Historically, strategic restraint has been the dominant approach among space faring nations, all of whom understood that continued access to and use of space required holding back on any threats or activities which might jeopardize the status quo of peace in space. However, recently there has been a discernible shift in international rhetoric towards offensive defense in space. China, Russia and the U.S. have deployed various tests in space in recent years, leading to speculation that they all possess anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) capabilities. These tests suggest that there is a move towards weaponization of space, despite the core principle of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty that space shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes. In response, a more active stance towards space defense has entered the policy rhetoric of India, Israel and Japan. In response to concerns about the capacities of other players to threaten critical space assets, the U.S. Space Command, U.S. Strategic Command, and the U.S. Air Force Headquarters have been undertaking an assessment to determine how the U.S. Government can gain dominance in the space domain, seeking to develop offensive space control and active defensive strategies and capabilities.
These factors, combined with a lack of transparency about actual capabilities and intentions on the part of all major players in space, creates a cyclical escalation which has led some commentators to describe this as a conceivable return to a Cold War-type arms race, and to the foreseeability of a space-based conflict. Due to many unique characteristics of the space domain, an armed conflict in space would be catastrophic for all players, including neutral States, commercial actors, and international civil society. Yet it is the most technologically advanced States who stand the most to lose from a space-based conflict, due to our high dependence on space, and among these the United States is at the highest risk. The question then arises, how can the U.S. and its allies protect their space assets from being targeted, without contributing to further escalation of an arms race, to increased aggressive policy threats, or to the potential of a space-based conflict? What would ethical leadership require of the U.S.?
There is a critical need for clear representations from States as to their position on national and international law applicable to space, and well-informed policy positions on the emerging weaponization of space. Due to the specificity of the space domain, specialized expertise must be provided to decision-makers, and interdisciplinary opinions must be sought from a multitude of stakeholders. To that end, CERL will host this high-level discussion, which will focus on questions of ethical conduct and standards, while assessing the ways in which the U.S. and other leaders in space can protect their space assets in accordance with the core tenets of the Outer Space Treaty regarding freedom of access to and use of space, and the prohibition on non-peaceful uses of outer space, as well as potential arms control measures, and the unique role that commercial actors play in securing space for sustainable civilian and military uses.