Insight - Cooperative Approaches to Space Security and Stability

Monday, August 1, 2016

By Victoria Samson, Washington Office Director

Space is changing. For the first few decades of the Space Age, space was largely the domain of just a handful of countries, with work in space being done primarily through government agencies. However, as our use of space changes, new challenges arise as well.

As more nations depend increasingly on space assets for their national security and socioeconomic development, the loss of these space assets – whether real or potential – and actions taken in response to those losses could spark or escalate conflict on Earth. Moreover, certain types of military actions in space could have long-lasting negative impacts on the space environment. The increased role of commercial players and the advent of small satellites being launched by new entrants to space further complicate issues. The goal for all space stakeholders should be a stable, predictable space environment in order to ensure the long-term access to and use of space.  

International cooperation on, or at least an international approach to, these shared challenges can help clarify intentions for space efforts. Perceptions of space capabilities and behavior in space is strongly influenced by the geopolitical realities on Earth. Norms of behavior, or a shared understanding about what constitutes responsible use of space can help overcome misperceptions. Dialogue  that brings together a host of viewpoints from different countries and satellite operators is a key way to work toward shared norms of behavior.  

The Secure World Foundation (SWF) recently co-sponsored a conference intended to allow for the further development of space security interests shared by the United States, Europe, and Japan. “Advancing the Trilateral U.S.-Europe-Japan Space Security Partnership,” held in Prague, the Czech Republic, in June 2016, was the third in the Prague Security Studies Institute (PSSI)’s Space Security Conference Series. The first was held also in Prague in June 2011 and was co-sponsored by the European Space Agency; its intention was to elevate space security as a policy priority in the U.S.-European-Japanese relationship. The second conference was held in Tokyo, Japan, in October 2013 and was co-sponsored by the Japanese government’s Office of National Space Policy; it worked to move the conversation forward by discussing concrete collaborative efforts that would enhance each participant’s national security.  

This year’s conference built on the success of its predecessors and took on the difficult, yet necessary, topics of resiliency of space assets, the effects of deliberate hostile acts against those space assets, reversible counterspace activities like radiofrequency interference, using norms of behavior to promote space protection, and looking at the effect of responsible in-space operations on space stability.

There are many ways in which the space environment can be disrupted, so it is important that the international community examines a variety of options that can complement each other in order to mitigate the negative impacts. And by working with allies, it might be easier to get some sort of agreement on how to approach this that could then be brought to other multilateral meetings that encompass other space stakeholders. Of course, there are also times when all major space actors should be part of a discussion, and SWF supports those types of events as well (which will be addressed in a future “Insight” column).

Overall, SWF looks forward to continuing to support cooperative approaches to space security and stability, as conflict in or about space could harm the long-term sustainable use of space.

Last updated on November 3, 2016