Three principles to constructively engage China in outer space security
by Michael Listner
|If the Trump Administration is to effectively address outer space security with China, it must learn the outer space security policy lessons of the past two administrations and change the playing field to its geopolitical benefit.|
China also recognizes the role soft-power plays in outer space security. Thus, China is not only pursuing space dominance through hard power, but it is also leveraging soft power through its diplomatic activities, with particular emphasis on the United Nations through measures like the Treaty on Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and of the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects (PPWT).
The task for the United States, and in particular the Trump Administration, is to challenge China both in terms of hard power and soft power in the arena of outer space security. The prior administrations recognized the role of soft power to outer space security, but their policies chose to play on field laid out by China. If the Trump Administration is to effectively address outer space security with China, it must learn the outer space security policy lessons of the past two administrations and change the playing field to its geopolitical benefit.
The Bush 2006 National Space Policy approached outer space security from a nationalist posture and applied active deterrence where the United States would deter and deny if necessary, the use of space by geopolitical adversaries:
The United States considers space capabilities -- including the ground and space segments and supporting links -- vital to its national interests. Consistent with this policy, the United States will: preserve its rights, capabilities, and freedom of action in space; dissuade or deter others from either impeding those rights or developing capabilities intended to do so; take those actions necessary to protect its space capabilities; respond to interference; and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests
This posture elicited geopolitical and soft-power outrage not only from China and Russia but also from the less-developed and non-spacefaring nations. This stance also was blamed for China’s ASAT test in 2007, but that connection was debunked.
The soft-power indignation was compounded with the policy’s effect of largely closing the door to any international legal or diplomatic accord designed to limit US access to or use of outer space and arms control measures that would impair US national security activities without offering another avenue of dialogue:
The United States will oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to or use of space. Proposed arms control agreements or restrictions must not impair the rights of the United States to conduct research, development, testing, and operations or other activities in space for U.S. national interests
The Obama 2010 National Space Policy shifted the space policy pendulum from a nationalist posture to a globalist approach by eliminating the National Security Section found in the Bush National Space Policy and created a passive approach to deterrence centering on international cooperation. This approach to a “cooperative” environment to create space security culminates with the use of transparency and confidence-building measures (TCBMs) currently being debated in the Group of Government Experts to address outer space security issues.
The United States will pursue bilateral and multilateral transparency and confidence-building measures to encourage responsible actions in, and the peaceful use of, space.
The Obama National Space Policy also reversed the Bush National Space Policy’s stance on arms control measures:
The United States will consider proposals and concepts for arms control measures if they are equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhance the national security of the United States and its allies.
The Obama National Space Policy swung away from the active deterrence of the Bush National Space Policy towards one of passive deterrence, which is epitomized in the “layered approach” to deterrence found in the unclassified version of the National Security Space Strategy:
We will support diplomatic efforts to promote norms of responsible behavior in space; pursue international partnerships that encourage potential adversary restraint; improve our ability to attribute attacks; strengthen the resilience of our architectures to deny the benefits of an attack; and retain the right to respond, should deterrence fail.
|The willingness of the Trump Administration to take an unorthodox approach to international relations makes it distinctively primed to take on the issue of outer space security.|
This led to the Department of Defense’s current space policy emphasizing “defense” with in Directive NUMBER 3100.10, which was originally issued on October 18, 2012, and retroactively amended on November 4, 2016.
Both policies take a stance on deterrence (or non-deterrence, as the case may be), but they are similar as each finds itself addressing outer space security through the concept of arms control as opposed to behavior.
The willingness of the Trump Administration to take an unorthodox approach to international relations makes it distinctively primed to take on the issue of outer space security. The administration can accomplish this by taking the Bush and Obama National Space Policies as bookends and promote a National Space Policy with three fundamental principles.
The use of and access to outer space is critical to the United States and its allies, including its national and economic security. The United States will give priority to its interests, which include those of its allies, and will actively deter a potential adversary from interfering with its access to outer space to include willful interference with its space assets and space activities, including activities of non-governmental entities under its jurisdiction.
Principle 1 will shift the perspective from the globalist approach of the Obama National Space Policy and adopt a nationalistic/geopolitical posture akin to the Bush National Space Policy. It will stipulate the importance of the use and the access of outer space to the United States and its allies for national and economic security and includes space assets and activities of its non-government actors.
Significantly, Principle 1 will also articulate active deterrence to protect its outer space assets and activities of non-governmental entities under its jurisdiction. Instead of passive deterrence as articulated by the Obama National Space Policy, which relied on increasing the cost to a state and thereby deterring action against space assets, the Trump National Space Policy can exercise active deterrence through the threat of retaliatory force. It is critical for the Trump Administration to followvup with public and classified policies to successfully and responsibly implement its public posture of active deterrence, including policies and procedures of when and how to respond to an assault on US space assets and the means to define and identify when an attack has occurred. Without these policies and mechanisms in place, Principle 1 will be a paper tiger.
