Europe and the militarisation of space
By Olivier Zajec (*) | Tuesday 28 October 2008
"Space superiority is not our birthright, but it is our destiny. Space superiority is our day-to-day mission. Space supremacy is our vision for the future." […] "You can't go to war and win without space." General Lance W. Lord, commander of the US Air Force Space Command, May 2005
Slowly but surely, space is taking a central position in modern defence and security systems. For nearly 25 years, the United States, in particular, has made it the bedrock of its strategic superiority and is multiplying its efforts to preserve its supremacy in this domain. Many other countries are now also realising the importance of this strategic environment and have either developed or are attempting to develop an aero-spatial industry which will guarantee them autonomy in being able to access space. In Europe, France took the lead only to be followed by the rest of Europe and following China's example, Japan India and Israel have followed suit. Satellites, capable of accessing all areas of space without restriction, have been subject to major technological innovations. Organised in networks and operating in real time, they are fast becoming the backbone of all major defence and security systems. These defence satellites were initially used primarily for surveillance, observation, warning, communication and positioning purposes (constellation GPS, Syracuse). Today, however, in addition to these support functions, the question of the relationship between satellites and the 'militarisation' of space cannot be ignored.
Even if the use of space for military purposes is an accepted fact (which brings the GPS into question), the international community has expressed a reluctance to militarise space or install offensive weapons. The concept is not new and is already the subject of a legal framework with several texts that apply:
1963 treaty banning atomic testing and nuclear explosions in space
1967 Outer Space treaty
1972 treaty on anti-ballistic missiles(ABM treaty) banning the development, testing and deployment of anti-ballistic missile components in space. The United States withdrew from this treaty in 2002
1980 convention on environmental changes, which prohibits any hostile action that may provoke any lasting or occasional environmental repercussions in space.
None of these texts, however, is sufficiently explicit about completely prohibiting the militarisation of space. During the Cold War, there was nothing to prevent the United States or Russia from developing anti-satellite weapons, nor was there anything to prevent other countries, such as China, from showing an interest in these techniques, based as much on destroying satellites as rendering them inoperable, whether it be permanently, temporarily, blatantly or discreetly. This was frequently achieved by means of scramblers, lasers, powerful microwaves or taking control of ground stations.
All attempts at prohibition are confronted by a hard reality: the intensification of the link between space and American national security. The US Air Force, the Pentagon's primary service responsible for space militarisation programmes, bases itself on the report published on 11 January 2001 by the Space Commission ('Rumsfeld Commission'), which stipulates that "there is no blanket prohibition in international law on placing or using weapons in space" nor of "applying force from space to earth or conducting military operations in and through space". This desire for space supremacy is, however, contested by other countries: sparking an "arms race" cannot be ignored.
It would therefore appear to be in the interests of the increasing number of countries that use satellites in their defence systems to carefully analyse the areas in which they are vulnerable and to consider possible parries: protecting ground stations and platforms is therefore vital. Are European countries intent on resolutely pursuing the path of strategic autonomy, ie autonomy of decision making and evaluation, not only by being in possession of spatial means but also because of the ability to guarantee their use? Will the protection levels for the Galileo satellite be adequate in 2013? The purpose of protecting satellites from the ground and/or from orbit is directly linked to conserving strategic autonomy. Only political goodwill and a European strategy will be able to respond to this challenge. This will require a lucid examination of the consequences of the effect of the added spatial dimension in the international landscape in the next few years.
(*) Olivier Zajec (email@example.com) is defence and security consultant at CEIS (European Company for Strategic Intelligence)