Jul 15, 2020 in Research

Militarization of Space


In general, scientific progress has allowed to accomplish great things in the modern world. People were able to split the atom, manage weather and climate change, fly into space, and invent the Internet. The military sector has undergone changes as well. Scientists all over the world have been inventing combat missiles, anti-aircraft guns, bio-chemical and nuclear weapons, etc. It is clear that such a force directed at people can easily destroy them. Moreover, today’s world is marked by a new wave of the endless arms race intensified by the struggle of the principles and ideologies of the East and the West. One of the most serious threats fueled by this struggle is the militarization of space.

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Problem Justification

The arms race between the major states has been underway for a long time. The rapid development of space technology has allowed spacefaring countries to conduct arms race in the space sector. Prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the main competing countries in this area were such superpowers as the United States of America (USA) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Now, many countries have access to space, thereby creating a twofold challenge. On the one hand, the more countries go into space, the more tight international cooperation becomes. On the other hand, it is more difficult to control the space activities of all the states. Therefore, the use of space weapons in an armed conflict could simply be a matter of time, thereby designating space as a possible battlefield.

Dozens of nations have already launched hundreds and thousands of spy satellites. In 1957, the USSR developed the world’s first intercontinental ballistic missile, namely the R-7. The missile posed real nuclear threat to the United States. All these military and political activities in space indicate that the main objective of any country is to seize and hold political power in outer space, while all the tools are aimed at the possible destruction of humans rather than their protection.

The militarization of space also implies the placement of different types of weapons in an orbit or outer space. Even a simple test of China’s anti-satellite weapons caused a strong negative reaction in the international arena, despite the assurances of the Chinese government that the tests were not directed against any party. An active use of anti-satellite weapons or other space arms could trigger an outer-space arms race, which may pick up speed extremely quickly. The international awareness of the profitability of space exploration and the emergence of space assets guarantees the functioning of the space infrastructure, defense capability, and, as a consequence, national security in certain countries. The current situation is causing concerns that these activities may become an Achilles’ heel of the state.

The problem lies in the following contradiction. In spite of the destructiveness of political decisions that lead to the military use of space, there are no clear steps for preventing the militarization of space. The states that signed the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 did not want to exclude the militarization of outer space from the scope of possible activities by prohibiting the placement of weapons of mass destruction and bypassing conventional weapons (UNOOSA). Despite the imperfection of the legal framework, international policy tools could regulate space activities of the states by setting the key parameters, but not strict rules of space exploration. Such parameters would make spacefaring activities more predictable and transparent. Moreover, they could help solve many security issues. However, the abuse of military space technology and its subsequent evolution is still possible due to the legal gaps in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. There is no confidence that a particular state does not intend to place harmful weapons in space.

The Way of Preventing the Problem

One way to prevent excessive militarization and weaponization of outer space is an amendment of the treaty on outer space, which would satisfy the interests of all or most of the international parties. The legal regulation of space activities is a key element that will ensure the stable development of astronautics. The signing of a more comprehensive treaty requires certain conditions that would rule out distrust on the international arena. Space policy of every country is different and unique since it corresponds to the peculiarities of each constitutional system as well as the technological and economic peculiarities of the state. It also depends on a number of factors and expresses the aspirations and goals of stakeholders. However, the interest of communities can be representing diverse and sometimes conflicting economic, social or political aims. These differences can pose dangers to the proper use of space innovations.

It is obvious that on one hand, a particular space policy can satisfy all stakeholders’ interests within one country. On the other hand, it may not coincide with the interests of another country related to the same policy. However, the aim of national security is common to all nations. Thus, the field of space activities is at risk of serious conflicts largely due to the disagreements about the issues of national security.

In order to understand the intentions of states, not only their actions in the international arena over the past years should be taken into account. What is more, the text of the treaties and agreements on various aspects of space activities, the official documents of the space agencies of different countries, and space powers’ white papers on national defense have to be assessed as well. With the help of such approach, one can reveal the true motives of the national space programs, because they reflect the roles of space technology in the national security of a particular country. The main emphasis in this regard is put on three major space powers, namely the United States, China, and Russia. Their activities in the outer space affect all aspects of space policy and continue to serve as a decisive factor in the activities of new spacefaring countries.

