The Final Frontier

Our new space strategy boldly goes where no U.S. policy has gone before.

The Department of Defense's strategic approach to space must change. This is the message of the National Security Space Strategy recently approved by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

During the Cold War, space was the private reserve of the United States and Soviet Union. It was the "high frontier," from which we could support national defense and power projection with near impunity. Space capabilities were essential to such strategic tasks as monitoring compliance with arms control treaties and providing early warning of nuclear attack.

Today, space capabilities support a much broader range of domestic and global needs. Space systems benefit the global economy, enhance our national security, strengthen international relationships, advance scientific discovery, and improve our way of life.

Many nations have recognized the benefits derived from space, and the United States increasingly shares the domain with more and more space-faring countries -- both close allies, like France and Japan, and potential adversaries. And space is increasingly congested, competitive, and contested - challenges that we refer to as "the three C's."

U.S. policy must first adapt to increased congestion in space. There are over 1,100 active systems in orbit and an additional 21,000 pieces of debris littering the skies and posing a threat to our satellites. Radio frequency interference is also a concern, with more than 9,000 transponders relaying communications between spacecraft and the ground expected in orbit by 2015. Either radio interference or collision with a piece of debris could render a satellite useless, depriving military forces and national decision-makers of the information it collects and transmits.

Space is also the object of increased competition between nations. When the space age began, only the United States and the Soviet Union had the technology and industrial capacity to develop space capabilities. In recent years, however, growing international interest in space capabilities has spurred space industries in many more nations. The U.S. share of worldwide satellite exports has dropped from nearly two-thirds in 1997 to one-third in 2008. Eleven countries are operating 22 launch sites. More than 60 nations and government consortia currently operate satellites. In sum, the U.S. competitive advantage in space has decreased as market-entry barriers have lowered, and the U.S. technological lead is eroding in several areas as expertise among other nations increases.

America's assets in space are also increasingly contested by its rivals and adversaries. China demonstrated a direct-ascent anti-satellite capability in 2007 and is developing other capabilities to disrupt and disable satellites. Iran and others have demonstrated the ability to jam satellite signals. Our reliance on space tempts potential adversaries to see it as a vulnerability to be exploited.

Rules of the Road

To confront these challenges, the new National Security Space Strategy begins the process of outlining the rules of the road when it comes to space.

The current body of international space law resides in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (OST) and its associated conventions. While the OST is a good departure point, a clearer definition of responsible behavior can help minimize the chances for mishaps, misperception, and mistrust in space.

Rules can help the United States minimize the chance of collisions in space, reduce unintentional radio frequency interference, maximize the use of crowded orbits, and discourage destabilizing behavior such as intentional interference with space systems in times of crisis. Rules encourage good conduct but also provide a way to hold accountable those who would engage in malign acts.

As a first step in developing rules, we are working closely with the State Department to evaluate the European Union's proposed code of conduct for the use of space and are encouraging other space-faring countries, including Russia, China, and India, to do the same. We are considering what further measures of transparency, verification, and confidence-building can enhance the stability of space. And we are working with the State Department to establish and conduct bilateral and multilateral space security dialogues with existing and emerging space-faring nations to encourage increased transparency and confidence building measures.

Rules of the road need to be accompanied by practical measures to support implementation and monitor compliance. U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), the military combatant command with responsibility for space, is already doing important work to help other countries avoid collisions by providing Space Situational Awareness (SSA) services. Just as the Air Force through USSTRATCOM is the world's premier provider of global positioning data, USSTRATCOM is becoming the world's premier provider of collision warning. Fostering broader sharing of space situational awareness information to avoid collisions is a first step toward shared responsibility for the safety, stability, and security of the space domain.

Acting in Coalition

In the past, space was a domain in which we operated largely alone or only with a few very close allies. But for U.S. space policy to be successful in the 21st century, we increasingly need to think about it as a domain where we operate in coalition.

Coalition operations are already a routine for U.S. forces serving in the air, on land, and at sea. Our airmen, soldiers, and sailors regularly operate with the armed forces of allies and partner nations, whether patrolling for pirates off the coast of Somalia or countering insurgents in Afghanistan.

We need to do the same for space. More of our allies and partners are developing space capabilities, and all of our armed forces are increasingly reliant on assets in space, whether to track adversary forces or to strike them with precision. We need to ensure that, in future coalition operations, we have effective mechanisms to task and utilize the space assets of the countries involved. Importantly, NATO's new Strategic Concept recognizes space as a domain that merits alliance attention.

We also need to do more to leverage the emerging capabilities of our allies and partners. Incorporating foreign capabilities into our architectures for critical missions like space-based communications, surveillance, or missile warning can augment national capabilities and strengthen our overall space posture. Expanding the constellation of space capabilities by incorporating information and services from allied space capabilities can add resilience to our overall architecture and ensure the delivery of space services and information in times of crisis. Such international partnerships also mean that attacks on these systems would be an attack not only on U.S. interests, but on the interests of all partnered countries, which can encourage potential adversaries to exercise restraint.


