Category Archives: Law and Security in Space

Olive Branches or Fig Leaves: A Cooperation Dilemma for Great Power Competition in Space

As the race to space resurges, the United States’ great power competition with China has expanded to the space domain. Without a universally-observed rules regime governing space matters, the United States must be considerate in its engagement with China, acting with the future in mind to secure enduring advantages not only in space, but in all other competitive domains.

Through the “olive branch” and “fig leaf” approaches, Col. Matthew King analyzes the United States’ strategic options for cooperation and engagement with China on space matters, exploring the benefits and risks to the United States under each approach and outlining areas of mutual engagement in the space domain between the two countries.

King concludes that US leaders must gauge the threat posed by China in space, balanced against the advantages of cooperation, in order to formulate olive branch and fig leaf approaches that will promote US interests, mitigate Chinese gains, and secure systemic stability to cement sustained future US advantage.

Why Isn’t Outer Space a Global Commons?

The United States does not view outer space as a global commons, according to Executive Order (EO) 13914 issued by President Donald Trump on April 6, 2020. This policy declaration will be welcomed by some, lamented by others, and surely many more will simply find it confusing—an intriguing range of reactions for a seemingly simple term to generate.

John S. Goehring’s article examines the role that notions of the global commons play in U.S. policy on the recovery and use of space resources. It argues the term “global commons” has more than one legitimate meaning, and, in failing to account for this complexity, the EO complicates, rather than simplifies, productive discourse not only about the space domain but also about other domains.

Deterrence as the MacGuffin: The Case for Arms Control in Outer Space

This article examines the theory and practice of two partially contrasting policy approaches to US national security and global stability: deterrence, which has long been regarded as virtually the “Holy Grail” of post-World War II US strategy, and arms control, which offers alternative goals, procedures, and structures.

In the realm of nuclear weapons, both approaches have been regularly employed: the United States has developed and deployed a diverse array of weapons, devoting time and treasure to assembling the tools of deterrence, but it has also simultaneously pursued successive generations of SALT, START, and other diplomatic initiatives to limit and reduce those inventories. In contrast, when it comes to outer space—where there is currently a widely-shared perception of starkly rising security threats from Russia, China, and elsewhere—it is deterrence, and deterrence alone, that has been marshaled. Arms control, even relatively modest, preliminary, and non-legally binding variants, has consistently been categorically ruled off the table, by Republican and Democratic leadership alike.

David A. Koplow posits that this exclusive American reliance upon deterrence for ameliorating the security problems of space is misguided. This is because deterrence in all its assorted forms and variations is systematically less applicable to the special circumstances of exoatmospheric competition, and arms control in outer space would be particularly valuable and successful in that milieu. Koplow therefore concludes that US national policy should be promptly re-aligned, to draw strategically upon both concepts for resisting the further degradation of the security and sustainability of critical space operations.