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Lost in Space:

A Realist and Marxist Analysis of US Space Militarization

Brent Cooper (brentcoop1@gmail.com)

University of British Columbia

1
March 2009

Introduction

The weaponization (or militarization) of space refers to a process

that started with the Cold War and accelerated in the early 1980s with

the Strategic Defense Initiative anti-ballistic missile program. Today, in

a technologically advanced post-9/11 world this brings new political

implications and consequences. In 1999, a United Nations resolution

entitled "Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space" unanimously

opposes such endeavors and classifies space for peaceful use only.1

Only two states abstained from this resolution: the United States and

Israel. The US Space Command, now US Strategic Command

(USSTRATCOM), published a document in 1998 titled Vision for 2020

that declared America’s ambitions for “dominating the space

dimension of military operations to protect US interests and

investment. Integrating Space Forces into warfighting capabilities

across the full spectrum of conflict [sic].”2 What can explain the US’

exponential obsession with putting weapons in space after the Cold

War ended?

To many concerned scholars, these ominous security measures

pose a greater threat than does exposure to other threats posed by the

absence of such defenses. Two theoretical lenses that can help explain

the US space weaponization agenda are neorealism and Marxism.

Neorealism asserts that security is the main prerogative of states and

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thus in an increasingly uncertain world space weapons are the

necessary application of US power in order to maintain security.

Marxists tend to see capitalist expansion as a form of imperialism so

therefore space weaponization is viewed as a means to protect

economic interests and facilitate the spread of free markets. By

examining the space weaponization regime through these theories we

can reveal the various factors determining the US space policy.

Furthermore, in our advanced stage of global capitalism national

security is often viewed as inextricably linked to economic interests.

Due to this convergence of interests and the shared assumption of

both theories that the weaponization of space is inevitable, I will show

that the US agenda is not adequately explained by either theory alone,

but rather is best explained by a fusion of neorealist and Marxist

analyses.

Background

Space weaponization actually began with space exploration in

the name of peace and freedom under the auspices of the United

States in response to Soviet space initiatives.3 Then President,

Eisenhower, advised that a space free from weapons was in the best

interests of the United States.4 In 1968, an aerospace commander, Maj

Gen Oris B. Johnson, was the first to seriously promote US space

weaponization stressing the "continuity of the air/space medium" and

the inevitability of military expansion. He argued that the normative

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policy of space for peace was compromised by Soviet military

initiatives in space. While many jumped on the space weaponization

bandwagon, Maj Howard D. Belote, United States Air Force (USAF),

argued in 2000 that the Eisenhower mentality has dominated for forty

years, keeping space weapons at bay,5 but it has done so only

marginally in my opinion.

Post 9/11, weaponization advocates have more political clout,

playing on the fears of a “Space Pearl Harbor,” as the undersecretary

of the Air Force, Peter B. Teets, did at a symposium in 2002.6 Today,

the weaponization of space can be understood to extend beyond

National Missile Defense (NMD) to include “exotic” weaponry, such as

what are known as “Directed-energy weapons” that include lasers,

high-powered microwaves, and particle beams, for both defensive and

offensive purposes.7 In the international journal Space Policy, Patrick A.

Salin wrote that we could consider the sanctity of space peace officially

violated on June 19th, 1999, when a US Theater High-Altitude Area

Defense (THAAD) rocket destroyed a target missile in outer space.8 He

argued that the militarization process has already begun within a new

framework of privatization.9

One critical tenet of Marxism is the teleological theory which

would suggest the space weaponization is inevitable because of

capitalist expansion. The defense industry continues to produce

armaments without consideration of how it may exacerbate security

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concerns. Neorealism holds a similar principle, that an attack could

occur at any moment because the international system is anarchic and

consequently states are compelled to attain security. Thus most

neorealist policy makers assume other states are gearing up to

weaponize space as well. Thomas D. Bell, Lt Col, USAF, articulated well

what many have said, that “the vulnerability (whether perceived or

real) of United States space assets and those of our allies will

inevitably drive the United States to weaponize space.”10 To determine

the rationale of the US to weaponize space, we must look at the issue

from two theoretical perspectives: neorealism and Marxism.

