Space Governance and International Cooperation Astropolitics

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Space Governance and International Cooperation Astropolitics

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Author Posting. (c) Taylor & Francis Group, LLC, 2010. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of Taylor & Francis Group, LLC for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Astropolitics, Volume 8 Issue 2, May 2010. doi:10.1080/14777622.2010.524131 (
Space Governance and International Cooperation
Nancy Gallagher Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland, University of Maryland
Obama Administration officials have indicated that international cooperation will play a greater role in their national space policy than it did during the Bush administration. But they have not provided a clear and consistent logic specifying why the United States wants more space cooperation, what types of cooperation it will pursue, and how it will convince other countries to agree on, and comply with, accords that produce the desired policy results. Instead, their policy about space cooperation mixes elements from three different and somewhat contradictory strategic logics: a “Global Commons” logic, a “Strategic Stability” logic, and a “Space Governance for Global Security” logic. While each logic has attractive features, the Global Commons logic is unlikely to achieve significant results in a short period of time, while the Strategic Stability logic is more likely to promote competition, rather than cooperation. Following the Space Governance for Global Security logic could yield much larger dividends by using positive and negative forms of space cooperation to gain widespread support for the equitable rules and effective international institutions needed to address the central challenges identified by the 2010 National Security Strategy.
The National Space Policy and posture reviews of the Obama Administration place much greater emphasis on international cooperation than did the George W. Bush administration.1 So far, though, the new administration has not articulated a coherent and compelling strategic concept to guide its pursuit of space cooperation. Department of Defense (DOD) officials have argued that the United States needs more informal cooperation because space is increasingly “congested,” “competitive,” and “contested.”2 State Department officials have used more diplomatic terms, saying that space is not only “congested,” but also “multifaceted” and “interdependent.”3 Each phrase reflects a different, somewhat contradictory way of defining the problem that space cooperation could help solve. Each also puts conceptual limits on the kinds of cooperation deemed worthy of serious U.S. consideration in ways that reduce the likelihood of international agreement on measures that would advance the administration’s main policy objectives in space and its overall national security strategy.
This conceptual confusion may explain the gap between the Obama Administration’s declared interest in space cooperation and the lowest-common-denominator measures that it has endorsed. For example, the United States recently announced that it would begin providing pre-launch notification for commercial and civilian satellites, but not national security satellites, and only for “the majority” of intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.4 This is a positive gesture, but it only partially fulfills the Hague Code of Conduct pledge made, but never implemented, by the Bush Administration. It falls far short of a prelaunch and post-launch notification accord signed with Russia during the Clinton Administration.

Likewise, while stronger norms regarding responsible space behavior are a central element of the new National Space Policy, the United States has shown more interest in voluntary measures proposed by allies than in binding constraints on those countries whose space behavior most concerns the United States, and vice versa.5 Without knowing how such voluntary transparency measures and norms fit in overall U.S. national space policy and security strategies, it is hard to judge how likely they are to lead to more ambitious, robust, and effective forms of cooperation in the future.
One way to think more strategically about the role of space cooperation in achieving U.S. objectives is to evaluate different ways of conceptualizing why it might be useful, what kinds of cooperation would be preferable, and whether other key countries are likely to agree to measures that will produce the desired results. Three strategic objectives represent a core of continuity in U.S. national space policy over time, despite major disagreements about what they mean in practice and how they should be pursued: (1) to secure the space domain for peaceful use; (2) to protect space assets from all hazards; and (3) to derive maximum value from space for security, economic, civil, and environmental ends.
