A European Approach to Space Security


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Xavier Pasco
Reconsidering the Rules of Space

Since the end of the Cold War and U.S.-Soviet military competition, the space sector has experienced a new dynamic brought about by two major changes.1 First, the “space club” countries, especially the United States, have come to see space activity as a powerful tool that can provide political, economic, and military benefits in the new geopolitical environment. In particular, a number of information technology applications have rapidly appeared and become key assets in the transformation of space into a new strategic arena. The multiplication of commercial programs, especially in telecommunications, and the liberalization of formerly government-controlled activities in Earth observation and satellite navigation have radically altered the space landscape. Greater governmental use and integration of these techniques for civilian and military purposes has increased the strategic value of these systems. This has enlarged potentially competitive national interests in space, leading to new debates at the national and international levels. Space activity has gained strength as a component of state power because it provides bonuses par excellence to nations that are technologically developed, economically and industrially powerful, and politically influential on the world scene.

The interest raised by this evolution is the second major change; it has led smaller and emerging countries to invest in space applications for a wide range of economic, military, and political reasons. Although newcomers still find that investing in the space domain is difficult, the diffusion of new space technologies worldwide, including improved equipment and training for their use, is an enduring trend. A number of emerging countries are planning to increase their investment in space technologies and make them an important element of their national development.

Space now has many more players and vested interests than it did during the Cold War, resulting in a variety of positions regarding the future of space activity. These positions reflect both on the experience and capabilities of each country and on the different national projects that underlie each country’s space investments. Although attention is currently focused on the rapidly expanding U.S. military space program, on recent Chinese accomplishments in manned spaceflight (as well as on parallel anti-satellites experiments), and on the growing interest in space among developing countries, the European space program may be one of the most significant efforts to construct a space policy that is suited to the post–Cold War era.

While still modest in size, the European space program is striving to expand its mandate in ways that will both benefit from and adhere to the particular rules of an unprecedented multinational political construction process. For a few years, the program has been embedded in a political outlook that places collective security at the center of the European project at home and abroad. Europe has been moving beyond the scientific experiments that paved the way for its early space programs and is now engaging in more strategic and security-oriented space applications, which may be a sign of a nascent European feeling for a collective welfare and security policy. Key decisions have now been accepted that will lead the European Union (EU) to play a greater role in defense and security policy alongside the traditional Atlantic alliance (that is, NATO-European countries) framework. Europe’s current integration efforts in the security field are a good model for addressing, at the global level, the larger security challenges in space.

1. The present paper is a revised version of Xavier Pasco, “A European Approach to Space Security,” CISSM Working Paper, Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland, College Park, Maryland, July 2006.