Neorealism

In international relations, neorealism asserts that states seek a

power balance that maximizes their security. The weaponization of

space is most often viewed as the logical extension of the military

sphere in order to protect national security interests. Under classical

realism however, power is the goal of states. Leaders are also

presumed to have a dominant role in state policy, contrasted with

states as the primary actors in neorealism. In 1961, Lyndon B. Johnson

famously said “control of space means control of the world.”11 This was

not a proposition for world domination though; rather it can be

analyzed more accurately through the neorealist lens that perceived

Soviet space secrecy and imperialist ambitions as a threat to the

United States.

5
As Kenneth Waltz states, neorealism includes the notion of

realpolitik but only insofar as states seek a reasonable amount of

power to ensure security.12 Furthermore, in an anarchic world states

must provide for their own security.13 It is therefore the prerogative of

the US as world superpower and provider of global public goods to

maximize its own power as it pertains to security. The current

reservations of the US to embrace space weaponization fully can be

explained by the neorealist notion of balance of power. As Waltz

explains, states will try to gain an advantage without provoking other

states into action.14 NMD proponents are pushing the limits of

militarization and enemies and allies alike are responding. The

potential ‘security dilemma’ that ensues is a flaw in this philosophy

that critics point out and neorealists concede. Evidence of a potential

new arms race can be seen by taking a look at China.

In the book Space: The Frontiers of Modern Defense, Indian

author K.K. Nair explains how the space mission of China’s People’s

Liberation Army (PLA) entails two aspects: information support, and a

battlefield aspect which corresponds to the US' 'counter-space

operations.'15 Neorealists also contend that economic power can easily

be transformed into military power through fungibility. Thus,

regardless of whether or not China’s motives are economic or security

based, it seems the US is not willing to take the chance of allowing

China to rival the US in military supremacy. The US-China Economic

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and Security Review Commission produced a report in 2006 that

affirmed that China is pursing anti-satellite weaponry.16 The

commission chairman, Larry Wortzel, boldly stated that “there's no

doubt the Chinese will put weapons into space" with the intent of

destroying US logistics and communications satellites.17 This explicit

statement of the perceived threat lends heavily to the neorealist

explanation of China’s (and other’s) military ambitions as a threat to

the US security and interests. Neorealists are preoccupied with

potential threats and the zero-sum nature of the international system.

For the reasons of China’s economic growth, as well as its stated space

aspirations, neorealists would predict the US to react by strengthening

its space-based defenses.

A group of neoconservative missile defense proponents, led by

Donald Rumsfeld, have been painting China as a threat since the mid

1990s.18A specific example of neorealist paranoia fuelling the weapons

in space regime is given by erroneous allegations that were made by

The NY Times in 1998 regarding the sale of US satellite secrets to

china.19 Once this fear was reified it irrevocably “changed the existing

satellite export paradigm,” writes Joan Johnson-Freese in Space as a

Strategic Asset.20 Under neorealism, this suspicion of other states

encourages alliance behavior between states with mutual military

interests. Thus, the pressure exerted on Canada by the US to subscribe

to a broad missile defense program reflects this. However, Canada has

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remained steadfast in the face of threat claims by the US and therefore

neorealism as a policy is stopped at the US border, so to speak.

However, Canada may also have other motives in this area.

Foreign policy of the US (and Canada alike) can often be ascribed

to many notable think tanks. A pro-NMD ‘documentary’ was recently

released by the conservative D.C.-based think tank The Heritage

Foundation. The propagandistic trailer is replete with all the glamour of

a Hollywood action movie featuring stereotypical Islamic terrorists and

ominous music with glorified military special effects. This is a perfect

example of what Maj Howard D. Belote, USAF, is referring to when

comments that the participants in the Air Force’s space weaponization

debate tend to “ignore context and lapse into zealotry.”21 It is

important to note that the Foundation was a leader in the conservative

movement during Ronald Reagan’s presidency and influenced the SDI

program.22 The documentary, titled 33 Minutes: Protecting America in

the New Missile Age and released in March 2009, is more easily

interpreted from a classical perspective as it assumes that states seek

power and that aggression is natural. The website states that “We

need to overcome the complacency of politicians, the spurious

arguments of academics, and the narrow minded interests of

government in order to defend Americans from this potential nuclear

holocaust.”23 To this effect, neorealists like Waltz contend that

overreaction is better than miscalculation because at worst

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overreaction results in increased superfluous defense spending and

