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Excerpt on „Militarization and Securitization of Outer Space“

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Excerpt “Militarization and Securitization of Outer Space”

Arne Sönnichsen, M.A. has recently written a chapter on the „Militarization and Securitization of Outer Space” in a compilation on Space Policy, edited by Kai-Uwe Schrogl and Ntorina Antoni, and published by Edgar Elgar. Here, he presents an excerpt on some of the basic findings of the chapter.

What is the issue?

Contemporary spaceflight ambitions are said to be affected by three major trends: commercialization, democratization, and militarization. (Pekkanen, 2019) While this is most certainly true, recent debates that highlight the danger from militarization and securitization usually omits the fact that the military has always been involved in spaceflight and that securitization is a long-standing issue of spaceflight. Especially the Space Race of the 1950s and 1960s was seen through the lens of national security by the two superpowers and heavily involved their respective militaries – covered by the ‘white flag’ of civilian spaceflight. Over the course of the Space Age, the involvement of the military was limited to uses for C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance), or what has been dubbed passive militarization. In this light, the creation of the US Space Force is not a distinct turn toward active militarization, in fact, it was merely an administrative act of switching badges from the US Air Force to the new US Space Force. However, the change is accompanied by the perception that a new wave of militarization is emerging, one that might involve active militarization – the use of weapons in or from space, or: weaponization.[1] With recent tests of counterspace capabilities[2] such as India’s DA-ASAT, Mission Shakti of 2019, the presumed Russian co-orbital Kosmos 2543 of 2019-2020 (Pfrang and Weeden, 2020), and of course the Russian ASAT of November 2021, active militarization is still hot.

In this light, it appears noteworthy to question the cause for these recent developments.

What are the findings?

Two reasons are of major importance. First, closely linked to the diversification of space actors in general, is the strategic importance of space due to geopolitical reasons. The idea of a ‘space club’ (Paikowsky, 2017) applies to most space-faring countries in one way or another. USA and China struggle for a global leadership role and – history repeats, at least partly, itself – space is seen as an important area to showcase their technological prowess. Other countries face a more regional nuanced security dilemma: India or Japan are concerned by China’s emergent geopolitical attitudes and further the militarization of their respective space programs. Even countries or regions, that were traditionally more inclined to focus on civilian spaceflight such as Europe and ESA are concerned with space security. So, we can witness, that a democratization of spaceflight is pushing the importance of space security and thus militarization.

Second, space technologies are much more widely available and used to conduct space operations by an increasing number of space-faring actors. This involvement and – as Pekkanen suggest – democratization is not limited to civilian space agencies such as NASA and military agencies such as the US Department of Defense / the US Air Force and their respective counterparts in other countries, but is complimented by a number of private-commercial actors seeking to take part in spaceflight. These private-commercial actors, who push the trend to commercialization further, are itself the reason for these changes, as the trend of New Space is becoming the major source of innovative space technologies such as reusable launchers and more widely available space technologies. Particularly noteworthy is the drop in launch prices due to the advances in space technology by private-commercial actor SpaceX (Jones, 2018). Dramatically, this shift is accompanied by a prominent absence of real progress in outer space governance. While existing frameworks such as the Conference on Disarmament’s PAROS (Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space), the Russian-Chinese PPWT (Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects), and the European ICoC (International Code of Conduct) are in a gridlock, no governance to harness these threats are in place.

What are solutions?

While the issues mark the two major driving points for the recent developments, we are far from helpless to thwart these threats. Science diplomacy projects (The Royal Society, 2010) such as the ISS have proven an excellent project to keep involved parties engaged in diplomatic contact. Common projects such as the Moon Village, proposed by ESA’s then director general Jan Wörner could equally allow for a common project that might allow science diplomacy and bring about a common narrative for spaceflight in the 21st century.

[1] On active and passive militarization read (Sariak, 2017)

[2] The Secure World Foundation lists the five following counterspace capabilities: direct ascent anti-satellite (da-ASAT), RPO/OOS (space stalker), electronic/cyber, Space Situational Awareness (SSA). (Weeden and Samson, 2021)


Paikowsky D (2017) The Power of the Space Club. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pekkanen SM (2019) Governing the New Space Race. AJIL Unbound 113: 92–97.

Pfrang K and Weeden B (2020) Russian Co-Orbital Anti-Satellite Testing.

Sariak G (2017) Between a Rocket and a Hard Place: Military Space Technology and Stability in International Relations. Astropolitics 15(1): 51–64.

The Royal Society (2010) New Frontiers in Science Diplomacy: Navigating the Changing Balance of Power.

Weeden B and Samson V (2021) Global Counterspace Capabilities: An Open Source Assessment.


About the author

Arne Sönnichsen, M.A., is research assistant and PhD candidate at the Chair of International Politics and Development at University of Duisburg-Essen and coordinator of the SichTRaum network. His thesis deals with the impact of technologies on international governance.

Full chapter can be found here: https://www.e-elgar.com/shop/gbp/a-research-agenda-for-space-policy-9781800374737.html

Sönnichsen, Arne (2021): Militarization and Securitization of Outer Space. In: Kai-Uwe Schrogl, Christina Giannopapa und Ntorina Antoni (Hg.): A Research Agenda for Space Policy. Cheltenham: Edgar Elgar, S. 89–102.

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