The United States

The United States’ first law on space activities was passed in the same year as the first American satellite was launched. It is still in effect and minor amendments have been made to it throughout the years. The current space strategy of the US National Security is defined for the next few years of the development of foreign and domestic policies in the space sector. This strategy also generates responses to the current and future challenges faced by the US Department of Defense, the US Intelligence Community, or any other agency that is related to space activities.

The US National Space Policy should not be dealt with separately from the military strategy and national defense strategy of the country, since the US space systems have become an essential part of the country’s combat potential. For example, the robust actions of military satellites constellations have made the hostile conduct more common. The use of satellite navigation systems has improved the characteristics of high-precision weapons, the quality of organization of reconnaissance, and air support.

Any ability to reduce the effectiveness of the spacecraft or disable ground-based systems can pose a threat to the safety of the United States. At the moment, the risk for the US space systems is minimal, but it may increase in the long run due to the development of such non-conventional and asymmetric methods of struggle as terrorism and insurgency. They can seriously challenge the US security interests in combination with the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Furthermore, such major space nations as China will gain more power in international affairs and force the United States to adjust its strategy with regard to the space actions of other nations.


The Chinese space program is built on the principles that govern the state, its achievements, goals, major tasks for the future, and the measures taken to achieve them. The opacity of the Chinese military and space programs, the lack of information about the original budget for the space industry, and the Chinese intentions to increase the money spent on space exploration are a matter of concern for many states. Moreover, some experts believe that China’s military modernization could cause destabilization in the whole world, since it is obvious that China will develop conventional weapons and strengthen its military reserves by developing the space-based component.

The desire of major spacefaring countries such as Russia and the United States to lead a long strategic dialogue with the People’s Republic of China is caused by the willingness to influence its political decisions. From 2001 until 2006, China has signed agreements on cooperation in the use of space and joint space projects with eight space powers. Despite the relative transparency of China’s space activities, the reasons for cooperation with this country in the field of space exploration are the rapid development of space technology and the benefits from the use of space, namely internal stability, economic growth, and national security.


Russian is another major space power, which plays an important role in space exploration. Unlike the Soviet Union, which had no legislative regulation of space activities, the law of Russian Federation “About Space Activity” attempts to fine-tune the organization of space activities. In particular, it provides the economic conditions for its implementation, helps to solve the problems of space infrastructure, and ensures the safety of space activities as well as international cooperation. 

During the 1990s, the Russian military space assets were outdating, while the Russian Ministry of Defense did not have sufficient financial resources to replace the old and worn-out spacecrafts. However, the current Russian space program covers all areas of space-related activities of the country from creating the manned space crafts and developing space probes to increasing the number of satellites in an orbit. Thus, Russia poses no less a threat of militarization of space than the United States or China.

The Current State of Affairs

It is too soon to comment on the constant production, systematic testing, and deployment of space weapons. However, all of these outcomes could well be achieved in the coming decades. For example, US Air Force has launched a reusable unmanned spacecraft X-37b. The activities of X-37b in the space have remained a secret for seven and a half months. Some Chinese media speculated that this spacecraft was designed for the transportation of space weapons into the orbit. The United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research did not rule this speculation out after the launch of the X-37b either. Moreover, such a spacecraft could hit any target on Earth with the utmost precision within an hour. However, there is no evidence that such systems were officially permitted.

So far, there are no weapons in the outer space, but the situation can change in the longer term, because the international agreements are imperfect. The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space prohibits the placing of nuclear weapons and military bases in the outer space. However, this restriction does not apply to conventional weapons. 


The growing reliance on space systems today indicates that security in the world is inextricably linked to the security in the outer space. Therefore, space systems should not become a cause of disagreement among the states. Space activities should be subject to a single universal law in the same way as the traffic code regulates road safety. Therefore, there is a need to undertake more comprehensive initiatives that would ban the placement of weapons in the outer space. A treaty that contains such bans can be adopted only if they meet the expectations of the governments on the issues of the militarization of outer space. However, one can make a conclusion about the impossibility of signing a new treaty about the restrictions on the use of outer space in the modern conditions. Apparently, this process would stop the militarization and rule out the possibility of placing weapons in the outer space. These decision are extremely unlikely at this stage because of the political and economic development of the humankind. Obviously, the nations will not be willing to weaken their armies by depriving them of the space-based component, which can improve the combat capacity and ensure national security by military means. The reason is the increased use of space systems for national security purposes, which in turn is largely dependent on the military capabilities of a state.


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