perhaps some limited warfare, where as miscalculation can result in

considerable strategic losses or direct conflict.24 That is good news for

the defense contractors though. Neorealists recognize the vital role

military technology plays25 but simply neglect the role that

corporations play in the space weaponization process. This leads us to

a Marxist analysis of the space weaponization regime.

Marxism

The second theoretical argument views space weaponization as

a capitalist process that maintains and promotes itself through the

enrichment of the global elite class. Classical Marxism places emphasis

on privatization and capital accumulation through the exploitation of

resources and labour as the means for the dominant class to rule. John

Lovering writes, in Military Expenditure and the Restructuring of

Capitalism, that Marxists see defense expenditure as providing

governments with provisional solutions to inherent problems in

capitalism such as under-consumption.26 He argues that disarmament

could be prosperous in the short-term, but would compromise a

“significant source of stability and growth.”27 The doctrine of space

weaponization, therefore, in a classical Marxist sense, is an essential

part of a continuing process of capital accumulation.28

In Taking Sovereignty Out of this World, Duvall and Havercroft

argue that dominating space is a form of privatization of the commons

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of outer space to the extent that it is “effectively colonized and ‘made

safe’ for the capitalist interests that flow through it—primarily

information services at this point in time.”29 The authors explain that

through space weaponization the notion of sovereignty is transformed

into a new global regime.30 They argue that sovereignty is being

eroded and replaced by a new diffuse form comprised of national and

supranational entities organized under “a single logic of rule” that they

call “Empire.”31 They also challenge the neorealist assumption of

sovereignty and anarchy as facts of international relations, arguing

that sovereignty is socially constructed and constantly in flux.32

Beyond the general principles of Marxism the international

relations versions of Marxist theory are a harder fit to this issue.

Dependency theory is largely inapplicable without a stretch of the

imagination because it is largely contingent on terrestrial relations and

processes. Dependency theorists describe states as falling into a “core

vs. periphery” dichotomy, where the global North exploits the global

South. They suggest that the global bourgeoisie arose from a network

of national bourgeoisies united in their defense of mutual interest in

the world capitalist system.33 In this view, the exploitation of the South

by the North is typically facilitated by monetary regimes such as the

IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO. But would a dependency theorist

really add space weapons to the list of instruments that the

transnational capitalist class use to exploit the global South? It does

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not seem to fit. However, the fact that the outer space is becoming a

domain reserved for developed liberal nations, to which all other

nations can only be clients, lends some credence to dependency

theory.

In world-systems theory, Immanuel Wallerstein adds a third

category, the “semi-periphery,” that acts as both a liaison and buffer

between the core and periphery as it is both “exploited and

exploiter.”34 Wallerstein states that in world-empire the core states

“concentrates [their] resources on controlling the military machine

which can collect the tribute.”35 He states that one of the main

mechanisms that has enforced stability in world-systems is the military

in the hands of the dominant few.36 He also notes that the empirical

evidence shows world-economies have been unstable in the past, often

disintegrating or being assimiliated into world-empires. Because

capitalism and a world-economy are two sides of the same coin, as he

puts it, and the upshot of this relationship is a profit-maximizing

objective, the weaponization of space could be seen as the beginnings

of the teleological end of the world-state system. But beyond these

points world-systems theory is too nebulous to make strong links with

the US weaponization of space.

The problem with applying world-systems theory or dependency

theory to space -weaponization is that these so-called security

measures do not fundamentally affect the world-economy system.

11
What space weaponization does is enrich the global capitalist class by

profiting from the sale of the weapons and securing unimpeded

commerce as well as enhancing the power of the state that sponsors

the agenda. To this extent, the theory includes an element of realism

in that states are considered important actors, but the relatively

narrow application of space weapons still has little impact on the core-

semi-periphery-periphery relationship. The agenda of space

weaponization is better understood as a new form of imperialism under

the Marxist theory of imperialist war. The idea, as it will be shown, is to

maximize the asymmetrical military advantage of the US so as to avoid

major imperialist war and promote global homogeneity indirectly

through technological omnipotence.

