There is widespread opinion at the Pentagon that the United States of America rules supreme over land, sea and sky on this planet. Now all that remains is to gain the same military supremacy in outer space. In our modern times all warfare is dependent on satellites. Development of military capacity in outer space has top priority at the Pentagon, regardless of whether the President is called Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or Barack Obama. Other countries follow suit accordingly. In recent years Norway has established satellite ground stations on Svalbard and in the Antarctic that are employed in conflicts and wars across the entire planet. The Svalbard Treaty prohibits the use of the archipelago “for war-like purposes”. The Antarctic Treaty states that the continent shall be “used for peaceful purposes only”.
Norway is currently engaged in the war in Afghanistan, side by side with the USA and other allies, a war that is difficult particularly because the enemy hides in areas impenetrable to most forms of ground or air-based surveillance. Photographs taken by satellites of these areas are of such high quality that it is possible to chart which roads and airbases have been used by the Taliban. Data from the satellites is downloaded on Svalbard. Is it realistic to assume that these photos are not put to use in Norwegian and allied warfare?
This is a story I would have preferred if possible not to have written. I know this book will cause problems for many heads of industry, military leaders and politicians. They can also expect to have to field awkward questions. For my part, I must be held accountable for my claims. At the same time, I feel I have a duty to write this story. Many a winter’s evening I have stood outside my home in Vadsø, gazing at the cobalt heavens above and thought: “Are we to destroy this as well?”
As happens so often in life, random events awaken one’s interest, which is how I first became involved in all this. It started with a journalist colleague of mine, Inge Sellevåg, who works for the Norwegian daily broadsheet Bergens Tidende, reading a notice in 1998 in the newspaper Aftenposten that the Norwegian Armed Forces were to install high-technology radar in Vardø to map space debris.
Sellevåg doubted that the radar would only be utilized in connection with charting space debris, and contacted several internationally renowned experts who confirmed the Vardø radar is a component of the controversial U.S. missile defense system against nuclear missiles. I read the sensational articles in Bergens Tidende, interviewed several of the American experts by telephone and produced news stories for the regional news channel NRK Finnmark. My interest had been kindled.
In the seventies and eighties Norwegian journalists and authors delved into American archives. They had to resort to the phone book to find out facts about military activity in Norway. Nowadays it’s much simpler. When I started using the Internet to investigate the exact purpose of the Vardø radar, I discovered many who are/were connected in some way to the Vardø radar that for reasons of their own, post information on the net. These include all the American companies that supplied equipment for the radar system and that are keen to showcase technical capabilities as a way to drum up new business. Then there are the U.S. military units eager to draw attention to their military import as a way to obtain funding. Last but not least, there is a ‘forest’ of American researchers working on military issues, also eager for the spotlight.
Moreover, the attitude towards openness in U.S. administration is totally different from the Norwegian. This means for instance that I was much better able to track the development of the radar system in Vardø through American Congress budgets than via information from the Norwegian Ministry of Defense.
I am in mild shock when the reality dawned on me that the “facts” I was presented with by Norwegian defense ministers and parliamentary secretaries did not match up with comprehensive documentation on the net and statements made by recognized researchers.
In 2005, Pål Sommer-Erichson and I made an investigative documentary for the TV program “NRK Brennpunkt” on the Vardø radar with new documentation verifying that the radar is used by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. While working on the documentary I realize I still haven’t quite got to the bottom of why the world’s most advanced radar of its kind has been moved from California to Vardø. The answer to the question of why the Pentagon was so engaged in using radar to monitor objects over the Equator still eludes me. I find this exceptionally irritating.
I continue to burn the midnight oil searching the Internet. It doesn’t take too long for the truth to dawn on me: The most important function of the Vardø radar is its place in the development of a totally new weapons system, namely the defense of American and its allies’ satellites and attack systems against enemy satellites. This is happening at the same time as the Chinese shoot down one of their own satellites in 2007, proving for the first time that they are capable of participating in a war in space. Six months later the Americans follow up, repeating the exercise.
Ståle Hansen, one of Norway’s most competent journalists where military issues are concerned, encouraged me to take a closer look at Svalbard, which I did. Paragraph 9 of the Svalbard Treaty, which regulates the international status of the archipelago, states: “Norway undertakes not to create nor to allow the establishment of any naval base in the territories specified in Article 1 and not to construct any fortification in the said territories, which may never be used for warlike purposes”.
I employ some of the key words I had used in my research on the Vardø radar, and suddenly very many doors swing open. It is 13 years since the first data was downloaded from satellites that could be used for warlike purposes. Since then things have progressed at breakneck speed with regard to number of satellites in operation for military purposes that utilize Svalbard, the military function for these satellites and the number of countries that have benefited in a military sense from the downloading of data from and control of the satellites from Svalbard.
Scouring the Internet for information about Svalbard also led me to contact one of Norway’s foremost experts on Norwegian Svalbard-Policy. Geir Ulfstein, Professor of Law at the University of Oslo, who drew my attention to that the Antarctic Treaty has even stricter regulation of military activity in Antarctica than the Svalbard Treaty has in the north. In the treaty Norway and a number of other countries – including the USA – committed to engaging solely in peaceful activities on the continent.
To my amazement I discover several clear breaches of the treaty. The new Norwegian satellite station downloads surveillance pictures from two satellites, both of which have the American National Geospatial Intelligence Agency – NGA – as their most significant customer. The Norwegian station will also control and download data from the new European Global Navigation Satellite Galileo, which has both a civil and a military function.
The research into the Antarctic and Galileo brings me back to Europe again. The EU has a very active space policy, both civil and military. Galileo, which is currently under development, is the largest infrastructure initiative undertaken so far in the EU. The Norwegian Parliament has unanimously given its approval to participate in all stages of Galileo’s construction, including the military function. Another factor that gives room for thought is that Galileo is being developed at the same time as a completely new European surveillance system, where once again Svalbard and the Antarctic play key roles. Private European companies, such as the Kongsberg Group, are participants in planning the EU’s military capacity in outer space. The EU is in the process of planning military systems to defend its own and to attack hostile satellites, parallel with the U.S. Defense systems, of which the Vardø radar forms part.