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Ariane 5 launch
The European Union seeks to enhance Europe’s standing in space in launch capabilities (above) and many other areas to take on a global leadership role in space. (credit: Arianespace)

Collective assurance vs. independence in national space policies

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Earlier this year, after the fanfare and applause by many for the new US Space Policy and National Security Space Strategy, the European Union released their long awaited space strategy. Despite numerous articles, commentaries, and international discussions about the merits and failings of American space policies released in 2006 and 2010, there is very little commentary on the EU’s new priority statement on space. This article outlines some views about this policy that national leaders could consider as the United States implements its policy that has been described by the Pentagon Space Policy office as “collective assurance.”

The EU produced a highly unilateral document focused on the advancement of European domestic space capabilities.

The EU space policy is based on years of meetings within the European Commission and its space council regarding the direction for Europe in space. The policy articulates goals and objectives within three main areas: strategic interests, security, and economic prosperity. Throughout the document, strategic language interweaves itself throughout with Euro-centric goals and objectives for its industry, economy, and civil and military arenas. This policy indicates that the Europeans understand the political and economic importance of space power as a vital interest, its impact on the everyday life of European citizens, and its affect on Europe’s quest for greater security, prestige, and wealth. Interestingly, the order and precedence of their strategic objectives were like a national-focused document with end states reflecting the interests of Europe first, and lacking the global flavor of the 2010 US space policy and follow-on strategy.

The strategic goals of this document are not what many might expect: a US-modeled push for “interdependence”, “collective self-defense”, and further integration in the “global economy.” Rather, the EU produced a highly unilateral document focused on the advancement of European domestic space capabilities. These capabilities aim to enable “economic and political independence” for European citizens and a greater role for European excellence in space and worldwide. They view space as an area of strategic importance and acknowledge the need for enhanced military capabilities in space, in order to “strengthen its security missions.” Galileo is one example of many projects, where the Europeans desire is to remain independent and lead in other areas as well, such as space launch. One other key area to note is that this “independent access” to space is underscored by the statement that Europe will not rely on any foreign launch or service provider. This is interesting when comparing EU with current US plans and policy that project reliance on Russian Soyuz for human access to the International Space Station and American reliance on commercial and foreign partners overall. This US reliance on foreign partners could potentially lead to advantages for foreign commercial entities and possibly hurt, not help, US space industrial and high tech jobs. This is an area that shows potential strategic contradictions within the US policy and bears further scrutiny.

Second, the Europeans’ vision for space power advancement includes growth for its domestic space industry and economic capabilities as well. The EU policy states, “a solid technological base [is required] if [Europe] is to have an independent, competitive space industry.” To advance the influence of the EU space industrial base globally, they recognize they must increase innovation. Like the US space policy that advocates increased innovation in research and development, the EU policy also advocates innovation but with a different tone. To promote “industrial competitiveness” in the marketing of European space technology, they see “the setting of ambitious space objectives” as the key to “stimulating innovation,” not endless funding of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education initiatives to keep the youth excited about entering the apparently dwindling US space sector. They understand that beyond mere research and development alone, with no concrete commitment to any funded ambitious space objectives in space exploration and national security programs, their space industrial base will neither innovate nor compete on the world stage. As a result of this understanding, the Europeans desire a strong industry that will assist/provide the increased prestige and influence necessary for European space efforts to be advanced in multilateral forums.

The EU space policy is a policy regarding Europe and its goals and objectives for the Union to gain in space leadership worldwide.

The third observation concerns EU’s view of international cooperation. Reading through the document, and what little press was given to the release of the policy, demonstrated a structure dissimilar to US policy. Rather than interweaving international and global themes throughout each sector or mission area, the Europeans focus on advancing domestic capability and policy for the benefit of Europeans. I will note that the Europeans are not anti-international cooperation; they do view themselves as a partner and want to maintain “space dialogues” with their “strategic partners”, notably Russia and the United States. However, one will note that international cooperation is a very short section of the overall policy and its overall strategic goal is to use space “as an instrument serving the Union’s internal and external policies.” Also, this section is the last in their list of strategic objectives. They do, however, acknowledge that “increasingly” space efforts are not just for individual nations but in many cases can be achieved through pooling resources. The word usage in quotations here is notable. By contrast, US space policy states that international cooperation in US space programs is a requirement (and a directive for all departments to pursue international partnerships in all space mission areas). The Europeans appear to see it as something to be considered following the development of their domestic capabilities and leadership in critical areas such as positioning, navigation and timing, and space launch, among others.

