Satellite trackers

Above: Volunteer satellite trackers in Pretoria, South Africa, 1965. Credit: Unattributed/Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Aerial view of USA

Above: The USA at night photographed from space. Credit: Unattributed/NASA.

Satellite in orbit

Above: SpaceX satellite in orbit. Credit: Unattributed/SpaceX-Imagery/SpaceX Aerospace.

Soldier adjusts

Above: A soldier adjusts a satellite dish; satellite communications provide a link between overseas deployments and the United Kingdom. Credit: Unattributed/UK Ministry of Defence-Crown Copyright.

Satellite in sky

Above: NASA satellite in orbit. Credit: Unattributed/SpaceX-Imagery/SpaceX Aerospace.

Mountain View

Above: A satellite communications dish outside the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, UK. Credit: Unattributed/UK Ministry of Defence-Crown Copyright.

Surveillance Satellites

The militaries of the advanced industrialized nations have entered an era of defense dominated by the continuous surveillance of the entire surface of the planet. Orbital telesurveillance is omnipresent and omnivoyant (DS: 44); it is the all-seeing-eye of the High Command (WC: 88). Reconnaissance satellites extend the basic narrative of military logic of strategic advantage: observation and fore-knowledge of the enemy's capability. The militarization of the space around Earth follows the logic of supremacy: first there was sea supremacy, then air supremacy, and now there is a requirement or ambition for space-orbit supremacy (SP: 61). As U.S. General Fogel stated in 1997, and quoted by Virilio: "by the first three months of the twenty-first century, we shall be capable of finding, tracking and targeting virtually in real time any significant element moving on the surface of the Earth (SD: 17-18; as cited by Filloux, Liberation, 20 April, 1999)."

The modern intelligence satellite is an electronic, military-controlled eye-of-providence; a technician's version of an all-seeing-eye of Divinity (WC: 5). The space above and around the Earth is intensely and comprehensively militarized. The US alone has 526 military satellites in orbit above the planet (Higinbotham, 2017). It is a fact that these satellites are accumulating apace, like traffic on a busy urban ring-road they circle the Earth. It is as if these satellites are laying siege to the Earth--encircling it rather menacingly, much as the tactics of a city siege in Medieval times. The US (and a few other wealthy developed nations) has opened a "big eye" over Earth: it is a monstrous all-seeing cycloptic eye invading human privacy at all times (SD: 22). The doctrine and treaty of Open Skies exacerbates and normalizes the use of surveillance aircraft and military satellites for use in continuous monitoring. The launching into space since the 1960s of hundreds of military intelligence satellites into orbit around-and-above Earth (many of them secret) has created a new epoch of visual surveillance under which a few wealthy nations can claim to have a "truly panoptical (SD: 19)" strategic overview of the planet's surface--the ability to see everywhere at once; to see every corner of the Earth at once. The commanding of the space around Earth represents control of "its very last extremity (CP: 17)," or "the final hurdle (CP: 20)." The all-seeing eye of God has been replaced with the ultimate "orbital lookout." It is the all-seeing eye of Humanity (SD: 21)" or "the gaze of the All-High (SD: 22)."

This is a "doctrine of security," which is "an all-points prevention system (PD: 87)." Operationally, in the US, this doctrine is carried out by the NSA which is "a sort of Department of World Information. It is collecting information not only on the enemy but also on the world (VW: 35)." Bearing in mind that satellites provide information for missile defense systems, the notion of the sovereignty of national geophysical ground-level borders begins to seem nostalgic and quaint: most countries definitely do not control the space above their geo-physical landmass. The effect of these observing machines is experienced at the level of the individual as anxiety and unsettledness. In this way, the psychological impact of the technology of the secret military intelligence satellite is comparable to the ever-present anxiety provoked by the "balance of terror" during the Cold War, i.e., the threat of a nuclear war or WWIII commencing between the USA and the USSR.

We might seek to reduce our anxiety about surveillance satellites with the proposition that the US is actually only pursuing our common safety and security, however, it is a fact that any such assertion would be erroneous: the USA's history of psychotic recklessness in its intransigent urge to produce and detonate a nuclear weapon (in 1945) is compelling evidence (and all the evidence that we will ever need) that the USA's military is an irresponsible, cynical, immature and remorseless organization (IB: 100-101).

All the above being so, it is very likely that some kind of battle will eventually take place to establish "space supremacy." What is well noted by Virilio is the fact that the majority of military weapons systems to date have been designed with geophysical Earth in mind--and so a horizontal-based conformity--to the fore. Battles commencing in space would not be fought in any conventional sense over national geopolitical frontiers: the belligerents would clearly be waging a new form of transnational horizonless war (SD: 13-14).