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Research Report

Toward a New National Security Space Strategy:: Time for a Strategic Rebalancing

Theresa Hitchens
Joan Johnson-Freese
Foreword by James E. Cartwright
Copyright Date: Jun. 1, 2016
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 70
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. i-ii)
    James E. Cartwright

    Space was once called the “final frontier.” Today, it is a domain that is integral to all parts of human activity on the planet from commerce and entertainment to navigation and defense. As a result, secure and stable access to space is a key component of our everyday lives. Even though we may not appreciate it, access to and the use of space is a vital national interest.

    Increased access to space has made space less stable and secure. As Russia and China augment their space capabilities and the private-sector continues to alter how we get to and operate in...

  2. (pp. 1-4)

    It is déjà vu all over again. In the wake of concerns about Russian and Chinese space activities, and provocative geopolitical actions on the ground, US rhetoric and program attention seem to be once again drifting toward concepts of “domination” and “control” of space as viable space security goals–largely to be achieved through technology and military force application, and renewed zeal for offensive counterspace options. This focus on prepping the US military for war in space is reminiscent of the George W. Bush administration’s 2006 National Space Policy. While not without allure, and even some logic, a strategy heavy...

  3. (pp. 5-7)

    Strategic restraint had prevailed as the baseline US strategy, even during the “space race” years with the Soviet Union, because of a desire to avoid an expensive, and dangerous, space arms race considered unwinnable by either side. That strategy supported restraint of military actions in space, and favored passive military systems to active systems. Even after the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union in 1972, both countries pursued policies of contingent restraint regarding ASAT technology, whereby restraint by one was contingent upon restraint of the other.²The difficult imperative was then, and remains,...

  4. (pp. 9-14)

    Any US national security space strategy must consist of three parts: goals, ways, and means. Goals must be set before effective strategic thought can be put into developing the ways and means to reach those goals. The 2010 National Space Policy states “the United States considers the sustainability, stability, and free access to, and use of, space vital to its national interests.”10 Therefore, it is reasonable to consider that sustainability, stability, and free access to, and use of, space are US policy goals. Stability is a means to achieve sustainability, toward the ability to utilize free access. The same goals...

  5. (pp. 15-23)

    Though it was unofficially used earlier, the 2011 National Security Space Strategy officially introduced the description of space as “congested, contested, and competitive” into the space lexicon, and that description quickly became accepted as fact. However, it took longer to discern what that phrase specifically meant. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy Gregory L. Schulte provided useful definitions in 2012.20 Schulte stated that space is congested by virtue of the quantity of “stuff” in orbit, including both active systems and trackable debris. Space is considered increasingly competitive, based on the growing number of actors in space, including countries,...

  6. (pp. 25-28)

    Inertia should not drive US space security policy. A new US administration taking over the White House presents an opportunity for a rebalancing of US policy to officially correct the tendencies toward “overcorrection” that emerged consequent to the Strategic Portfolio Review.

    While the National Security Council’s recent Strategic Portfolio Review looked at space assets for both defensive and offensive operations, it appears to reflect a worst-case presumption of the threats from Chinese and Russian research and development. As the Strategic Portfolio Review’s assumptions and decisions are classified, it is impossible to fully assess, except based on public diplomacy by top...

  7. (pp. 29-44)

    The need for the United States to engage in meaningful space security dialogue with Russia, and especially China, cannot be overstated. In particular, US-China dialogue has been weak and scattershot, with blame on both sides for a lack of transparency. This makes paramount the use of signaling regarding US “bright lines”–that is, actions by potential adversaries that will provoke negative US responses, military or otherwise. Again, while the geopolitical barriers to dialogue are currently high, the United States must continue to press for such dialogue and leave the door open for any and all diplomatic possibilities, including finding ways...

  8. (pp. 45-47)

    At this point, it is necessary to point out that a large part of the problem of fitting together goals, ways, and means in the national security space domain is the organization and structure of the US national security space community, as well as overarching space governance. There is a plethora of organizational actors–including the intelligence community, the Defense Department, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the State Department–that each have an impact on national space security, but have different priorities and responsibilities. The Department...

  9. (pp. 49-51)

    Even the most well-thought-out space security strategy will flounder if it is not supported by the means to execute it, both in terms of budgetary resources and attention by leadership. Arguably, the Bush administration failed at implementing its national space strategy because of a failure to budget funds to cover the extremely high costs required to meet what were, essentially, unviable goals of space dominance and control. And yet, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter stated in March 2016 that the Pentagon would spend $22 billion on space in 2017; $2 billion of that money will be slated toward space control.81...

  10. (pp. 53-53)

    The next US administration will have the time to undertake a thorough review of both National Space Policy and the underlying National Security Space Strategy. While the risks and threats to safety, sustainability, and security in space are indubitably increasing, there are no immediate threats that require either panic or rushed decision-making. Developing a new NSSS for a changing space environment will require consideration of ends, ways, and means in a proactive, rather than reactive, manner–based on a realistic, holistic understanding of the current and future risk and threat environments. Diplomacy and positive deterrence should be valued and supported...