Air Force, and we are going to have the Space Force. Separate but equal. It is going to be something.

AARON MATE: The term used by Trump there, separate but equal, is the term historically associated with racial segregation in the U.S. But anyway, Trump also said the goal is not a U.S. presence in space, but actually U.S. dominance in space. Well, joining me to discuss the stratospheric expansion of the U.S. military, both literally and figuratively, is Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, currently a professor at William and Mary. Welcome, Colonel. Let’s start with the Space Force. What is it?

LARRY WILKERSON: It’s been a long contemplated. I must say that the statement separate but equal, as you sort of intimated, was almost moronic. The move in the armed forces since Goldwater-Nichols in 1985 has been towards jointness and anything but separate but equal. It’s been joint forces cooperating and operating together. So that flies in the face of the momentum of the military, which has been a quite positive momentum. And second, as you intimated, it has more to do with race relations than it does with anything in the military.

That said, since about the end of Eisenhower’s second administration, we have contemplated, believe it or not, this sort of a force. We’ve looked at it from the perspective of international law, we’ve looked at it from the perspective of warmaking in general, and so forth. And lately, the last 20 years, we’ve looked at it far more seriously. What should we do?

To this point, our policy has been, as has been that of the USSR/Russia, Brazil, India, China, and others in the game significantly, that it was a dangerous development and thus we would all agree to stay away from. We did not, in other words, want to militarize space as we have more or less done the globe. At sea, under the sea, in the air, and so forth. We saw that as being disadvantageous to all of us, ultimately, so we didn’t want to do it. It would be a common, if you will. A global common.

That seems to have changed now. I don’t know if it was an initiative begun at the end of the Obama administration. I suspect possibly it was. Trump picked up on it. I don’t see this as being a particularly creative administration. He was sold on it by Mattis, or whomever. And now we’re going to change some three, four, five decades of policy, and we are going to militarize space.

Now, in a sense, a military sense, my military professionalism, for example, says positive move, it’s the inevitable. My citizenship role says dangerous. Be careful what you wish for, you might get it. War out in space is not exactly a cup of tea we should any of us want to drink.

AARON MATE: How does this follow from the infamous Star Wars initiative of President Reagan in the 1980s? This vision he had of an atmospheric, so-called, missile defense system? Spent a lot of money on it, didn’t really go anywhere. President Bush revived it. And also, if there is no rational security justification for all this, then what are the forces that are driving this this effort to militarize space?

LARRY WILKERSON: Well, let’s examine what you just said, Aaron, which was quite, quite prescient, really. One of the forces driving it, and one of the rationales for it-. Well, the rationale for it is that others do it. That’s the, that’s the danger here. That’s the sad aspect of this. And that’s why for over half a century we haven’t done it, and we’ve agreed not to do it with the world’s major powers. Because the only reason you need to do it is if somebody else does it.

So once one of those powers has decided to militarize space, the others will have to. The others that are capable. And others will have to flock under their umbrellas, as we did during the Cold War, some to the Soviets, some to us, because it’s your security. You can’t let a single nation gain the high ground of space, and therefore be able to majorly powerfully influence your security, without your being able to defend against it very well. So you have to go there yourself. And you extend the domain of potential war out into space, and ultimately into the galaxy, probably.

I said it’s inevitable, technology is going to lead us there. Human nature’s going to lead us there. But I’m kind of sad to see it happening in my lifetime. I would have rather it been postponed for a lot longer, because I think this is a very dangerous development, ultimately. Particularly when we don’t have the kind of peaceful cooperation on the globe that we should have before we decide to extend our frontiers, if you will, and probably together come up with the standards and the procedures for extending security, too. That is to say, we would cooperate on that security rather than challenge one another as we develop that security out in space.

AARON MATE: All right. And in terms of this new military budget that the Senate just passed, as I mentioned, $716 billion authorized by the Senate. It’s an increase of around $80 billion. That’s more than-. That increase alone is more than Russia’s entire military budget for the entire year, which is around $60 billion. Your thoughts on that, Colonel, as we wrap.

LARRY WILKERSON: Well, my first thought was to sit down with a piece of paper, and I listened to a speaker in Charlottesville recently, a Democrat running for Congress down in Charlottesville in the 5th District who had done the same thing, and to just figure out how many American students we could send to four-year colleges and universities for that money. And it came out every single one for the next two terms. So that’s how much money we’re talking about.

We increased the defense budget by enough to send every American eligible for university or college to that university or college free. That’s how much money. It takes me back to Eisenhower’s ’53 speech where he said this is no way of life at all, under the threat of, threatening cloud of war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. And he compared a fighter to bushels of wheat, and a ship to a fully operating modern hospital, and so forth. This is sacrificing the nation for an ephemeral, imaginary, mythical threat out there that needs all this money in order to combat it. It’s nonsensical, Aaron. It’s not just nonsensical, it’s tragic.

AARON MATE: Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, thanks very much.

LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me.

AARON MATE: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.

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Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy

Lawrence Wilkerson's last positions in government were as Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff (2002-05), Associate Director of the State Department's Policy Planning staff under the directorship of Ambassador Richard N. Haass, and member of that staff responsible for East Asia and the Pacific, political-military and legislative affairs (2001-02). Before serving at the State Department, Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (1987 to 1989), Special Assistant to General Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-93), and Director and Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia (1993-97). Wilkerson retired from active service in 1997 as a colonel, and began work as an advisor to General Powell. He has also taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at the George Washington University. He is currently working on a book about the first George W. Bush administration.