Space Security

Research Pages

Space Security

The Stimson Center's Space Security Project focuses on how a properly crafted international Code of Conduct can enhance U.S. national and economic security and help avoid dangerous confrontations in space. Stimson first proposed the concept of a Code of Conduct for responsible space-faring nations in 2002, working on draft text with the assistance of US experts and nongovernmental organizations in key space-faring nations. Subsequently, the European Union has drafted several iterations of an international Code of Conduct, which has been endorsed in principle by the United States, Japan, Canada, Australia, Ukraine, and other nations. In the fall of 2012, a Group of Governmental experts from fifteen nations, including China and Russia, agreed in principle that a Code of Conduct could be useful -- although Beijing and Moscow have yet to agree to the EU's draft language. All major space-faring nations have multiple means to interfere, disable or destroy satellites. A Code of Conduct can strengthen norms for the responsible use of space, while facilitating actions against those who act irresponsibly in this domain. 

Space is a global commons. Threats to this global commons threaten all space-faring nations. This is especially true with respect to space debris. When the People's Liberation Army carried out a kinetic-energy anti-satellite (ASAT) test in 2007, the debris field created by this event placed hundreds of satellites in greater jeopardy. Human spaceflight also became more endangered. A Code of Conduct can strengthen international norms against irresponsible ASAT tests and help advance the peaceful, scientific and commercial uses of outer space.

The European Union has taken the lead to develop consensual language for an international Code of Conduct and on broadening international support for this initiative. The EU's latest draft can be found here. A UN Group of Governmental experts issued a report on transparency and confidence building in outer space in July 2013 that provided further support for the concept of a Code of Conduct. In this report, for the first time, China and Russia endorsed the concept of a Code of Conduct, while withholding support for the EU's draft text. The Governments of India and Brazil have also expressed reservations about the EU's draft.  

Stimson has also been heavily engaged in analytical work related to the promotion of national, economic, and international security pertaining to space. In September 2013, Stimson published a series of essays, Anti-satellite Weapons, Deterrence and Sino-American Space Relations, comparing and contrasting the requirements of deterring attacks in space or space-related infrastructure and deterring nuclear attacks. While many library shelves have been devoted to nuclear deterrence, analytical work on deterring warfare in space is very sparse. Perhaps this is because space deterrence has usually been considered a lesser included case: the means used to deter nuclear attack could also deter attacks against satellites. Moreover, Washington and Moscow possessed many means to interfere with or destroy satellites; they didn't need to dedicate significant resources for this mission. Another reason appears to be that both superpowers understood that to attack or disable satellites could trigger a nuclear war. For whatever reason, the requirements for "space deterrence" were remarkably slight throughout the Cold War: "dedicated" or operational anti-satellite weapons were deployed only in small number and for infrequent periods, in marked contrast to the presumed requirements of nuclear deterrence. Washington and Moscow tested ASAT weapons rarely, as opposed to their nuclear tests.

The demonstration of ASAT capabilities by the United States and China during the Bush administration, the revival of the Russian space program and the breadth and momentum of the Chinese space program have led to renewed interest in the subject of deterring unwelcome actions in space. Stimson assembled an outstanding Advisory Board to help analyze how best to deter attacks on US satellites and space-supporting infrastructure. Advisory Board members included James Acton, Paul Bernstein, Richard Betts, Sam Black, Barry Blechman, Lincoln Bloomfield, Jr., Elbridge Colby, Daniel Deudney, Andrew Erickson, Jay Finch, David Hamon, Roger Harrison, Peter Hays, Theresa Hitchens, Robert Jervis, Dana Johnson, Kerry Kartchner, Frank Klotz, Ed Lacey, James Lewis, Jeffrey Lewis, Bruce MacDonald, Vincent Manzo, Patrick McKenna, Frank Miller, James Clay Moltz, Forrest Morgan, Karl Mueller, Michael Nacht, George Nacouzi, Michael O'Hanlon, Brad Roberts, Victoria Samson, Philip Saunders, John Sheldon, Paul Stares, Shawn Steene, Brian Weeden, and Mike Wheeler.