This paper analyzes the three strategic logics for space cooperation evoked by different policy ideas being used in the Obama Administration’s space and security policies. The Global Commons logic seeks more informal cooperation so that a multitude of self-interested space users can share a “congested” environment without causing unintentional harm. In the Strategic Stability logic, U.S. use of space is increasingly “contested” by states or non-state actors who might attack vulnerable space assets to offset U.S. military advantages. In this logic, the primary purpose of space cooperation is to minimize such attacks by increasing the negative consequences for attackers, reducing their potential benefits, and avoiding misperceptions. The Space Governance for Global Security logic centers on characterizations of space as “interdependent” and “multifaceted.” This logic emphasizes that the more different countries, companies, and individuals depend on space for a growing array of purposes, the more they need equitable rules, shared decision-making procedures, and effective compliance mechanisms to maximize the benefits that they all can gain from space, while minimizing risks from irresponsible space behaviors or deliberate interference with legitimate space activities.
Each logic highlights important features of the evolving space arena, and each gives good reasons why greater international cooperation could help accomplish U.S. objectives at an acceptable level of risks and costs. Since the main goal of U.S. space policy in recent years has been to maximize U.S. military power and freedom of action in space, with commercial and civilian interests subordinated to that goal,6 most Americans and allies who argue for greater space cooperation use the Global Commons or Strategic Stability logics. Although the Global Commons logic has the widest appeal, emerging space environmental problems do not seem urgent enough to motivate much more cooperation than has already been achieved since this collective action rationale for cooperation gained adherents in the 1990s. Framing the case for space cooperation in environmental terms also obscures, and is obstructed by, conflicting security interests among different spacefaring nations. Using the Strategic Stability logic to build the case for more space security cooperation, on the other hand, intensifies the sense of urgency by exaggerating conflicting security interests. In doing so, though, it risks inadvertently stimulating competition, and undermining the prospects for cooperation.

The Space Governance for Global Security Logic broadens the rationale for cooperation to include the mutual positive gains that space users can achieve at lower cost through collaboration, as well as the negative benefits from reducing risks of inadvertent interference and deliberate attack. It offers a more compelling reason to increase policy coordination than the Global Commons logic does, and a more constructive context for space security cooperation than the Strategic Stability logic. Although the Space Governance for Global Security logic might encounter more initial political resistance in the United States than the other two logics, it is more likely to produce international agreements that accomplish the desired results. Domestic political resistance could be overcome by showing how space has become integral not only to modern U.S. military operations, but to all the major elements of the 2010 National Security Strategy’s vision for promoting security, prosperity, and shared values by building a just and sustainable international order in space as well as on Earth.
Sustainable Management of Space as a Global Commons
Domains, such as space, the high seas, the atmosphere, and Antarctica, that are considered “global commons” lie beyond the sovereign jurisdiction of any state, are governed by international law, and are available for all to use for the common good. This creates a right of access that does not exist for land, territorial waters, or airspace under a sovereign government’s control, at the same time that it strengthens the responsibility to respect other states’ interests.
The 1967 Outer Space Treaty (OST) provides the basic legal framework for managing space as a global commons. It designates space as the “province of all mankind.”7 It cannot be appropriated (Article II), but can be freely accessed “without discrimination of any kind,” and “on a basis of equality.” The exploration and use of space should be “for the benefit …of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development” (Article I), and must be “in accordance with international law… and in the interests of maintaining international peace and security” (Article III). The OST further specifies that States Parties shall conduct space activities “with due regard to the corresponding interests of all other States Parties.” They shall consult before doing anything that might cause harmful interference for other space users (Article IX), shall be liable for damage caused to others (Article VII), and shall help each other’s astronauts in emergencies (Article V). Neither the OST, nor any subsequent space law, though, provides detailed rules or an authoritative process for deciding what types of space activities are inconsistent with these principles, when the individual or cumulative usage of space might damage the common interests, and how the benefits from space activities should be shared.
