In a press release yesterday, the ESA reported details of the implementation Galileo, claiming that the "development and in-orbit validation phase is well under way". But what is striking about the release is the egregious claim that "the first completely civil satellite navigation system is moving forward".
This is a lie. This is not a "completely civil satellite navigation system".
As I wrote in my recently published Bruges Group paper this system is unavoidably "dual use" and has important – and potentially dangerous military applications. These, and the implications are set out in the pamphlet, the conclusions of which I reproduce here:
What perhaps is most worrying about the Galileo project, in respect of its military implications, is the almost wilful refusal to accept publicly that there are military implications. Despite the fact that satellite navigation and positioning technology is inescapably "dual use", the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament seem determined to bury their collective heads in the sand – the Commission by its emphasis on the civilian applications and the absence of military applications on its web site; the Council, which in its decision on 26 March 2002 stressed that "Galileo is a civil programme under civil control"; and the Parliament which in its report on the system in January 2004 proclaimed: "Unlike GPS and Glonass, it is a project which is and must continue to be used solely for civilian purposes".The implications of this deception cannot be overstated – and it is about time one or other of our politicians, either side of the pond, demanded that the EU state its true intentions.
Yet, by seeking to provide its PRS signal, and making it available to a large number of players, without any realistic chance of controlling access, or affording the US an easy means of blocking it, the European Union is making available to potential enemies of both EU member states, and the US and its allies, a potent weapon which could be used with devastating effect against them.
What is particularly dangerous is the EU’s enthusiastic recruitment of China as a partner. A major power in its own right, China has openly declared its military ambitions and is one of the few powers in the world to increase its defence budget. It can only be self-deception on a colossal scale if the EU believes that China will not employ Galileo for military purposes. Yet, at a regional level, access to such sophisticated technology could encourage the Chinese to escalate their brinkmanship over a number of issues, which could then get out of control, particularly in the context of Taiwan, where tensions are rising as China continues to maintain its territorial claims.
Since the US is a committed ally of Taiwan, and has guaranteed the security and independence of the island, in a conflict situation the US could find itself at the receiving end of weapons or systems which utilise Galileo signals. This can do nothing to improve already strained relations between the EU and the US, and could substantially increase world tension.
On the other hand, it could be that the nascently anti-American EU, with its aspirations of becoming a major player on the world scene, sees in Galileo the ability to apply irresistible leverage and influence US foreign policy decisions.
This "leverage" is possibly an important, if unacknowledged aspect of the Galileo saga. The US, on past experience, will seek to avoid direct confrontation with the EU over foreign policy issues but, in the final analysis, in the past it has been able to ignore European sentiment when making its plans. With Galileo, however, the EU will have power physically to interfere with US military operations, by keeping the Galileo signal available in areas where the US would wish it to be discontinued. It can use that power to seek concessions or even prevent US action altogether.
Some might believe that this leverage could be beneficial, in that the EU will be able to ameliorate the extremes of US foreign policy. On the other hand, though, there is a danger that the EU will overplay its hand, pushing the US into a position where it feels impelled to take direct action, either by unilaterally jamming the Galileo signal or, in extremis, by destroying one or more satellites in the constellation. On balance, therefore, it seems unlikely that the Galileo project, as currently envisaged, will contribute to world peace or stability.
In all this, there is an important issue for Britain. Close militarily to the US and still claiming to support Nato, her participation in the Galileo project, and the Security Board, could force her to decide which side of the Atlantic her loyalties really lie. It does not seem possible for her to sit aside two rival systems, without there being a backlash.
Furthermore, one cannot imagine that the US will be anxious to share technology with potential rivals, especially if it is likely to be used against her, or passed straight to the French to support its own arms industry, the output of which may reach destinations that cause concern. In that the UK is an integral part of the Galileo project, the US might feel obliged to withhold technical information and military equipment, for fear that its own technology might be compromised.
Already, the US House of Representatives is threatening to restrict the sale of US military equipment and technologies to European allies if the European Union decides to lift its arms embargo on China, and the House armed services committee has approved legislation that would restrict sales of US defence and sensitive commercial technologies to any country selling arms to China.
Should these restrictions apply to any country participating in Galileo – and there is no reason why they should not, given its military applications - the project could well prove to be the Trojan horse which finally destroys the Atlantic alliance, as well as breaking up what is left of the special relationship between the UK and the US.
In terms of what might be done to ameliorate this situation, there can be no case for arguing that Galileo should be abandoned. As one commentator put it, "The United States may not want to lose its monopoly on satellite positioning signals, but in the long run, an arrangement in which the entire world depends on a single, monolithic technology can't be a wise one".
On the other hand, that argument does not hold for the retention of the EU’s PRS signal, which is not necessary for the EU to enjoy the fruits of satellite technology and which presents the greatest threat to global security. In that the US will continue to make available the GPS signals to its NATO allies, which include the majority of European countries, the argument for abandoning PRS seems unassailable. If the EU is sincere in claiming that its system is intended only for civilian use, it can hardly object.