Space Security

Security for a New Century hosted Michael Krepon, co-founder of the
Henry L Stimson Center and director of its Space Security Program for a
discussion on space diplomacy under the new administration.

Historically,
space diplomacy is very rare – the last treaty concerning outer space
was during the Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson. One of the obstacles to
space diplomacy is simply that it is very difficult to reach agreement
between the high numbers of nation states who have some stake in space
security, especially when many countries are wary of the US gaining too
much power in this area. From the US perspective, there are other
constraints – most notably political, where the question of whether the
US should be looking to dominate outer space for its own security and
strategic interests is highly contentious. Finally, all countries,
including the US, struggle to define exactly what they want in space –
what specific weapons and behavior to ban altogether, what to limit and
what to allow.

For these reasons, few Presidents since the
sixties have been willing to tackle space security head on, with two
notable exceptions. The first was Reagan, who in his first term
instigated the controversial Strategic Defense Initiative. The second
was George W. Bush, who saw the ‘weaponizing’ of space on US terms as
an important part of national security. The fact that both Reagan and
Bush struggled to attract adequate support for their projects, both
domestically and internationally, demonstrates the difficulty in
addressing space security and helps explain why so many other
Presidents have left the issue alone.

If the new President and his administration are to buck the trend and
attempt to initiate space diplomacy, there are two likely options for
doing so. The first is to seek a Treaty that would ban all destructive
acts against man made objects in space. This would end the practice of
destroying satellites in space, which creates large fields of debris
which can be extremely dangerous. The second option, perhaps more
likely to succeed politically, is to pursue a Code of Conduct for outer
space. Again, the main focus would be to end the practice of destroying
objects in space and thus avoiding the problem of space debris, most
likely via an agreed norm against creating debris fields. A Code of
Conduct could also address other key issues in outer space, such as a
standard traffic management system, such as already exists for the
skies.

Security for a New Century
is a bipartisan study group for Congress. We meet regularly with U.S.
and international policy professionals to discuss the post-Cold War and
post-9/11 security environment. All discussions are off-the-record. It
is not an advocacy venue. Please call (202) 223-5956 for more information.

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