For collective action theorists, the global commons characteristic of space evokes Garrett Hardin’s “tragedy of the commons,” a class of coordination problems that arise when many short-sighted, self-interested users try to maximize their own gains from consuming a nonexcludable public good without regard for the net negative effects on other users, on finite resources, on the shared environment, and even on their own long-term benefits.8 As the commons becomes overcrowded and degraded, users must consume more just to get the same level of benefit, so a downward spiral begins that individual users are powerless to stop. Averting tragedy involves either the establishment of a central authority to make rules, verify

compliance, and respond to violations, or less formal self-regulation by enough users to ensure sustainability. Voluntary norms, transparency measures, and peer pressure can produce sustainable behavior if the users value their social relationships as much as they value their shortterm material gains from over-using or abusing the commons; if all users can be educated to understand that mutual restraint is essential to preserving their livelihood over time; or, if the common environment can tolerate a moderate amount of bad behavior without breaking down. Clear legal rules, effective verification, and well-resourced implementing organizations become more important when a weak sense of community leaves the users focused primarily on their own short-term cost-benefit calculations, when the sustainability of the global commons is under more serious threat, and when high rates of compliance are needed to protect it.9
Despite the vastness of space, certain kinds of crowding and irresponsible use are already raising the risks that individual space users will inadvertently cause problems for each other. The two most commonly cited examples involve allocating orbital slots and radio-frequency (RF) spectrum so that one satellite’s transmissions do not interfere with a neighboring satellite’s operations, and minimizing orbital debris that could damage satellites or space vehicles. Because the most powerful actors would currently rather keep negotiation and implementation costs low and preserve flexibility than obtain high rates of compliance with effective and equitable rules, they have preferred relatively weak international coordination and self-governance mechanisms. But the inadequacies of this approach are apparent in both areas, and will likely get worse as the number and diversity of space users continues to grow, each wanting more from space and each able to have a greater impact, for better or for worse, on others’ space usage.
Overcrowding is most severe in geostationary orbit (GEO), where satellites need substantial orbital separation so that the high-powered signals required to reach Earth do not interfere with neighboring satellites. Only a small number of satellites can fit in the equatorial arcs over the United States and other prime geographic locations.10 Resource constraints and interference problems are not increasing proportionally to satellite population growth because technological advances are enabling satellites to operate in closer proximity, use RF spectrum more efficiently, and coordinate movements to avoid affecting neighboring satellites. Still, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) system for coordinating orbital slots and spectrum usage needs ongoing improvement to process registration applications more efficiently, reduce “paper satellites” (slots registered to non-existent satellites), and increase compliance with registrations and technical recommendations. As more new countries and companies gain the technological capability and financial resources to put satellites in GEO, pressure will mount to revisit a system that still allocates scarce orbital slots foremost on a “first come, first served” basis, more or less in perpetuity.11
In addition to 1,100 active satellites, space is also littered with debris and defunct satellites, spent rocket stages, explosion or collision fragments, paint flecks, and other human-made objects that serve no useful purpose. The United States currently tracks more than 19,000 objects that are 10 centimeters (cm) or larger, and experts estimate that there are another 300,000 objects in the 1 to 10 cm range, each able to cause serious damage if it collides with a satellite at orbital speeds, plus millions or billions of very small objects that could degrade satellites or damage certain sensors and subsystems.12

While collisions between space objects have been rare, several recent hits and near misses have increased awareness of the operational risks and complications caused by space debris.13 Of greatest concern is the possibility that a cascade of collisions—a series of hits creating ever larger numbers of debris and greater collision probabilities—could make some “valuable orbital regions increasingly inhospitable to space operations over the next few decades.”14
Spacefaring countries have made gradual progress on debris mitigation. Beginning in the 1990s, the United States, the European Space Agency (ESA), and other spacefaring countries developed national guidelines to reduce the production of debris during launch and on-orbit operations, to move GEO satellites into graveyard orbits at the end of their service life, and to put defunct low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites into 25-year decay orbits. Following such best practices involves additional costs, complicates operations, and shortens the useful life of satellites. Therefore, national requirements, compliance, and enforcement levels vary. Some space-users, including China, still do not have national debris mitigation guidelines.