The United States will pursue a bottom-up approach to international norms that encourage responsible actions and the peaceful use of outer space. The United States will consider legally binding and non-legally binding bilateral agreements if they are equitable, effectively verifiable, and do not detriment nor inhibit the national security and economic activities or interests of and the use of outer space by the United States and its allies.
|Principle 3 can change the narrative from banning space objects, which could have a dual-use and hence are difficult to legally define as “space weapons,” to how space objects are used and state behavior in outer space.|
Principle 2 supplements active deterrence in Principle 1 with dialogue. Principle 2 can implement the Trump Administration’s unique approach to negotiation, where the carrot can be used as an incentive and a punitive measure to address outer space security. Unlike the Obama National Space Policy and its “layered approach” or the Bush National Space Policy’s threat of force but no dialogue, the Trump Administration can create an environment of active deterrence and use that position of strength to open dialogue about outer space security.
Principle 2 can also accentuate bottom-up rulemaking, which entails domestically-created practices and laws, as the basis of creating international norms to shape the international legal and policy environment. Principle 2 will also position the Trump Administration to utilize bilateral agreements with China, similar to the Incidents on The High Seas Agreement, to create international norms, rules of the road, and protocols with regards to outer space security.
The United States recognizes instrumentalities used for outer space activities are dual-use in nature and will henceforth reject international norms and measures, legally binding or otherwise that are designed to limit instrumentalities as opposed to how those instrumentalities are utilized by state actors.
Principle 3 is pivotal to the Trump Administration addressing outer space security as it changes the soft power playing field. Its focus is to co-opt the arms control archetype of outer space security through the narrative of “space weapons”, which is promoted by China public statements, space policy white papers and its efforts in the UN Conference of Disarmament. Principle 3 can change the narrative from banning space objects, which could have a dual-use and hence are difficult to legally define as “space weapons,” to how space objects are used and state behavior in outer space. This will move the United States’ space policy posture in a proactive direction instead of a reactive one that consistently backs it into a soft-power and legal corner.
The crux of the Three Principles can be further elaborated in the Administration’s potential National Security Space Strategy (NSSS):
The United States will assert its right to self-defense as permitted by international law in the event any of its space assets or space activities, including those of a non-governmental entity under the jurisdiction of the United States, are interfered with by a state actor or a non-governmental entity under its jurisdiction.
The United States will monitor its space assets and space activities and respond with appropriate force if it determines a state actor or a non-governmental entity under its jurisdiction is interfering with its space assets or space activities, including those of a non-governmental entity under the jurisdiction of the United States.
To ensure a state actor or a non-governmental entity under its jurisdiction does not unintentionally interfere with outer space assets or outer space activities and those of a non-governmental entity under the jurisdiction of the United States, which could trigger a response, the United States will engage in bilateral diplomatic dialogue with space-faring nations to facilitate accord and communication with regards to norms and behavior as it relates to outer space activities and interaction with space objects under their respective jurisdiction.
The Three Principles collectively can provide the Trump Administration a tool to effectively erode the soft-power influence enjoyed by China while leveraging its own. Transitioning the discussion away from arms control, reinstating a policy of active deterrence, and opening a diplomatic dialogue from a position of strength will allow the United States to throw down the gauntlet, extend the hand of diplomacy, and create an environment where both nations come to the understanding it is in their best interests to preserve the outer space environment.
|The unknown quantity is whether the Trump Administration will heed the advice of those who will argue for the status quo of defense, or will it seize the moment and take a bold move and adopt a new approach to realize outer space security?|
China will certainly resist, as the Three Principles will implicate their own strategy of outer space dominance. It will also affect their geopolitical soft-power leveraging through legally binding instruments and their national identity as envisioned under the Chinese Dream. This will invariably lead Beijing to challenge the Trump Administration’s resolve, and other geopolitical arenas will come into play to affect the national space policy towards outer space security over the course of the new administration. The Three Principles do not guarantee hostilities will not break out, nor do they ensure outer space will become a theater of war.
Irrespective of this, the Three Principles present an opportunity to create an environment where both nations can agree it is in their interests to prevent outer space from becoming another theater of war. On the other hand, if China denounces and resists the Three Principles, the willingness of the United States to work towards a détente with China in outer space will provide it with effective soft power to bring to bear to counter Beijing’s posturing.
The public version of a Trump National Space Policy will not be presented for some time, but that doesn’t stop the administration from implementing the Three Principles as part of its space policy and begin to engage China through diplomatic channels. Both nations have a vested interest in outer space and China’s growing reliance on the outer space environment provides further incentive for it to take a second look at its posturing.
The fluidity of geopolitics ensures there are no solid solutions to outer space security, but approaching outer space security from defense is not the solution. Many in the national security space policy community will balk at an approach that discards passive deterrence and insist the policy of defense will and should remain relatively unchanged. The unknown quantity is whether the Trump Administration will heed the advice of those who will argue for the status quo of defense, or will it seize the moment and take a bold move and adopt a new approach to realize outer space security?