Recently, the debate on the relevance of the current system of international space law has been revived with renewed vigor in the United States. Government authorities and powerful experts are calling for a review of relevant standards. They strongly believe that the U.S. military should have an opportunity to protect its country’s interests in space.
Particularly, a report titled “A Space Policy for the Trump Administration” prepared by the Center for a New American Security states that the international Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which approved the basic principles of the use of outer space, is no longer sufficient, as it might prevent the development of private business and get in the way of claiming of rights to developed resources in outer space. The center’s report also noted that under modern conditions, the view of outer space as the common heritage of mankind simply does not correlate to new realities.
Experts from CNAS, which works closely with the Pentagon, also pointed out the conflicting and outdated standards regarding the use of outer space for peaceful purposes. According to these experts, near-Earth space is already being used for military purposes (intelligence, communications supports, etc.), and from the point of view of ensuring national security, the United States “should both emphasize the importance of ensuring access to space and consider the relative importance of denying others the same access.”
The authors of the report also noted that the process of creating new anti-satellite weapon systems in Russia and China calls into question the comprehensive superiority of the U.S. in outer space. A recommendation is made to consider the possibility of placing space-based systems at key orbital points. These systems would serve as “forts” capable of using electromagnetic waves, directed energy beams and kinetic weapons.
One can perceive the conclusions and recommendations of the CNAS experts as an open call for actively taking steps to ensure the dominant position of the United States in outer space. Government officials are more cautious than experts with their words, although the essence of their remarks is the same.
Thus, according to Scott Pace, executive director of the National Space Council, the essence of leadership today in space is different than it was in the 1960s and 1970s. In an interview with U.S. media, he said that it is necessary to focus on projects that are both realistic and groundbreaking. Pace emphasized that the U.S. should seize opportunities and consolidate its leadership role through cooperation with private business and participation in international projects.
It is remarkable that among the number of space priorities set by the U.S. administration, Pace named the moon program. It seems that increased interest in the moon can be explained by the fear that Russia and China could join together and lead the process of its development, while the BRICS countries* could also bypass the U.S. on near-Earth space. In this case, we can say that the U.S., while not being able to stop the process, has decided to lead it.
This raises a question about the reasonability of Russian participation in the construction of an international space station in a lunar orbit — known as Deep Space Gateway, where the United States will play the leading role.** Will it mean that we will help Washington create an “American window” into outer space and the moon?
On the pretext of continuing collaboration within the framework of the International Space Station, the U.S. uses experience it has gained to create an organizational and legal framework that meets American strategic interests. If at one point, designers from the Rocket and Space Corporation Energia*** once balanced the organizational advantages of the Americans with their engineering solutions, today there is no such hope for that.
Thus, we have a situation in which we will have a Deep Space Gateway controlled by the U.S. as a joint project for expansion into outer space and, from the near-Earth orbit, we will be propped up by the American private space community with the active support of its government.
As a result, the dominant position of the United States will be consolidated as the “next great American frontier,” as declared by President Trump, who promised that Americans will once again provide leadership in space.
*Translator’s Note: BRICS is the acronym for an association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
**Translator’s Note: Deep Space Gateway is a concept for a crew-tended cislunar space station led by the International Space Station partners (European Space Agency, NASA, Roscosmos or the governmental body responsible for Russia’s space science program and aerospace reseach, Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and Canadian Space Agency) and which is to begin construction in the 2020s.
***Translator’s Note: Rocket and Space Corporation Energia, also known as RSC Energia, is a Russian manufacturer of ballistic missile, spacecraft and space station components.
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