NATO pruses further outer space militarization
Defence ministers at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are expected to approve a plan to build a new space centre at the U.S. Air Force base in Ramstein, according to reports.
The creation of a new space centre was on the agenda of the meeting scheduled for 22 October and according to Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, the centre would be built with space capabilities to counter rising threats from other global powers such as China and Russia.
“Space is of great importance for what we can do on the earth — communications, navigation, cell phones, military communications, transmission of data. And, and a lot of activities on the earth at sea and on land is dependent on capabilities in space, not least satellites,” Stoltenberg said, on the first day of the two-day discussion with the alliance’s defence ministers.
China, Russia and the United States have all made huge investments in space technology in recent year, though most of their activities have been kept secret.
Apart from the U.S. Air Force base, Ramstein is also home to NATO’s Air Force High Command and would be used primarily for space observation.
The new space centre would be used to gather intel about possible threats to the alliance’s satellites and would be built into a command centre for better defensive measures. It is also going to be the main point of contact to support NATO missions with satellite images and advanced communication.
“Satellite systems keep our world running in ways many people barely realize. Commerce, weather forecasts, mobile phones and banking all rely on satellites,” said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in a report.
NATO is also planning to develop another centre of excellence mainly for the military space; and countries such as Germany and France have expressed their interest to be the host nation, according to German press agency DPA.
Despite alliance members such as France and the US having already built their own space forces, Stoltenberg stressed NATO’s goal for building the new centre was “not the militarization of space.”
“Our aim is not to militarize space,” said Stoltenberg, “but to increase NATO’s awareness of challenges in space, and our ability to deal with them.”
In 2019, NATO leaders declared space to be the alliance new “area of operation” and the fifth domain after land, sea, air, and cyberspace—which was included in 2016. This move was in response to numerous complaints about the alliance’s protection of its satellite and navigation assets from external threats.
Approximately 80 countries own satellites and private companies are starting to ride on the trend, but NATO’s military does not own its exclusive space technology but must depend on the technical prowess of its members.
Off all the 29 NATO member states, only nine take part in an independent space program and experts say that the announcement tilts towards a more political decision than practical, especially since India, China, Russia and the US have since built strong military defences for countering extraterrestrial attacks.
Of all the European NATO members, only France has created and presented its own method for a national space strategy.
Earlier this year, General Michel Friedling, head of France’s new Space Command, said Galileo, Copernicus and EGNOS—Europe’s satellite systems—are quite susceptible to attacks and must be protected at all time, especially since they are used by both the military and civilians.
“Some nations – including Russia and China – are developing anti-satellite systems which could blind, disable or shoot down satellites and create dangerous debris in orbit. We must increase our understanding of the challenges in space and our ability to address them,” Stoltenberg said.
For now, the military alliance still insists that their approach would remain solely defensive and in compliance with international law.
The 1967 Outer Space Treaty was initially agreed between the UK, US, and the Soviet Union, with 109 countries as parties, and another 23 signing the treaty but not completing ratification.
This law prohibits nations from placing nuclear weapons in space and limits the use of the Moon and all other celestial bodies to only peaceful purposes. It also establishes that space shall be free for exploration and can be used by all nations. However, no nation can claim sovereignty over space or any other celestial body.