To harmonize and strengthen national practices, the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPOUS) asked the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) to develop international guidelines that were adopted by COPUOS in 2007 and endorsed by the UN General Assembly. The vague language still lets each space user and state decide how many design and operational changes are reasonable to limit debris production, minimize breakup potential, reduce the probability of accidental collision, and avoid intentional destruction, especially in ways that produce long-lived debris. Since compliance with the guidelines is voluntary, it also remains weak. For example, only 11 of 21 GEO spacecraft that ended their service life in 2009 were disposed of properly.15
The European Union (EU) has a parallel effort to promote responsible use of the space commons through a Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities. The code mainly reiterates principles that spacefaring countries have already endorsed in the OST and elsewhere, without adding greater clarity or new mechanisms to decide how those principles should be applied in controversial cases. The most significant additional behavioral guideline admonishes signatories to avoid actions that generate long-lasting space debris and those that otherwise damage or destroy space objects, unless done to reduce space debris or address imperative safety considerations. Such a norm might inhibit behavior driven by economic or prestige motivations, but security concerns would probably override environmental considerations. Furthermore, this way of defining “responsible” behavior stigmatizes the 2007 Chinese ASAT test, but not the United States use of a sea-based ballistic missile interceptor to destroy the malfunctioning USA 193 spy satellite on the implausible grounds that its fuel tank might present a human health hazard, an action that most neutral observers believe had a different, but equally negative, effect on space security.16 Proponents will have a better chance of establishing new norms in space that reduce debris production and other irresponsible behavior if the rules are fair, if others exercise comparable restraint, and if the social disapproval campaign is coupled with positive efforts to address the underlying reasons why states might be tempted to pollute the space environment.
As the space global commons becomes more congested, having fuller and more accurate information about the location and projected movements of space objects can help satellite operators know when the probability of a collision is high enough that scarce fuel should be

expended to move out of harm’s way. Space surveillance information can also be used to monitor space population growth and raise awareness about the need for more collective action to protect the space environment. The Obama Administration has made improving U.S. space situational awareness (SSA) a major priority; its budget proposal for 2011 increases spending on relevant programs by roughly 70 percent over the previous year.17 The rate of increase in cooperation in collecting, analyzing, and disseminating space surveillance information, though, has been much lower.
The United States military owns and operates the most extensive network of optical and radar sensors, and has the most complete catalogue of space objects, but its space surveillance network (SSN) has limitations. It can generally only keep track of objects greater than 10 cm in diameter, has had no sensors in the southern hemisphere, has very limited deep-space tracking capability, and, until recently, only had enough analytical resources to watch for potential collisions involving human spaceflight missions, critical U.S. government spacecraft, and certain other satellites of interest. The public catalogue does not include many thousands of objects that the United States military is tracking, nor is the public data accurate enough to be useful for collision avoidance decisions. Commercial and foreign spacecraft operators can request more detailed information, but reviewing and processing their request can preclude timely answers. Other countries have some independent ability to collect additional space surveillance information that they can use alone or in conjunction with data from the public SSN catalogue, but none can duplicate the basic features of the SSN.18
Since the 2007 Chinese ASAT test and the 2009 Cosmos-Iridium collision, the United States has taken steps to improve its own SSA, and to share more information with other space actors. It is adding new sensors to the SSN, such as a space-based surveillance satellite launched in September 2010 into a polar orbit from which it can scan all of GEO once a day. The Joint Space Operations Center of the United States Air Force has increased its analytical capabilities enough to do regular conjunction analyses for all active satellites against all objects in the catalogue. It has legal agreements to facilitate data sharing with 16 commercial entities, and is also exploring ways to better share space surveillance data and costs with friends and allies, starting with Europe.19 The United States military remains reluctant to share comparable information on a regular basis with countries that are not close friends.
