On December 20, 2019, President Donald Trump signed the 2020 National Defense Organization Act, officially creating the United States Space Force as the first and currently only independent space military service branch. This act recognized an existing strategic reality that had been coalescing for decades, namely that space weapons, including anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems and anti-satellite weapons (ASATs), now constitute a distinct and crucial field of warfare worthy of independent scholarship and policy formation.
In this paper, Michael Listner leverages his background in space law and space policy to present an accessible and concise introduction to the technical nature of space weapons, as well as the geopolitical and geo-legal aspects that underpin the strategic situation.
Listner argues that a series of treaties and agreements beginning in the late 1960s are in fact a “front,” or straw man used by our adversaries to undermine our control of space using legal, political and psychological tools.
Additional key recommendations to the Biden Administration follow:
- Before enacting policy to address outer space security take into consideration that the concept of Western deterrence is not comparable to deterrence recognized by geopolitical rivals, which does not preclude the use of counter-space capabilities.
- The Biden Administration should take into account the dual-use nature of space technology creates the potential for gray zone operations in outer space that could form customary international law/norms unfavorable to U.S. interests.
- The Biden Administration should proactively support the use of innovative outer space technologies and activities by non-governmental operators and resist attempts by geopolitical competitors to conflate these activities with space weapons.
- Exercise caution towards any proposed agreements banning or limiting the use of so-called space weapons that could be ignored in the event of hostilities.
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