Lenin wrote about a natural congregation of capitalist forces into

“cartels, syndicates and trusts” into a high stage of imperialism.37 Such

a description bears semblance to the military-industrial-complex (MIC)

and its functional role in international relations in terms of US interests.

It is ironic that while the Marxist lens sheds light on the MIC, the

constituents of the MIC serve their own interests by promoting

neorealist thinking within the state because ensuring security means

large defense spending. Lenin explained that capitalism tended to

monopoly and that imperialism is this ultimate stage of capitalism.38

Thus, finance capital inevitably strives to extend its territory

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economically and geographically and conglomerate into a homogenous

entity.39

From a Marxist perspective, the MIC can be seen as a means to

facilitate the establishment of a transnational capitalist class insofar as

the military apparatus defends the economic interests of the entire

system.40 In Eisenhower’s farewell address, he famously warned about

the “unwarranted influence” of the MIC.41 This was because of the

nature of capitalist enterprises, not so much the nature of state

behavior according to neorealism. Naturally, the threat from the MIC

itself is not as easily dramatized, let alone visible, than the threat of an

ICBM only “33 minutes” away, which is why superficially neorealism

better explains the missile defense doctrine. But when you dig deeper

you see that space weaponization is not really about missile defense.

In an article in the International Socialist Review, scholar Noam

Chomsky describes missile defense as a “small footnote” in the

broader space weaponization agenda laid out in the Vision for 2020

document. The mission statement is, of course, "to protect US interests

and investment."42 Chomsky writes that since poor countries would opt

for anti-satellite weapons, rather than anti-missile, and the US needs

satellites to operate the missile defense system, first-strike weapons in

space are a requirement to achieve what the US calls “full-spectrum

dominance.”43 He parallels naval armament a century ago with space

weaponization today by how the British Navy was charged with

13
protecting British commercial interests in the 19th century.44 Also, US

military expenditure laid the foundations for subsequent industries that

the US would come to dominate for many years such as steel and

automobile manufacturing.45 Thus, it is clear that space weaponization

represents the perpetuation of the US imperative to remain at the

forefront of technological innovation, in addition to protecting its

current assets in space. Furthermore, a report called Global Trends

2015 predicts the widening economic division between “haves” and

“have-nots.”46 The perseverance of this space militarization agenda is

coincidental with globalization. Space weaponization is being sold in

terms of physical security but it is really about an insurance policy for a

global economic dominance of haves over have-nots. As Chomsky

summarizes, globalization will increase in the “preferred sense -

meaning investor rights.”47

This militarization movement challenges the 1967 Outer Space

Treaty that aims in part to protect outer space as a commons, free and

equal for all, apart from state power.48 The stipulation to protect space

from state power should, assuming parties abide by the treaty, argue

against neorealist explanations that the state is the dominant actor. In

privatizing space, satellite orbit positions are being parceled into a

form of “real estate.”49 This has occurred because the control of space

technology has been diffused between nations through transnational

corporations (TNCs) such that Patrick Salin alludes to the US

14
Department of Commerce and US Department of State being on

separate wavelengths.50 Joan Johnson-Freese also points out that this

proliferation occurred despite export-control laws to contain it. This is

an example of national political issues being subject to the interests of

TNCs.51 Perhaps world-systems theory falls short because it is trying to

reconcile terrestrial interstate relationships while space weaponization

exists in a truly supranational dimension.

To return to a classical Marxist tenet, in “commodity fetishism”

commodities come to be imbued with intrinsic properties beyond their

“use value.” In this sense, space weapons technology is mystified by a

kind of commodity fetishism where the rational process of

commoditization subordinates us to its state-of-the-art power.52

Because the vanguard of technological achievement has historically

occurred mostly within the MIC, outside the sphere of control of the

state, corporate drive combined with the “blind faith” of the state has

led to the “research and development of destructive weaponry without

fully acknowledging the consequences.”53 Political scientist David

Grondin labelled this phenomenon in the title of his paper The US

Religion of Technology in the Weaponization of Space. That defense

corporations are typically not concerned with the geopolitical

consequences of their products has been a defining feature of the MIC;

increased conflict increases profits. This is illustrated by a book a

former long time White House science advisor.