In sum, there are good reasons for conceptualizing space cooperation as managing a global commons so that a growing number of individual space actors can continue to use it in a safe, equitable, and sustainable manner, but there are also major reasons why framing the need for greater space cooperation in this way is unlikely to produce international agreements that make a major difference in outcomes. Interference from overcrowding and accidents caused by space debris have so far been low probability, low consequence events. This makes it hard to convince policy makers outside of the space community that they should devote significant time, money, and political capital to get more rapid international agreement on, and more widespread compliance with, stricter rules, wider information sharing, and better managerial processes. With ongoing wars and the global economic crisis, a 1-in-1,000 chance of a given satellite colliding with a chunk of space debris during a ten-year functional lifetime does not sound too bad.20 Debris cascades could dramatically increase the future risks and costs of space operations, but

that would still pale by comparison with the consequences of global warming or rampant nuclear proliferation.
If proponents of greater space cooperation truly believe that collective action problems like debris mitigation are the most important reason for cooperation, and if they are satisfied with the rate of progress on improving launch, operation, and disposal practices that has occurred over the past fifteen years, then continuing to frame the case for cooperation in these terms is a fine strategic choice. But if they believe that progress towards sustainability in managing space as a global commons has been inadequate, then they need to reconsider the preference for informal self-regulation over more formal and fully developed regulatory arrangements. And if they were hoping to use major successes in relatively uncontroversial types of technical space coordination as a way to build momentum for more significant cooperation on politically difficult space security issues, then they should think about how those larger, more politically sensitive issues are impeding low-priority technical coordination.
Strategic sensitivities impede cooperation because many people whose decisions affect space, especially from U.S. and foreign defense policy communities, resist doing what would make sense for the long-term sustainable management of space as a global commons because they do not think about space in the same way that environmentalists, international lawyers, or collective action theorists do. People who believe that access to and use of space can be controlled for strategic gains relative to potential competitors sometimes invoke the “space as a global commons” phrase as a way to assert their own right to use space without interference from others without acknowledging that other users have similar rights, and that all rights in space confer corresponding responsibilities. An extreme form of this view argues that the United States should become a space hegemon to police the shared environment, protect peaceful uses, and prevent anyone else from accessing or using space for hostile purposes.21 Less extreme forms of adversarial thinking also impede functional cooperation by limiting willingness to share space surveillance information and restricting exports of technologies that could help with debris mitigation, space traffic management, and the optimization of scarce resources. The more such adversarial logic dominates decisions about space, the less likely U.S. or foreign decision-makers will be to forego short-term gains and future flexibility in order to protect space from environmental degradation and to avoid social disapproval.
Marginal Space cooperation to Enhance Strategic Stability
When space is seen in terms of military competition rather than environmental management, the logic for cooperation changes. Instead of assuming that players want to maximize their own absolute gains without regard to others, the starting assumption is that players want to maximize their relative power, even when that reduces their absolute gains or increases operational risks. The impetus for strategic cooperation, as conceived by early arms control theorists, such as Thomas Schelling and Morton Halperin, comes from the one shared interest that potential adversaries have: avoiding mutual disaster.22 Competitors can use formal or informal cooperation at the margins of their relationship to stabilize strategic stability by ensuring that nobody believes they could gain more than they would lose by initiating an unprovoked attack; and by reducing

misperceptions, false alarms of impending attack, command and control failures, and other problems that could cause a nuclear war that neither side wanted.
Space was one of the first arenas where the United States sought limited cooperation with the Soviet Union to enhance terrestrial deterrence stability. The United States wanted space designated as a global commons so that sending remote sensing satellites over Soviet territory would be tolerated in a way that spy planes were not. Satellite over-flights were accepted as peaceful, permissible, and thus, implicitly protected under the OST in the belief that imagery and communications from space were reducing the likelihood of war. Satellites were a non-intrusive way to get information about the superpower military balance and compliance with arms accords. They could provide early warning of actual attacks and calm unwarranted fears. They could also provide superpower leaders with better information and direct communication for crisis management and escalation control.
