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  Peace and war in outer space (I)

Vadim Volovoj, Doctor in Political Sciences
2007 04 08

The exploration and use of the outer space....shall be for peaceful purposes and shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interest of all the countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development. The prevention of an arms race in outer space would avert a grave danger for international peace and security.

United Nations General Assembly Resolution,  2001

The outer space is a space, whereas spatial contemplations are characteristic of the geopolitical paradigm. Three types of geopolitics could be specified: traditional (classical), new and critical.

The first is a well known geopolitics of H. Mackinder & Co, based on the geographic determinism (land/sea, Heartland/Rimland etc.). A new geopolitics evaluates geographical knowledge only as one of the many factors influencing geopolitical processes and it might be considered as a continuation of the traditional geopolitics.  Critical geopolitics tries to “approach an object under investigation out of nowhere“, i.e. not to follow any universal or objective truth, and focuses on „the deterritorized threats“ or on the deterritorization process as such.

Is it possible to find a place for outer space in the above construction of different geopolitics? Probably, yes. The academic objective for a geopolitical paradigm would be to theoretically integrate five spaces: land, sea, air, outer space and virtual cybernetic space into a single universal geopolitical code.

Astropolitics and Astropolitik

One of the key works on the fundamentals of the outer space policy, especially when speaking about outer space in geopolitical terms, is  E. C. Dolman‘s book Geopolitics in the Space Age. The book presents concepts of Astropolitics and Astropolitiks: astropolitics is theory, whereas astropolitik is practice.

Comparison of the outer space and continental/land power most frequently is related to the theory of the so called gravitational wells (gravitational forces, influencing the outer space between the Earth and the Moon), the geopolitical scheme of which is futuristic in principle and currently is unrealizable; however it is noteworthy within the context of explanation of the outer space power. E. Dolman divided outer space of the Sun System into four strategic regions (spaces):

1. Earth (Terra) and atmosphere, stretching down to the lowest margin of the outer space (about 100-150 km from the surface of the Earth. This is the so called Low Earth Orbit or LEO).  This region is the most important and frequently equated to the coastal zone of the outer space – launch of cosmic crafts, their tracking, control and maintenance are executed specifically in this region.

2. Terran/Near Earth space stretches from the lowest possible orbit (about 100-150 km from the Earth surface) up to the height (about 36000 km) of the geosynnchronic orbit. This is a space, where all intelligence, communication etc. satellites are currently operating; it is also a potential environment for flight of high distance ballistic missiles.

3. Lunar/Moon space – the outer space between the Earth‘s geosynchronic and Lunar orbits. Currently it is used exceptionally for scientific purposes.

4. Solar space, embracing the entire outer space beyond the Lunar orbit. This region is evaluated as a potential space of resources, new technologies and colonization in the future.

According to E. Dolman, „He who controls the lower orbits controls the near Space around Earth. He who controls that Space dominates the Earth. He who dominates the Earth determines the future of mankind.”

Gravitational abnormalities known as Lagrange Libration Points exist in the outer space between the Earth and the Moon.  According to S. Lagrange there are five points in an orbital configuration, where gravitational forces of the Earth and the Moon are in balance with each other. However, due to the changes in outer space only two out of five points remain in a fixed position. The control of these points is one of the key strategic objectives – the objects in these points practically do not require energy, and fuel would be needed exceptionally for the purpose of getting there. He who controls these points could limit or prevent from the outspread of outer space power of an enemy. The control of Lagrangian points could be compared with the Rimland theory of N. Spykman: he who controls the Rimland, rules Eurasia, he who rules Eurasia, controls the destinies of the world.

In terms of analogues of outer space and sea geopolitics, we should start from D. Cole‘s Panama Canal Theory. According to the theory, strategically important canals exist in outer space, i.e. the points, at which all communication lines will converge. Cosmic stations, asteroids or planets could be the above canals. Their control and defense will have huge military, political and economic advantages.

In general, the geopolitical discourse of the United States reveals several key outer space and sea power analogues, formulated during 7-9 decades of the 20th century: the national welfare and security of the United States historically is based on the sea power of the state,  which is currently being transformed into the outer space power;   therefore effective control and defense of outer space canals are instrumental, as well as strengthening of control of the sea/outer space, and self-deterrence [(at)grasymas??] opportunity.

Quite often it is suggested to compare the concepts of air/outer space power via common factors: control of air space, reception and dissemination of information, establishment of the universal air/outer space strategy, tasks related to strategic paralysis of an enemy etc.

The links of air, sea and land powers with the outer space power in the geopolitical discourse have revealed a specific degree of the geopolitical process, i.e. the problems related to control of outer space. Currently these problems cannot be dissociated from the issues of arms race in outer space and expansion of information dominance.

War and Peace in Outer Space

Virtual cybernetic space takes a proper place in the new geopolitics and  penetrates into all the remaining spaces. What matters in the above context is the purpose (peaceful or military) of this information. This war/peace dichotomy is closely related to the dichotomy of the commercial/public outer space. Initially, outer space was a sphere supervised exceptionally by the states concerned about their military security.  Today commercialization of outer space with the predominant twofold purpose technologies is increasing.

Today only the United States has all opportunities to dominate in outer space. However, according to E.Dolman, this would be a soft and liberal hegemony, which will prevent from war in outer space, since the United States will take the control over everything. Only the ultimate optimists can believe in such a fairy-tale. Correspondingly, if the United States chooses the strategy of dominance in outer space, it will inevitably be confronted with countermeasures of Russia, China and other outer space powers.

While planning activities in outer space, the mankind today has two choices:

a) astropolitik as a continuation of geopolitics (the road to unrestricted confrontation);

b) astropolitik as a continuation of human civilization (the best example is the European outer space program, which is more directed towards research rather than militarization of outer space).

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