Date: Wed, 4 Nov 1998 16:12:38 -0600 (CST)
From: (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: Spy Satellites Violate Int'l Law with Impunity
Article: 46952
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <>

/** twn.features: 302.0 **/
** Topic: Double standard in use of satellite technology **
** Written 8:56 AM Nov 3, 1998 by in cdp:twn.features **

Double Standard in use of satellite technology

By Daya Thussu, Third World Network, [3 November 1998]

In the uproar caused by India and Pakistan's recent nuclear tests one aspect has been largely ignored: the role of Western, mainly US, spy satellites in monitoring nuclear proliferation. Although the 11 nuclear tests conducted in May 1998 (five by India and six by its traditional rival and neighbour, Pakistan) seemed to come as a surprise to the Western media, even an average newspaper reader could have deduced that India and Pakistan have had a nuclear capacity for at least a decade. The real surprise would have been if the West, despite all its eyes in the sky, hadn't detected the existence of nuclear weapons programmes in South Asia.

Instead, the Western response underscored the hypocrisy of the nuclear debate. Although the morality of squandering limited resources on a nuclear arms race is questionable at best, neither India nor Pakistan violated any international treaties. Thus far both have refused to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), despite strong arm-twisting by the US.

They argue that the treaty is discriminatory, set up to prevent them from acquiring a nuclear capability, while the five recognised nuclear powers—the US, Russia, Britain, France and China—amass new and advanced nuclear weapons. It's the nuclear powers themselves, argue critics in South Asia, that have violated the NPT; for instance, by continuing nuclear testing banned under the treaty.

Similarly, neither of the South Asian neighbours has signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), on the grounds that it isn't sufficiently comprehensive. Demanding substantial changes, they argue that it fails to commit the major nuclear powers to a timetable for total disarmament and wouldn't stop them from making qualitative improvements in their nuclear arsenals through computer simulation.

Keen to impose control regimes on the rest of the world, they jealously guard their current advantage and the privileges that apparently come along with being a nuclear power, including a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Thus, since the end of the Cold War, and especially since the 1991 Gulf War, nuclear proliferation in the South has been portrayed as the world's top security threat.

International control regimes such as the NPT and CTBT rely on information supplied by surveillance. As a result, satellites are now being used by Northern governments to collect detailed military and economic information on states without their cooperation. This espionage is sanctioned by the open use of the information in the media and by the UN.

With the most advanced satellite monitoring technology, the US has become the enforcer of an international nuclear regime. Out of more than 100 military satellites that the US currently operates, five are specifically deployed to provide low-altitude, close-up reconnaissance pictures of defence-related activities across the globe. Three of these, known as KH (Keyhole) 12, use daylight or infra-red light; the other two, code-named Lacrosse and launched in 1988, scan the ground using radar that can see through clouds and darkness.

Few analysts seem concerned that using satellites to spy violates international law. Imagine the outrage we would hear from the defence and intellectual establishments in the West if, for example, Iran operated a satellite that monitored US troop movements. Yet, it isn't considered at all abnormal that so many military satellites are used to spy on Southern countries.

The technological capability for satellite surveillance is concentrated in a few hands, mostly the US, Russia and France. The proposal for a neutral multinational UN satellite to monitor compliance with the CTBT has been dismissed by Northern experts as an unjustified cost since so much is available from government and commercial satellites.

The UN's dependence on US technology has been reinforced by the donation of an intelligence-processing system that enables the UN to receive, process and disseminate information provided by member states. Of course, the UN avoids the term intelligence in favour of information, giving the impression of neutrality. But developing countries are still concerned that this US-originated intelligence could be used on them to their detriment.

Under pressure from the West, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is tightening up its inspection system. To do this, the IAEA will require unlimited access to suspect facilities in a country, as well as intelligence from states with observation satellites and back-up by the UN Security Council. Countries with nuclear ambitions are opposed, on the grounds that this violates their sovereignty. They argue that the creation of an intelligence unit within the IAEA is tantamount to handing over the UN organisation to the CIA [the US Central Intelligence Agency].

Their fears were reinforced in 1993 when the IAEA acknowledged that it received US satellite intelligence on North Korea's alleged nuclear weapons programme. The IAEA then demanded a special inspection of its nuclear facilities, which Pyongyang refused. As it turned out, North Korea didn't prove to have even one nuclear device—unlike South Korea, home to thousands of US nuclear warheads. But the US needed a pretext to create a precedent, and North Korea filled the bill as a rogue nation in the shrinking list of US adversaries.

This is typical of the double standards in the nuclear debate, where different rules apply for friends and foes. Sanctions are zealously upheld against Iraq for alleged infringements of the NPT, yet the US closest ally, Israel, escapes comment, even though it's acknowledged to be a nuclear power with a programme designed for avowedly military purposes. Israel hasn't signed the NPT, but it isn't under the same pressure to join.

Like Iraq and North Korea, Iran is portrayed in Western media as a potential nuclear threat, contributing to an Islamic bomb. (Is there some such thing as a Hindu, Christian or Jewish bomb?) Nevertheless, the IAEA has twice given Iran a clean bill of nuclear health. India is a different kettle of fish. It has a higher international profile and covets a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. Besides, the US remains a key foreign investor in the country, although it's imposed economic sanctions on both India and Pakistan as a punishment for their nuclear ambitions.

One obvious form of fallout from the recent tests has been an increase in defence budgets in both India and Pakistan. But this will eventually benefit the arms-exporting nations. And it's the West, led by the US, that dominates the global trade in arms. More than 90% of the world's arms exports are made by the five permanent (nuclear) members of the UN Security Council, the supposed guardians of world peace.

Despite South Asia's grotesque poverty—it remains poorest in the world in terms of health, education and gender equality—the region is one of the most eager arms purchasers. So while the nationalist elites there celebrate recent nuclear achievements, the poor are likely to face more hardships as resources are further diverted from health and education to the coffers of the merchants of death.—Third World Network Features