In addition, one of the bolder international efforts they briefly cover is their interest in opening up potential dialogue with the Chinese and utilizing EU space power for European influence operations in Africa. Also, as expected by many observers, they declare their commitment to the promotion of “responsible behavior” through their proposed Code of Conduct (see “Securing space security”, The Space Review, December 20, 2010). This is the essence of their section on international cooperation. They do not spend any great detail discussing any of their few international cooperation areas, rather stating that the development of any space forum or dialogues with other nations, such as China, must be of “mutual benefit” and that the “scope and objectives of which will be set out in appropriate bilateral agreements.” In other words, the EU space policy is a policy regarding Europe and its goals and objectives for the Union to gain in space leadership worldwide. Gaining added security, prestige, and wealth in space allow Europe to achieve a “key position” in space power based on excellence and “increased European capability.”

Many experienced American space professionals, with knowledge of international space cooperation and policy, understand the importance of shaping the strategic space environment to benefit US vital interests. Many in the space community wish to get past the perceived international angst that followed the release of the 2006 space policy while maintaining good rapport with our allies. However, a new US national space policy needs to follow the lead of the Europeans and declare the goals and objectives for the development of American leadership through increased capability, ambitious space objectives, innovation, and global competitiveness of our space industrial base. International cooperation, as the Europeans note, should be best articulated in appropriate bilateral and multilateral agreements and not in a national space policy. The 2010 US national space policy, while containing many good things, reads more like an international statement of principles than a national strategic document.

Our next space policy and strategy, while including international efforts of mutual benefit, should focus on advancing American capability and enable a long range strategy for exploration and enhanced military capabilities in space, just as our friends the Europeans are pursuing.

Rather than using language like “collective assurance”, “collective self-defense”, and “interdependence”, and emphasizing a policy of reliance of foreign space capabilities, Europe is pursuing a course of “independence” and “increased European capability” to achieve excellence and increased status for the advancement of European space efforts. In addition, unlike US policy, the European policy omits arms control and “risk sharing among… international partnerships.” This poses some concern for many US space policy makers and influencers. It demonstrates that despite all the writings about how Europe decided on this course because of the 2006 policy, there really is no reason for the EU to pursue a counter to the United States’ vision for collective assurance in space, unless the Europeans wanted to pursue this policy of independence of their own free will. In fact, it seems the Europeans have written a policy similar to the 2006 US policy they rejected internationally, not the 2010 exposition they supported with equal vigor.

As the US current space policy notes, every nation has the right to access and use space. Each nation has the right to develop its own nationally-focused “unilateral” space policies that serve to advance their vital interests in security, prestige, and wealth as the baseline for any international cooperation they choose to support. Failure to invest in bold, ambitious space efforts with a national tone (in all sectors) in space will not only hurt the US space industry, but will harm our nation’s ability to advance its global interests in space, impact our traditional vital interests of independence and achievement, and threaten the very preeminence that we have labored so hard to achieve over the past fifty years. If our goal is the advancement of a global exploration program in space, then fine, but the US needs to observe that other nations and partnerships such as the EU and Russia appear to be taking an alternate path toward increased domestic space capabilities and expanded infrastructure for national interests. They are pressing ahead with their goals to step into the vacuum of leadership that the US is allowing through the shutdown of US programs, abandoning capabilities, and allowing the loss of large numbers of skilled space workers. Our next space policy and strategy, while including international efforts of mutual benefit, should focus on advancing American capability and enable a long range strategy for exploration and enhanced military capabilities in space, just as our friends the Europeans are pursuing.