The space, which for ages had been far from the realm of mankind,
today just seems to be a place next door. But does this accessibility to
the unbound universe open up new avenues for hegemonization? Does
it drive nations into the conquest for power and dominance in this new
kingdom of human outreach? Recently Donald Trump indicated in a speech that outer space can soon become the next war-fighting domain after land, sea and air. Let’s dig deeper into what exactly weaponization of space is all about.
Space militarization refers to the ecosystem of space systems that are utilised to achieve military objectives. It involves strategic planning, surveillance and telecommunication and reconnaissance as well as real time combat through placement and development of military technology in outer space. While, space weaponization on the other hand refers to more aggressive and offensive use of space systems for military purposes where outer space itself emerges as a battleground and weapons are pages and created in space that travel from Earth to attack or destroy targets in space.
Recent developments in this domain have become causes of increasing concern over this issue. China is making serious advances in weaponizing the outer space creating the fourth frontier of war in space by making strides in ICBM programme. The US had in recent past announced the creation of a space force or a sixth branch of the American armed forces. With the launch of GSAT-7, India officially placed it’s first military satellite in orbit. After the successful launch of Agni-V, India had acquired capabilities to take down enemy satellites in low Earth orbits. Recently, India became the fourth country after Russia, USA and China to possess the competency to take down an enemy in space. It achieved this feat by shooting down a low orbit satellite through an anti-satellite weapon A-SAT which is part of mission Shakti. At this point of time, it is important to know what has been India’s stance and policy towards the use of outer space. India is a signatory to the Outer Space Treaty which forms the basis of international space laws, and had ratified it in 1982. It supports the UNGA resolution on ‘No First Placement of Weapons in Outer Space’. However, it considers it only as an interim step and not a substitute for concluding substantive legal measures to ensure the prevention of an arms race in outer space, which should continue to be a priority for the international community. It supports the substantive consideration of the issue of Prevention of Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) in the Conference on Disarmament where it has been on agenda since 1982. India has always maintained that space must be used only for peaceful purposed and is against the weaponization of space and supports international efforts to reinforce the safety and security of space based
assets. It has clearly stated that it considers Mission Shakti as a step to
strengthen its defence and not to wage a war. Hence it considers the outer space as the common heritage of humanity and it is the responsibility of all space-fearing nations to preserve band promote the benefits accruing from advances made in space technology. Nevertheless, there has been increasing weaponization and
militarization of space in the recent past which may have adverse consequences for mankind as a whole. It will lead to competition among all major countries and consequently resources would be diverted from the peaceful use of space for the benefit of mankind to use space for deterrence. The ensuing arms race for weaponization of outer space would create an environment of uncertainty, suspicion, competition and aggressive deployment between nations, which may
lead to wars creating concerns for national and international security. It would put risk the entire range of commercial satellites as well as those involved in scientific explorations. The optimal utility of space power cannot be realised in the absence of an integrated space command and cohesive doctrine even after such growth of
competencies. Growing amounts of space debris pose a real risk to satellites and spacecraft. There are over 20,000 objects of debris which are the size of golf balls while those of small size run into hundreds of thousands totalling nearly 6.000 tonnes. The militarisation of space by India would pose security challenges for its nuclear armed neighbours and the military posture in space programme might negatively impact the regional strategic stability. Shifting focus to space would require diversion of resources from other wings. It may have to increase its
defence budget to maintain deterrence in the new race. What is the way forward? There is no global regulatory regime to address the growing militarisation in space. There is a need of separation between civilian and military use of outer space,
international co-operation, free exchange of ideas across borders and import of technologies and products to bring transparency and to build confidence among nations. It is important to develop multi-laterally negotiated controls on weapons in space through a new space treaty.
This treaty should be able to notify activities, monitor, plan procedures, enforce mechanisms and ban weapons in space in the form of tests, production and deployment. Effective engagement of global civil society around achievable goals and viable strategies is much needed, where many western powers (mainly US) oppose the initiatives. At this point, the majority of States are still committed to pursuing a space weapons ban through the Conference on Disarmament, the official
forum for multilateral arms control and disarmament treaty negotiations. Continued discussions on space arms control must be encouraged, particularly in the Conference on Disarmament, but also in the UN General Assembly & Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. An advocacy tool on the lines of Space Preservation Act of the US Congress will go a long way to create forum for dialogues and negotiations which will mobilise various parliaments to work towards
space security issues. Till the time some comprehensive legislation is accepted by the major players and all the concerned stakeholders, interim measures in form of space debris management regime, and space traffic control initiatives should be adopted. The earth from outer space is seen as a unified interconnected and
unique ecosystem of life for which space wars and weaponisation should not be seen as a rational choice for the humanity. The 21st century should move towards peace and prosperity rather than conflicts and arms races.