Thu, Jul 25, 2019 - Page 9 News List

From moon walk to space wars

Guaranteeing the freedom to navigate the stars has become no less essential to global peace than safeguarding the freedom to navigate the seas

By Brahma Chellaney

There is one more key player in this intensifying space race: India. In March, the country used a ballistic-missile interceptor to destroy one of its own satellites orbiting at nearly 30,000kph, making it the fourth power — after the US, Russia and China — to shoot down an object in space.

The test employed some of the same technologies that the US used to shoot down an intercontinental ballistic missile in a test conducted just a couple of days before.

Unlike China’s 2007 demonstration of its ASAT capabilities — which left more than 3,000 pieces of debris in orbit — the Indian test faced no international criticism, largely because it was intended to blunt China’s edge in space-war capabilities.

General John Hyten, head of US Strategic Command, defended India’s test, saying that Indians are “concerned about threats to their nation from space and thus feel they have to have a capability to defend themselves in space.”

This sounds a lot like the justification used to build today’s enormous nuclear arsenals, and everyone knows where that logic leads. As with nuclear deterrence, countries continue to upgrade their offensive space capabilities, until “mutually assured destruction” becomes their best hope of protecting themselves and their assets.

Before that happens, international norms and laws must be strengthened. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty bans space-based weapons of mass destruction, but not other types of weapons or ASAT tests.

A new treaty is needed to outlaw all use of force in space, with clearly delineated — and reliably enforced — consequences for breaches. Likewise, norms for responsible behavior in space must be established to deter ASAT weapons testing or other actions that endanger space assets.

It is easy to get caught up in the escalating strategic competition and conflict on Earth. Safeguarding, for example, freedom of maritime navigation in places such as the Persian Gulf and the South China Sea is vitally important, but guaranteeing the freedom to navigate the stars has become no less essential to global peace and security.

Brahma Chellaney is a professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and a fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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