Understanding security vulnerabilities in space

By Mahvish Malik

The Common Heritage of Mankind Principle is a diverse concept in 21st century. It can be defined as certain global commons or elements regarded as beneficial to humanity as a whole should not be unilaterally exploited by individual states or their nationals, nor by corporations or other entities, but rather should be exploited under some sort of international arrangement or regime for the benefit of mankind as a whole. In this context, the space domain is also referred as the mankind heritage that allows the peaceful application of space technology for all. On contrary, the military application of dual- use space technology offers implications for space security in general.

Space security is threatened by the invention of the ‘double edge sword’ of technology. The debates about ‘space superiority’ being a destiny and ‘space supremacy’ as a future vision calls for an arms race in space. The dynamic nature of future wars has a potential of introducing the space based weapons, also known as the phenomena of space weaponization. Such technologies will include the operational capability of the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) systems and Kinetic energy weapons, lasers, small satellites etc by adding revolutionary war-fighting scenarios.

It is obvious that the global military operations is the major driver behind understanding security vulnerabilities in space. Therefore, this scenario triggers the debate on enhancing the offensive defensive capability of a state when its national security is at stake. With the existing R&Ds on Anti-Satellite (ASAT) weapons, the future space wars will likely to happen unless the small spacecraft with distributive systems may be deployed by with enhanced capability in future.

Innovation of new technologies is having deep impact on almost all sectors. The political and economic cost of such technologies can be understood by assessing the security trilemma debate in future space war scenarios. Security trilemma offers the repercussions on third state’s security that gets affected from the military developments of two rival states that fight against each other for protecting their respective state’s security interests.

For instance, the potential threat of space weaponization by the U.S. offers security threat to Russia and China. The U.S. Missile Defense Review 2019 visions for acquiring counter-space capabilities. In this regard, the recent announcement of establishing the U.S. combatant command for space warfare aims to militarize the Earth’s orbits. In Chinese case, their response against U.S. space offers threat perception to India, ending up in affecting Pakistan. India has tested its ASAT technology by using kinetic kill vehicle under Mission Shakti. India has exploited its space based dual-use technology into acquiring their potential BMD system; and aims further for an ASAT weaponry development in future.

Moreover, the strategic chain reaction started by U.S. will uncertainly end up in affecting strategic stability of highly fragile region i.e. South Asia. Presence of two nuclear weapon states already makes this region highly volatile and uncertain. Further, the increasing technological gap between highly and less developed states is exploiting the political stalemate on existing lack of transparent measures against an arms race in space. In this context, Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) is a classic example that is facing challenges in establishing legal measures against an arms race in space. The only beneficiaries from such situation are the states with the advanced military industrial complexes that advances political economy of Advanced States in return.

It is the high times when states need to join voices with other states which are vocal against space weaponization including Russia and China that are fully determined to work on establishing transparent measures against political, economic and military spiral effects of an arms race in space. In this regard, both states have called for multilateral arms control treaty by presenting an updated draft treaty at Conference on Disarmament (CD) on the PAROS, the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects. This draft treaty is facing political stalemate from many years and offers no end game to curb potential space weaponization.

In the world of realpolitik, there exists no space sovereignty and space wars are likely to be revived. Whereas, by endorsing certain norms for space normalization will help to sustain the strategic stability in different regions. Security vulnerabilities in space needs to be discouraged and let the common heritage of mankind not to be monopolized in future!

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