The United States has given a plausible reason for wanting to shoot down an errant spy satellite before it can tumble to Earth and release potentially harmful gas near the impact point. But that hasn’t calmed suspicions that what the Bush administration really wants to do is test its capacity for waging anti-satellite warfare.

The bus-size satellite was launched in late 2006 and promptly went dead. Now it is drifting downward toward the atmosphere. Officials say it contains a loaded fuel tank, which would probably survive re-entry, hit the surface and vent previously frozen hydrazine gas over an area of about two football fields. If it landed in a populated area, which is highly unlikely, it could burn the lungs of unwary bystanders - or even kill them. Some experts speculate that the Pentagon is worried that if the satellite does not burn up it might give away secret technology to any enemy that found it.

The Bush administration would have more credibility if it wasn’t planning to oppose the latest Russian-Chinese draft treaty to ban weapons in space. That proposed treaty would not cover ground- or sea-based weapons, but it should. The United States should be working to ban all anti-satellite weapons. That is the best way to protect America’s security and its credibility. — International Herald Tribune