The Europeans have finally launched the first satellite out of the 30 proposed to create the Galileo system. At last the world will have a competition to the hegemonic GPS system. And competition is good, right?
Well, up to a point Lord Copper.
What you might have missed as the EU pushes forward in its attempt to colonize space is that behind their bland and reassuring statements a very different reality is being created. The concept we are sold is that the satellite system will be under purely civilian control, unlike that nasty American GPS system. It will be used to monitor olive harvests in southern Italy, it will track cows from Scotland to Sicily, it will, as one geophysicist tells us, "be able to look at millimetre movements over the time span of a year," thus allowing us to spot shifting sands.
Balderdash. This system, like the GPS system is built in direct and deliberate competition with the GPS system as military tool. Back in December 2004 the UK Transport Minister, David Jamieson was quoted as saying that, “the UK would veto any authorization for military use of Galileo.”
But like many UK government promises on Europe they are easy to make and very hard to carry through. Within days of that announcement the French Defence Ministry made it very clear that they had every intention of utilising the technology for military purposes. Yes there are civilian purposes, of course, finding you way to your maiden aunts little shack in the boondocks for one, but that is not why the EU is spending billions of dollars on the project. As one commentator put it: “Galileo was never intended to be civilian. This idea is as silly as that of a civilian aircraft carrier or a civilian armoured personnel carrier. Such things may have some non-military uses, but they are hardly instruments of peace.” So far the UK has not used its promised veto.
So why not allow the European their toy, why worry about it? After all after years of hard fought negotiations the two systems, Galileo and GPS are to be made compatible. Indeed, by 2008, just like on your cell phone, you will be able to switch between the systems on your privately held gadget. This in itself must be a boon for everybody involved in information gathering and the need for geographical accuracy.
The problem lays not so much in the technology, but in those with access to that technology. In this gigantic project the EU has realised that it does not have the financial muscle to carry off the whole thing itself. Indeed much of the funding (upwards of 75% of the projected costs) will come from commercial sources. These commercial sources include governments and private firms that will charge the citizen for the privilege of being tracked. Either in their cars, or through the movement of goods. This again is no great shakes to the U.S., serious though it is for European citizens and their rights of privacy and their fears of a big brother state. No the real problem is the strategic partners that the Galileo project has brought to its governing board.
For a long time people have been aware that foremost amongst these partners is China. The Chinese foreign ministry has claimed that they too are only interested in civilian purposes such as the transfer of satellite technology, and the way in which the system will facilitate trade. However in the same statement they denounced “cold war thinking.” That will be the sort of cold war thinking that has the Taipei government running for shelter every few months. Butter wouldn’t melt in Peking’s mouth.
However of greater concern may be some of the project more recent partners. According to the International Herald Tribune, Saudi Arabia and Morocco now appear on the roster. As each country has a seat on the governing board the implications for security are apparent to the most casual reader.
The inclusion of these two countries is interesting as it is concerning. I am sure that the Arab kingdoms will cite geological interests and tracking the mount of pilgrims arriving for the Haj to forestall the annual hotel tragedies and so forth, but does anybody really want them to have their fingers on security encrypted data that could be used by hostile militaries to undermine American security.
Asking the question answers it.