Source: AUN News
Russian personnel will depart the International Space Station at the end of 2024, according to an announcement made late last month by the country’s new space agency chief. As powerful nations start to compete through anti-satellite warfare—a weapon that Russia, China, and the United States have already tested—this choice breaks with a long legacy of scientific cooperation.
The International Space
The international rivalry has long been a factor in the space industry. During the Cold War, the US and USSR’s competition in space was intense. However, the International Space Station has provided an example of collaboration. But it is more difficult to establish universal guidelines for future space operations given the current political impasse between Russia and the United States.
It’s possible that the US played a role in this impasse. China attacked the Trump administration’s establishment of the Space Force last summer as a “direct danger to peace.” At the same time, Russia saw it as turning space into a “theatre of military operations.”
Gen. John Raymond, the current commander of the Space Force, spoke of deterrence and cooperating with allies in response to my question about how the US should prevent inciting or advancing an arms race in space. We communicate, operate capabilities, engage in war games, train, exercise, and build behavioral norms. Perhaps it would be understandable for a general to believe that wargaming would stop the militarization of space because a man with a hammer only sees nails.
Raymond said, “If we develop this, we’re going to help detect those running red lights.” The US might soon find itself committed to maintaining a rules-based interplanetary order as if acting as the world’s policeman weren’t enough. To Astro-cop from globo-cop?
This is more than just a hypothetical issue. Late last week, the third uncontrolled reentry in three years resulted in debris from a 25-ton Chinese rocket booster crashing into the Indian Ocean. The Tiangong space station was being reached by the rocket from which it had originated since the United States had prohibited China from joining the International Space Station.
The incident shows both the desire to create some fundamental rules for cooperation and communication—and the challenges in doing so. After the accident, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson emphasized that “all spacefaring nations should follow established best practices” to exchange data on the trajectory of incoming debris, especially for large pieces of equipment like the Chinese rocket, “which carry a significant risk. Of loss of life and property.” But given the rising rivalry and hostility between these nations, no such customs have been formed, much less freely followed.
China charged that the US had displayed poor sportsmanship, claiming that the US media “deliberately exaggerate and exaggerate…obviously with evil intents.” Any spirit of extraterrestrial cooperation that may have once existed appears to have fallen victim to the icy logic of international politics, along with Russia’s defection from the International Space Station and the station’s failure to draw India, France, and Germany to join (in part because it’s perceived as “an assertion of US primacy”).
International tensions in space are muscular right now, but they’re not as high as they were during the Cold War when the US and the USSR fought for control of space under the threat of a nuclear Armageddon. Sputnik, the first satellite ever launched, sparked great fear among the American public and decision-makers in 1957. President Eisenhower had to act in response to the public’s worries about an impending space attack.
In response to the Soviet technocracy’s success, the US was transformed into what historian Walter McDougall dubbed a “civilian technocracy.” To compete with the Soviet Union, the government combined new technology, which led to a boom in R&D investment. This reinforced the belief—a holdover from World War II—that Washington could genuinely mobilize the nation’s resources to meet any crisis. President Kennedy claimed that the race to the moon was a chance “to organize and measure the best of our energy and skills” just a few years after Sputnik. Of course, we weren’t only evaluating our abilities; Moscow’s accomplishments were also considered.
The space race-inspired technology revolution did make life easier for Americans; modern computers are now employed in almost every aspect of the world economy, and GPS aids in the global navigation. Even today, the promise of ongoing innovation is one motivation for financial investment in space research. These technologies, initially financed for military use, have proven in recent battles to be capable of concentrating brutal precision on the ground. During the War on Terror, satellite-guided missiles decimated Afghanistan and Iraq; this development encouraged Beijing to create anti-satellite rockets.
There has always been the notion that extraterrestrial exploration can unite nations, notwithstanding space travel’s military and competitive origins. President Ronald Reagan questioned Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in a news conference about whether the USSR would defend America in the event of an alien attack; Gorbachev responded that the Cold War would be suspended. Beyond inside jokes and hypotheticals, both nations desired peace even during the Cold War, including symbolic events like the Apollo-Soyuz “handshake in space” rendezvous that helped build the International Space Station. After four decades, it appears that we are losing the ability to work together internationally in this area.
Younger Americans born after the Cold War did not witness the rise of the US as a superpower and seem less fascinated by the military facets of history’s space race. Americans under 30 are the least likely of any age group, according to a survey conducted by my organization, the Eurasia Group Foundation, to support the establishment of the Space Force. Many of these younger responders probably supported President Biden, so they may have been shocked when he decided to maintain the new service branch entirely, with his full backing—a pet project of his predecessor.
Any area that starts as a frontier could end up being contested. Ocean exploration gave rise to piracy, which in turn gave rise to navies, and the development of cyberspace gave rise to cyber espionage and cyberwarfare. Governments are genuinely interested in using space as a battlefield, given how satellites track and guide missiles. Although space may be limitless, governments have limited resources and attention.
President Biden regularly references his father, saying, “Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value. Don’t tell me what you value.” This year, the Space Force would be better supported than NASA, thanks to the more than $23 billion requested in the White House’s proposed 2023 defense budget. This reminds me of a line from the Netflix comedy series with the same name, in which John Malkovich plays Dr. Mallory, the fictional scientific advisor to the Space Force: “I would like to know why my science budget pales in comparison to his orgy of death.” We can only hope that the neurotic Dr. Mallory’s characterization is humorous hyperbole rather than a dire premonition.
Analysis by: Advocacy Unified Network