15
In The E-Bomb: How America's New Directed Energy Weapons

Will Change the Way Wars Will Be Fought in the Future, J. Doulgas

Beason, writes that directed-energy technology has “had its share of

‘snakeoil salesmen’” pushing the technology that wasn’t workable yet.

Beason explains that these types of programs are receiving marginal

funding but he strongly emphasizes their necessity claiming the

inevitability of directed energy weapons, like the Space-Based-Laser

(SBL) projects, being used on the battlefield.54 Grondin asserts that

policy remains largely unaffected by academics and that the debate

takes place mostly in secret among elites. Thus, he surmises that the

stakes are indeed global rather than just for “national security”55 and

therefore transcend the domestic security explanation.

Conclusion

Neorealist Kenneth Waltz acknowledges that theory is only

intended to isolate a particular theme of overall reality.56 Thus,

analyzing space weaponization strictly in a neorealist framework would

completely neglect a large dimension of it. Marxism may likely better

explain some of the dynamics of the war industry but the tenets of

realism seem to have more prevalence in determining US foreign

policy in space. Realist Hans Morgenthau criticizes Marxism stating

that economic motives are only ephemeral and that they serve a

political backdrop57 but as we have seen political and economic

interests converge and are often considered intrinsically related.

16
Regardless, Marxism can be a useful explanation to the extent that as

it explains the proliferation of technology in space as a capitalist

pursuit. In analyzing the role of the military-industrial-complex,

comparing neorealism and Marxism is like a “chicken-egg” dichotomy,

insofar as the question is whether security threats prompt weapons

proliferation, or profit-seeking encourages weapons proliferation which

prompts a security dilemma. For this reason, only a hybrid of Marxist

and neorealist elements can fully explain why the US weaponization of

space regime persists.

The shared sentiment between neorealists and Marxists of a

teleological inevitability is a major factor in the permanent

militarization process; neorealists view conflict as inevitable and

Marxists view capitalist expansion as inevitable. The capitalist class

has always benefitted from wars, whether it is in the defense business

or through the opening of markets that often results from conflicts. In

this sense, the weaponization of space agenda is reinforced by the

respective theories to create a reciprocal relationship between the US

and the MIC (between state and business). When combined with

Grondin’s observation of the US’ fervent fetishization of technology,

space weaponization can be seen as the final frontier of US ideology of

‘Manifest Destiny.’

