Why this network?
Fifty years after the end of the initial Space Race, outer space is again becoming an object of contestation and competition. Space has seen its share of power politics, but past conflicts never escalated beyond a manageable level. However, technological innovation, increasing tensions between spacefaring powers and the growing commercial significance of space raise the escalatory potential of conflicts. The reasons for this are twofold. First, there are more actors and more activity on space. Private launch companies are opening the door for commercial actors and are revolutionizing the market for orbital transport. In addition, more and more states are developing space capabilities. Second, we can see outlines of a renewed space race with military overtones between countries like the United States, China, and Russia, turning outer space into a potential domain of warfare. As geopolitical tensions on Earth rise, major powers re-ideologize space and set off arms races, especially in the field of anti-satellite capacities and similar counterspace technologies. The dual-use nature of most space tech creates further risks of misperceptions spiralling into a ‘hot’ conflict.
The technological, political, military and economic shifts in the use of space are exerting pressure on the existing system of outer space governance (OSG). This creates two threats for peace and security:
- Directly through the emplacement of arms in space and the further securitization of the space domain raising the spectre of war involving space assets.
- Indirectly through the erosion of the existing OSG regime, which – though more concerned with socio-economic issues – has been important in diffusing potential conflicts. Reforming the system of OSG is necessary to retain this function and to make the regime more effective and inclusive.
The German acronym connects the three central terms of the project: Sicherheit (= Security), Technologie (= Technology), Weltraum (= Outer Space). SichTRaum is the place where German and European Outer Space policy is observed, assessed, and critically discussed. The logo reflects this approach: it shows the view through a telescope lens on networks and movements in the outer space sphere.
What does the network want to achieve?
There is a need for an analytically informed discussion about the peaceful and constructive management of these risks. For this, the relevant expertise and contacts between academia and practice need to be strengthened. At the moment, European space policy is clearly oriented towards civilian goals, particularly within the European Space Agency. In its European Space Strategy, the EU Commission focuses on economic and industrial objectives. Space-related issues of defense policy are left to member states, with the exception of cooperative dual-use programmes like Galileo, and member states are slow in developing joint positions on peace and security in space. Germany is representative of this – discussions about space center around its use for science and the economy, rarely about its importance for peace and security. It is very doubtful whether the institutionally fragmented German space policy community has the necessary capabilities to substantially engage in debates about peace and security in space. Given that the German foreign policy’s core aim of a multilateral, cooperative world order cannot be achieved without peace in space, we see a need for scientific policy advice.
The aim of this project is to found a research network entitled “Technological Processes and Security in Space” to bring together the German-speaking community around questions of peace and security in outer space. Given the technologically and politically induced escalatory risks, the main purpose of the network is to aggregate scientific expertise and enter into dialogue with practitioners and policymakers. This creates opportunities for multidisciplinary research collaboration and to recruit younger scholars into the field. The network can also enhance the visibility of participating scholars in public debates and among stakeholders. Participants are also encouraged to engage in policy relevant research by including dialogue with practitioners into our workshops. The network consists of German-speaking experts working on issues of space policy broadly defined. It focuses on the impact of technological processes on peace and security in space. The network directs its output at practice communities, the media and the wider public but also at space research more generally, where perspectives from disciplines like the social sciences, law and peace studies get little attention.