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Space and Security

Over the past forty years, space exploration has led to numerous opportunities to enhance life on Earth. These technological breakthroughs have become part of modern society in both the United States and the international community, offering many benefits that raise the level of services and information available to citizens. Among these are credit card and ATM transactions, rapid dissemination of information around the globe, weather forecasting, global imaging and positioning, and disaster monitoring. However, dependence on this technology presents security challenges, leading some to advocate for increasing military capabilities in space to protect these assets. There is a growing range of space actors that can access and use space for peaceful as well as potentially hostile purposes. This includes corporations, individuals, and national civil and military space programs, whose deeply intertwined nature often makes it difficult to clarify responsibilities, priorities and accountability in the space environment.

Another concern is the dual-use nature of space technology, which can be applied for both civilian and military purposes. For example, deployable optics can be used for scientific observatories or space-based laser weapons, and launch technology can be applied to both satellites and missiles, with little modification. Development of this technology thus complicates international relations between space faring nations, since capability development does not directly indicate intentions. It also directly affects less developed nations, which may benefit from the use of satellites in areas such as health, education and disaster monitoring.

In total, more than 30 countries have or are developing space flight programs. Ninety-eight countries have ratified the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which prohibits placing weapons of mass destruction in space, or on the moon or other celestial bodies. The treaty does not, however, prohibit placing anti-satellite weapons, radio-electronic jamming devices, and other technologies that serve military purposes into space. Numerous countries—in particular the US, Russia, and several European countries—maintain satellites providing imagery and communication that that serve primarily military functions. However, to date, there are no actual known weapons in space.

On January 14, 2004, President Bush announced the administration's new vision for the US space exploration program, "A Renewed Spirit of Discovery." The goal of this vision is to advance US scientific, security, and economic interests by strengthening the space exploration program. To accomplish this, the US will extend exploration of the solar system, starting with a human return to the moon by 2020, in preparation for human exploration of Mars and other destinations. The vision entails developing innovative technologies and infrastructures for this, as well as promoting international and commercial participation in space exploration to further US scientific, security and economic interests.

Similarly, the "Green Paper on European Space Policy," introduced in January 2003 by the European Research Commission and the European Space Agency (ESA), examines Europe's assets and weaknesses in the space sector. Its objective is to increase awareness of the strategic importance of space and space policy for Europe and its citizens. It aims to launch a debate among national and international organizations on Europe's space policy, and to define areas of consensus and reach concrete answers to questions about access to space, funding and institutional arrangements.

In addition, a number of countries are developing space exploration projects for military capabilities. In November 2003, the US Air Force published a list of planned space weapons programs, entitled the "US Air Force Transformation Flight Plan." The document details a variety of military systems the US plans to deploy in outer space. "Transformation is using new things and old things in new ways, and achieving truly transformational effects for the joint warfighter, " said Lt. Gen. Duncan McNabb, Air Force director of plans and programs. The document states that space superiority combines three capabilities—protecting space assets, denying adversaries access to space, and quickly launching vehicles into space to replace space assets that are damaged. Projects include space global laser engagement, air launched anti-satellite missiles, and space-based radio frequency energy weapons, which the plan deems valuable in protecting the nation from chemical, biological, nuclear, and high explosive attacks.

Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) and the European Space Agency (ESA) are collaborating to launch the "Galileo" satellite radio navigation system, a network of 30 orbiting satellites and ground stations designed to be comparable to the US Global Positioning System (GPS), which provides data on standard timing and location positioning around the globe. The EU and ESA emphasize the importance of Europe having its own system to be able to ascertain precise position in space and time, since this technology will be applied to many sectors. These include transportation, social services such as aid for the disabled or elderly, the justice system and customs services, search and rescue teams, and public works like geographical information systems. Galileo will be Europe's contribution to the global navigation satellite infrastructure, and will complement the US GPS.

In addition, China is seeking to become competitive with the US in developing long-term space projects, and is collaborating with the Russian Federation in this pursuit. For example, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is experimenting with directed energy weapons that can destroy satellites, and is considering the use of "piggy-back" satellites and "micro-satellites" that can be used to destroy or jam enemy satellites or spacecraft. At the same time, China has defensive strategies to deter the US from exploiting its space dominance. In 2002, China and the Russian Federation, along with Vietnam, Indonesia, Belarus, Zimbabwe and Syria, jointly submitted propositions to the UN Disarmament Commission on preventing an arms race in outer space, to begin a series of negotiations on an international ban on weapons in space.

Because of these security dilemmas, this is a historically significant period for space exploration. The international community must find a balance between promoting advances in space technology, and ensuring that nations' security and prosperity are not threatened to the point of generating an arms race. Control of the space environment entails immense power and responsibility; the steps humanity takes in space today will set the stage for future economic, social and political relationships in the international community, as well as prospects for space exploration itself.

Submitted by: Tomomasa Nagano, Spring 2004 intern