17
Endnotes:

18
1
"Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space." Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear
Power in Space. <http://www.space4peace.org/unres.htm>.
2
Howell M. Estes III, Vision for 2020. (Peterson AFB, CO: US Space Command, 1997) 3
3
Howard D. Belote,. "The Weaponization of Space: It Doesn't Happen in a Vacuum ." Air & Space
Power Journal 14.1 (2000).
<http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/apj/apj00/spr00/belote.htm>.
4
Ibid.
5
Ibid.
6
Bentley B. Rayburn, Counterspace Operations - Air Force Doctrine Document 2-2.1. Maxwell AFB,
AL: US Air Force, 2004. viii
7
Leonard David, "SPACE.com -- E-Weapons: Directed Energy Warfare In The 21st Century."
Space.com. 11 Jan. 2006. 23 Mar. 2009 <http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/060111_e-
weapons.html>.
8
Patrick A. Salin, "Privatization and militarization in the space business environment." Space Policy
17.1 (2001): 19-26. 16 Mar. 2009 <http://www.elsevier.com/locate/spacepol>. 19
9
Ibid.
10
Thomas D. Bell, “Weaponization Of Space: Understanding Strategic and Technological
Inevitabilities." Center for Strategy and Technology 1.6 (1999): 1-36. 16 Mar. 2009
<http://www.stormingmedia.us/13/1355/A135524.html>. 17
11
Arnaud de Borchgrave, "Energy emergency." The Washington Times 19 Sep. 2005. 13
Feb. 2009 <http://www.csis.org/media/csis/press/050919_de_borchgrave_twt.pdf>.
12
Kenneth N. Waltz, "The Origins of War in Neorealist Theory." Journal of Interdisciplinary History
18.4 (1988): 615-628. 16 Mar. 2009 <http://www.jstor.org/stable/204817>. 616
13
Waltz 619.
14
Waltz 622.
15
Kiran Krishan Nair, Space: The Frontiers of Modern Defence. New Delhi, India: KnowledgeWorld,
2006. <http://books.google.ca/books?id=ZBXL1i-n6UAC#reviews_anchor>.
16
Tom Barry, "The Militarization of Space and US Global Dominance: the China Connection." Japan
Focus. <http://www.japanfocus.org/products/details/2287>. (Online only: no issue details)
17
Ibid.
18
Johnson-Freese, Joan. Space as a Strategic Asset. Columbia: Columbia University Press, 2007.
149
19
Ibid. 143.
20
Ibid. 144.
21
Belote.
22
Jacob Weisberg, "Happy Birthday Heritage Foundation." Slate Magazine. 9 Jan. 1998. 23 Mar.
2009 <http://www.slate.com/id/2299/>.
23
"Missile Defense - 33 Minutes Overview." The Heritage Foundation - Conservative Policy
Research and Analysis. 23 Mar. 2009 <http://www.heritage.org/33-minutes/overview.htm>.
24
Waltz 623.
25
Ibid. 625.
26
John Lovering, "Military Expenditure and the Restructuring of Capitalism." Cambridge
Journal of Economics 14 (1990): 454
27
Ibid.
28
Raymond Duvall and Jonathan Havercroft, "Taking Sovereignty Out of This World:
Space Weaponization and the Production of Late-Modern Political Subjects" Paper presented at the
annual meeting of the International Studies Association, Town & Country Resort and Convention
Center, San Diego, California, USA, Mar 22, 2006 Online <PDF>. 1-26. 2009-02-11
<http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p98680_index.html>. 14
29
Ibid. 11.
30
Ibid. 7.
31
Ibid.
32
Ibid.
33
William I. Robinson and Jerry Harris "Towards A Global Ruling Class? Globalization
and the Transnational Capitalist Class." Science & Society 64.1 (2000). 2
34
Immanuel Wallerstein, “The Rise and Future Demise of the World Capitalist System:
Concepts for Comparative Analysis.” Karen A. Mingst, Jack L. Snyder. Essential
Readings in World Politics. 3rd Ed. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company) 143
35
Ibid.
36
Ibid.
37
Vladimir I. Lenin, “From Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism.” Karen A. Mingst, Jack L.
Snyder. Essential Readings in World Politics. 3rd Ed (New York: W.W. Norton & Company) 22
38
Ibid.
39
Ibid. 21.
40
Robinson 2.
41
Dwight D. Eisenhower, "Dwight D. Eisenhower -- Farewell Address." American Rhetoric: The
Power of Oratory in the United States. 23 Mar. 2009
<http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/dwightdeisenhowerfarewell.html>.
42
Estes III 3.
43
Chomsky, Noam. "Militarizing Space "to Protect US Interests and Investment"." International
Socialist Review 1.19 (2001). 16 Mar. 2009
<http://www.isreview.org/issues/19/NoamChomsky.shtml>.
44
Ibid.
45
Ibid
46
Ibid
47
Ibid
48
Duvall and Havercroft 14.
49
Ibid. 15.
50
Salin 19.
51
Johnson-Freese 142.
52
Duvall and Havercroft 24.
53
David Grondin, "The US Religion of Technology in the Weaponization of Outer Space ?
A Case for Technological Atheism and Resisting Space War" Paper presented at
the annual meeting of the International Studies Association 48th Annual
Convention, Hilton Chicago, CHICAGO, IL, USA, Feb 28, 2007. 2009-02-04
<http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p178946_index.html>. 8.
54
David.
55
Grondin 8.
56
Waltz 615.
57
Morgenthau 59.
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