We must not assume that attacks in space can be deterred -- or should be deterred -- by the threat of retaliation in space. Rather, like in other domains from nuclear to cyber warfare, a multi-layered approach has the greatest chance for success.

The first two layers of deterrence can be provided by steps already discussed -- creating norms that would need to be broken and building international partnerships that would need to be attacked.

A third layer of deterrence involves reducing the benefit of attacking our space systems. This can be done in two ways -- by enhancing the systems' resiliency, and ensuring that our armed forces can operate effectively even when an adversary seeks to degrade our space-based capabilities. We can expand the set of capabilities upon which we rely to reduce the benefits an adversary would gain from attacking a single one. Instead of launching a single large satellite to meet a variety of mission requirements, we could launch many smaller satellites. Placing some of these payloads on commercial or international satellites would further raise the consequences of an attack by targeting a broader set of nations or commercial firms.

Developing effective land-, air-, or sea-based backups to our space capabilities would also provide alternatives to delivering those services, such as positioning information or communications, which are currently provided by space assets. Our forces also must be trained to "fight through" attempted interference with our space assets, such as attempted jamming of communications satellites.

The threat of retaliation -- imposing costs -- provides a fourth layer of deterrence. The National Space Policy declares that use of space is vital to U.S. national interests. The National Security Space Strategy directs that the United States will retain the right and capabilities to respond in self-defense should deterrence fail. We will use force in a manner that is consistent with longstanding principles of international law, treaties to which the United States is a party, and the inherent right of self-defense.


We are closely consulting with Congress, industry, and America's international allies in implementing this new strategy. Within the Pentagon, Secretary Gates has directed that the strategy is fully reflected in Defense Department doctrine and operations. Implementation will be overseen by the newly established Defense Space Council, chaired by Air Force Secretary Michael Donley as the department's executive agent for space.

Implementation is not just about process and plans. It is also about the way we think. As Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn said last November at a speech to the Strategic Space Symposium, "succeeding in the new space environment will depend as much on changing mindsets fifty years in the making as it will on altering longstanding institutional practices." We must break the habits of secrecy, forged during the Cold War, to work more collaboratively with other nations. We must change longstanding business practices in how we acquire space capabilities to foster a more competitive space industrial base. And we must expand our thinking about how we deliver space capabilities and services to meet critical national needs. All of this will require innovative approaches and new ways of doing business.

As the space environment changes, so must our strategy. The new National Security Space Strategy is an important step in this critical process, which is so vital in enhancing U.S. national interests.

NASA/Hubble Heritage Team/Getty Images


Open Letter: Ivory Coast, the war against civilians

“The Gbagbo mafia is struggling first and foremost for power,” affirms a group of experts on West Africa, who are concerned about the “risk that the situation will escalate into a civil war”

Laurent Gbagbo is clinging to power after rejecting the results of the presidential elections, as declared by the Independent Electoral Commission, certified by the UN, and recognized by the international community, designating Alassane Ouattara as the clear winner.

There is now a real risk that the situation will escalate into civil war. In pro-opposition neighborhoods of Abidjan, numerous individuals have disappeared in the wake of operations by security forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo. News reports have shown corpses lying in the streets, while morgues have refused to release the bodies of those killed to their families. Converging accounts have led the UN to suspect the existence of mass graves and the incineration of bodies, but Gbabgo's security forces have prevented investigations of the alleged sites. Outside Abidjan, particularly in the western region, NGOs are reporting incidents of serious violence against the civilian population.

As scholars professionally committed to a rigorous analysis of the situation, we must insist that there is no evidence for any primal hatred between supposedly rival ethnic groups, nor for that matter between local populations and foreigners, between northerners and southerners, much less between Muslims and Christians. This is not to deny the existence of sharp, long-lasting tensions, particularly over access to land. However, the interplay of intersecting interests has generally allowed Ivoirians to implement negotiated solutions to such recurrent disputes. Moreover, Côte d'Ivoire, a country with a long history of mixing, remains a trans-ethnic, cosmopolitan, multi-religious "melting pot." In any "civil" war, who would fight against whom? The answer is anything but obvious.

In the past few weeks, accumulated fears, resentment, and greed have fuelled violent clashes among different segments of the population in the west of the country. However, it is essential to stress the resilience of the overwhelming majority of Ivoirians on all sides of the political spectrum who are confronting the crisis without resorting to violence. On the national scale, Laurent Gbagbo's supporters are just a vociferous and agitated minority who monopolize the state media they have hijacked. We should not overestimate their numbers.

