Keeping Space Safe : Towards a long-term strategy to arms control in space

Mutschler, Max M.


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Dokumentart: Bericht / Forschungsbericht / Abhandlung
Institut: HSFK-Hessische Stiftung Friedens- und Konfliktforschung
Schriftenreihe: PRIF reports
Bandnummer: 98
ISBN: 978-3-942532-14-3
Sprache: Deutsch
Erstellungsjahr: 2010
Publikationsdatum: 23.10.2011
Originalveröffentlichung: (2010)
SWD-Schlagwörter: Weltraum , Waffe , Kontrolle , Internationale Politik
DDC-Sachgruppe: Politik
BK - Basisklassifikation: 89.70 (Internationale Beziehungen: Allgemeines), 89.77 (Rüstungspolitik)
Sondersammelgebiete: 3.6 Politik und Friedensforschung

Kurzfassung auf Englisch:

When in 2007, China shot down an old weather satellite of its own this was the first test of an anti-satellite weapon since the 1980s. Many observers saw this as a reaction to an increasing investment of the United States in advanced technology for the “control” of space and warned of an arms race in space. Such an arms race would indeed have negative consequences for space safety and for the security of all space-faring nations. An exchange of violence in space would strongly restrain the usability of space and it could escalate to war on earth. But even below the threshold of a space war, space debris resulting from space weapon testing, could severely affect space safety. Currently, there are more than 21,000 pieces of trackable space debris in orbit that endanger other space objects such as satellites. Further testing of anti-satellite weapons would increase this number significantly. Keeping in mind that a lot of money is earned with space applications – the global revenue of the space industry in 2009 amounted to $261.61 billion – an arms race in space would have negative economic consequences, too. Then how can we keep space safe? This is the central question, this report wants to answer. One recent initiative in this regard is the EU proposal to make the major spacefaring states agree on a Code of Conduct for behavior in space. While the establishment of “rules of the road” for space would be a first step into the right direction, it does not ban space weapons and hence cannot prevent an arms race in space. This report argues that the establishment of an international arms control regime for space would be a better instrument to keep space safe and that the EU should therefore combine its Code of Conduct approach with an initiative to establish such a regime. Of course, an arms control regime for space cannot be established overnight. This report outlines a long-term strategy that maps out the central problems that must be solved to reach arms control in space. In order to do so, it draws on theoretical considerations on the establishment of international regimes. The finding of this analysis is that in order to be able to agree on arms control in space, states must solve two classical problems of international cooperation, namely cheating and the unequal distribution of gains. This is possible, though, by drawing upon classical solutions to these problems, namely verification and issue-linkage. A first problem that prevents states from agreeing to arms control in space is the fear that other states would not stick to their commitment. This fear is reflected in the American concern for effective verification and, indeed, drawing up mechanisms for verification must be part of any arms control agreement for space. This is possible, though. Although not every action that could lead to the development of space weapons can be verified, testing space weapons under real conditions can. Since space weapons cannot be developed overnight, states can make use of a strategy of reciprocity, a kind of space weapons testing tit-for-tat. A second problem results from the fact that states tend to cooperate only, if the gains from this cooperation are distributed equally. This is not easy in the case of space weapons where the U.S. clearly has the technological lead. However, a general ban of space weapons provides for a compromise between the U.S. – that chiefly would benefit from a ban on ground-based anti-satellite weapons – and Russia and China who mainly seek to restrict the placement of more sophisticated weapons in orbit. However, before these problems can be tackled, the major space-faring states have to “learn” that due to the interdependent character of space, unilateral strategies, i.e. developing space weapons, do not further their security. By drawing a parallel between the case of space weapons and nuclear arms control during the Cold War, this report argues that the emergence of a transnational epistemic community of space experts from the major space-faring states that produces consensual knowledge on the dangers of warfare in space would be an important step to foster learning in space. The EU could facilitate such a process of knowledge building by initiating a series of conferences among scientists from the major space-faring nations on the dangers of war in space.

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