The world’s most worrisome military flashpoint is arguably not in the Strait of Taiwan, the Korean Peninsula, Iran, Israel, Kashmir or Ukraine. In fact, it cannot be located on any map of Earth, even though it is very easy to find. To see it, just look up into a clear sky, to the no-man’s-land of Earth orbit, where a conflict is unfolding that is an arms race in all but name.
Through it all, no full-blown arms race or direct conflicts erupted. According to Michael Krepon, an arms-control expert and co-founder of the Stimson Center think tank in Washington, D.C., that was because both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. realized how vulnerable their satellites were—particularly the ones in “geosynchronous” orbits of about 35,000 kilometers or more. Such satellites effectively hover over one spot on the planet, making them sitting ducks. But because any hostile action against those satellites could easily escalate to a full nuclear exchange on Earth, both superpowers backed down. “Neither one of us signed a treaty about this,” Krepon says. “We just independently came to the conclusion that our security would be worse off if we went after those satellites, because if one of us did it, then the other guy would, too.”
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