Laurent Gbagbo has justified his actions in terms of the defense of national sovereignty, brandishing the specter of the country falling prey to foreign influences. This is a diversionary tactic. His political opponents are just as patriotic and just as concerned with developing the national economy in a more equal partnership with Western (or other) powers. Whatever its claims, the Gbagbo regime has hardly turned its back on the "predatory foreigners" it purports to ward off.  Over the past ten years, it has depended on extensive politico-commercial networks in France and elsewhere. Not to mention the recourse to Liberian and other international mercenaries for controlling the Ivorian population.

To the extent that there is any real ideological difference between the two camps, it centers on their conception of citizenship. The Gbagbo regime promotes an ethno-nationalist vision: only members of indigenous ethnic groups from the south of Côte d'Ivoire may claim a fully legitimate, or ‘natural', right to civic participation - a citizenship ‘by blood'. In this conception, electors from the northern regions, assimilated to ‘foreigners', are relegated to the status of second-class citizens. Annulling the votes of districts in the north and the center of the country is thus consistent with this logic. The opposition claims a republican conception of citizenship, founded on the principal of equality and according civic rights to all those born in the Côte d'Ivoire, a far remove from the ‘divine right' claimed by Gbagbo.

But ideology is undoubtedly not the key to understanding the ongoing crisis. The Gbagbo mafia is struggling first and foremost for power; for an exclusive hold on power, for the very enjoyment of power, with all its attendant material benefits. How, one might ask, can civilians freely and openly express dissent when the thugs of the outgoing regime exact merciless reprisals against anyone expressing overt opposition or who is even suspected of voting for the wrong candidate?

A group of experts on Cote d'Ivoire and West Africa:

Michel Agier (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales or EHESS, Paris), Emmanuel Akyeampong (Harvard), Jean Allman (Washington University in St. Louis), Jean-Loup Amselle (EHESS), Kwame Anthony Appiah (Princeton), Karel Arnaut (Ghent University, Belgium), Ralph Austen (University of Chicago), Cheikh Anta Babou (University of Pennsylvania), Georges Balandier (EHESS), Issaka Bagayogo (ISFRA- Université de Bamako), Richard Banégas (Université de Paris 1), Thomas Bassett (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Jean-François Bayart (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique or CNRS, France), Laurent Bazin (CNRS), Laurence Becker (Oregon State University), Sara Berry (Johns Hopkins University), Chantal Blanc-Pamard (CNRS), Pierre Boilley (Université de Paris 1), Catherine Boone (University of Texas at Austin), Christian Bouquet (Université de Bordeaux, France), Sylvie Bredeloup (Institut Recherche Développement or IRD, France), William Gervase Clarence-Smith (School of Oriental and African Studies or SOAS, University of London), Jean-Paul Colleyn (EHESS), Barbara Cooper (Rutgers University), Souleymane Bachir Diagne (Columbia University), Mamadou Diouf (Columbia University), Jean-Pierre Dozon (EHESS), Stephen Ellis (Afrika-Studiecentrum, Leiden), Sandra Fancello (CNRS), Boris Gobille (Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, France), Alma Gottlieb (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Sean Hanretta (The University of Florida), Joseph Hellweg (Florida State University), Gilles Holder (CNRS), Paulin Hountondji (Université d'Abomey-Calavi, Benin), Anne Hugon (Université de Paris 1), Sharon Hutchinson (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Biodun Jeyifo (Harvard), Bennetta Jules-Rosette (University of California San Diego), Ousmane Kane (Columbia), Ousman Kobo (Ohio State University), Eric Lanoue (ARES, France), Robert Launay (Northwestern University), Marie Nathalie Le Blanc (Université du Québec à Montréal), Marc Le Pape (CNRS), Barbara Lewis (Rutgers University), Bruno Losch (Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement ou CIRAD, France), Ruth Marshall (University of Toronto), André Mary (CNRS), Achille Mbembe (University of Wittwatersrand, South Africa), Elikia M'Bokolo (EHESS), Michael McGovern (Yale), Marie Miran-Guyon (EHESS), Richard Moncrieff, Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan (EHESS), Jacob Olupona (Harvard University), J.D.Y. Peel (SOAS, University of London), Claude-Hélène Perrot (Université de Paris 1), Ato Quayson (University of Toronto), David Robinson (Michigan State University), Ruediger Seesemann (Northwestern University), Benjamin Soares (Afrika-Studiecentrum, Leiden), Emmanuel Terray (EHESS), Jean-Louis Triaud (Université de Provence, France), Claudine Vidal (CNRS), Laurent Vidal (IRD), Leonardo Villalon (The University of Florida).

Colleagues living or having family in Côte d'Ivoire have not been included for reasons of security. 

A shorter version was published in Le Monde, January 19, 2011.