Reconsidering the Rules for Space Security

Practical Implementation

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Nancy Gallagher and John David Steinbruner
Reconsidering the Rules of Space

While the instinct of military planners to imagine futuristic weapons and other innovative capabilities that might be useful under different circumstances is both natural and desirable, such concepts usually remain fantasies unless they can be rationalized in the military planning and acquisition process as an efficient and effective response to a real threat. When the Bush administration took office, the United States faced no clear threats comparable to Cold War concerns about massive conventional or nuclear attack, especially not in space. One of Rumsfeld’s early acts as secretary of defense was to shift from a threat-based planning process to a capabilities-based process in order to justify the major budget increases needed to speed military transformation and acquire expensive space capabilities. The 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review asserts that strategic uncertainty “requires the United States to focus on emerging opportunities that certain capabilities, including advanced remote sensing [and] long-range precision strike . . . can confer on the U.S. military over time.”109 In a capabilities-based process, the U.S. acquisition of advanced space systems is limited only by technology, money, and political will rather than by a balanced assessment of actual threats, opportunity costs, and unintended consequences. Therefore, it is worth asking how SPACECOM aspirations compare with accomplishments during the Bush administration and what the United States and the rest of the world might realistically expect to result if the United States continues in its pursuit of the SPACECOM vision after a change of administration.


109. U.S. Department of Defense, Quadrennial Defense Review Report, September 30, 2001,14,