In space law, very few national security activities have been explicitly prohibited (e.g. weapons of mass destruction in orbit and military uses of celestial bodies) or protected (e.g. satellites used to verify treaty compliance and for the crisis “hotline.”) Still, the superpowers tacitly tolerated each other’s use of space in stabilizing ways and practiced reciprocal restraint regarding destabilizing activities. Neither vigorously pursued dedicated ASAT options, nor put conventional weapons in space that could be used for pre-emptive attacks on strategic targets, although both engaged in some exploratory ASAT work as a hedge, and both had other latent retaliatory options if their satellite were attacked. Even after the Soviets conducted a series of dedicated ASAT tests during the Nixon Administration, the United States decided not to intensify its own ASAT development because this would be less likely to enhance deterrence of Soviet ASAT use than to stimulate an ASAT arms race that would disproportionately hurt the United States.23 As doubts about Soviet commitment to détente and deterrence stability grew, though, U.S. interest in reciprocal ASAT restraint declined. It disappeared altogether once the Reagan Administration decided that the most reliable way to increase terrestrial deterrence stability was to use space to enhance U.S. high-technology war-fighting advantages that could prevent the Soviets from thinking that they could gain more than they would lose by starting a nuclear war.
Many analysts who currently favor limited space arms control to enhance strategic stability formed their security logic during the Cold War, and are adapting it to changed strategic circumstances. Instead of two superpowers with roughly equal nuclear, conventional, and space capabilities trying to compete for advantage without causing a nuclear war, now the central challenge from a U.S. perspective is to keep weaker players from being able to offset U.S. strategic advantages by threatening or using asymmetrical attacks against the space assets on which U.S. military power and economic prosperity disproportionately depend. Since it is unrealistic to expect that the United States could gain the level of comprehensive space dominance needed to physically preclude other countries from interfering with U.S. space operations, some U.S. strategists argue that the best way to avoid such attacks would be to persuade potential aggressors that any benefits from interference would be outweighed by the expected costs.

This is often called “space deterrence,” but the analogy with nuclear weapons is highly misleading. A more accurate and less pejorative term would be “space dissuasion,” because retaliatory threats against space or terrestrial targets would be of low credibility and limited utility compared with other ways of changing cost-benefit calculations. The most thoughtful studies emphasize dissuasion strategies that would be relatively non-threatening, such as making satellites less attractive targets, raising the political and legal costs of ASAT attacks, and underscoring that even limited interference with satellites could lead to mutual disaster by sparking a catastrophic collapse of global financial markets, for example, or causing a low-level conflict to escalate out of control.24 Even these studies, however, recommend that the United States develop some defensive capabilities that could also have offensive applications, increasing the likelihood that other space actors will seek to emulate or offset such U.S. strategic choices in ways that stimulate a downward spiral of weapons acquisition, tensions, and possible preemptive action in a crisis or a war.
Whereas Americans fear asymmetrical attacks on their superior space assets, the Russians and Chinese worry that U.S. space and missile defense advantages will cause the United States to be less cautious in regional crises that affect their interests.25 To draw global attention in the late 1990s to these destabilizing effects of U.S. missile defense and space ambitions, the Russians and Chinese became increasingly vocal proponents for negotiating on “Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space” (PAROS) in the Conference on Disarmament (CD). This agenda item gained near universal support in annual UN General Assembly resolutions, but the United States vehemently objected that there was no Cold War-style arms race occurring in space, so no additional measures were needed.
In 2008, Russia and China introduced a draft treaty that would extend the OST’s ban on WMD in space to prohibit placing all types of orbiting weapons there. It would also explicitly ban the threat or use of all types of force against space objects.26 Their “Prevention of the Placement of Weapons” (PPW) proposal has been widely dismissed as a propaganda ploy, in part because it would outlaw U.S. deployment of space-based missile defense interceptors (the main Russian and Chinese goal), but not prohibit debris-generating ASAT tests or prevent the proliferation of ASAT capabilities, the most important arms control objectives for other spacefaring states. The Bush Administration also objected that the dual-use nature of much space technology would make it impossible to define and verify a ban on space weapons without impeding the peaceful use of space.27
U.S. proposals for cooperative steps to improve strategic stability in space have eschewed broad legal limits on capabilities in favor of dialogue and transparency and confidence-building measures (TCBMs). The Obama Administration has been trying to establish regular bilateral strategic stability talks with Russia and China covering nuclear, space, and cyber-security issues. The United States has also been calling on China, in particular, to be more transparent about its space programs, capabilities, and intentions. While the administration says that strategic dialogue would provide “mutual reassurance in the space domain,” its public remarks highlight advances in Chinese counterspace capabilities that concern the United States without acknowledging that the United States already has more advanced counterspace capabilities of great concern to China.28

Americans and Europeans often propose transparency measures as a low-risk way to test intentions and dispel misperceptions that could generate unwarranted suspicions, arms build-ups, and fears of attack. Other countries have a less favorable view of transparency for its own sake. While Russia and China have agreed to extensive and intrusive verification when necessary for high confidence in compliance with legally binding arms control treaties that serve their security interests, they have usually rejected requests to provide sensitive information without a legal agreement regulating its provision and use. That reluctance is partly cultural, but it is also strategic; the weaker player has greater reason to worry about sharing information that might reveal their vulnerabilities, especially in the absence of any constraints on the stronger player’s capabilities or actions. The United States probably also overestimates the reassurance value of minor TCBMs, like presentations on national space policies and expert visits to military satellite flight control centers, given the huge gap between U.S. military space capabilities and those of all other countries and the amount of classified information about U.S. military space spending, programs, and capabilities that would undoubtedly be excluded from these interactions. Despite such reservations, Russia has for several years sponsored a UN General Assembly Resolution calling upon states to propose outer space TCBMs “as a means conducive to… the prevention of an arms race in outer space.” Although all members of the EU co-sponsored this resolution in 2009, the Obama Administration abstained because, at the time, it had not yet completed its space policy review.
This review included a “blank slate analysis of the feasibility and desirability of options for effectively verifiable arms control measures that enhance the national security interests of the United States and its allies.”29 A “blank slate” implies that reviewers were directed to reconsider the anti-arms control principle added to the 2006 National Space Policy that the United States will categorically oppose “the development of new legal regimes, or other restrictions, that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to, or use of, space.”30 But long before the review was completed, participants had already announced that the United States will continue to “reject any limitations on the fundamental right of the United States to operate in, and acquire data from, space.”31 This sounds like a softer way of shutting off serious internal debate or international discussion about the net security effects of accepting new legal limits on U.S. freedom of action in order to get stronger legal protections for legitimate satellites and corresponding restrictions on other countries’ capabilities or actions that could threaten U.S. access to or use of space.32 The 2010 National Space Policy does express a willingness to consider arms control proposals if they are equitable, effectively verifiable, and beneficial for national security, but it does not indicate that the United States should take any initiative to develop proposals fitting these criteria. And while the criteria sound reasonable, the formula also risks prematurely ruling out exploration of possible agreements that might not be fully verifiable, but that could nevertheless enhance the net security interests of the United States and its allies.33
If the Obama administration did decide to propose some type of legally binding space arms control measure, the most likely option would be a stand-alone ban on kinetic energy ASAT tests. This idea was endorsed by a Council on Foreign Relations task force on U.S. nuclear weapons policy that included several current high-level DOD officials involved in the Obama Administration’s space policy reviews.34 Because of the indiscriminate risks that ASATgenerated debris pose to military, intelligence, and commercial satellites, the United States has invested heavily in non-destructive means of temporarily disabling or permanently destroying
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