Editor’s Note: This week, the Secure World Foundation is hosting a lunch discussion regarding an “Examination of the National Security Space Strategy”. As the readers of this blog know, I have a book coming out that deconstructs the fallacies and inadequacies of the NSSS and its related concepts being advocated in the current Administration and some in the career space bureaucracy. They all sound good, until you look at them through real world filters and historical filters. This entry in the blog will be part one in a series that uses a real world school yard analogy to show some of the issues with the NSSS.
“Avoidance”, “Resiliency” as Terms of Strategy???
Recently I read a report put out by Omar Lamrani in STRATFOR entitled “Avoiding a War in Space”. While some of the writing in Stratfor has been interesting and sometimes even brilliant, this piece certainly was a bit of a surprise and a huge disappointment as the author appears to lack a firm understanding of spacepower and a grip on reality of the strategic space environment. As many a strategist or legal scholar would say, words mean things-despite the postmodern push for subjective interpretation to appease various friends and adversaries. As such, before going further, it’s important to understand just how absurd the use of “avoidance” is in the context of war and strategy.
Avoidance is defined as “an act or practice of avoiding or withdrawing from something”[i] if one puts this word in the context of a “war in space”, it could be said that Mr. Lamrani and others in the present Administration, are advancing the notion that the best strategy is to “avoid/withdraw” from participating wars in space or “that extend to space”. If we were to withdraw from wars started by other nations or non-state actors against the United States that extend to space, (given our systems and infrastructure are most numerous constellations), it means they are advocating a position and policy that says the best way to defend American interests is to do whatever possible retreat from spacepower as a tool of our nation.
Here is an analogy using an everyday example…if a school boy is being picked on or beat frequently on his way to school, one way to handle the problem is to “avoid” getting beat up. That means withdrawing oneself (“avoiding”) from the areas that the bully or gang traverses on the path toward the school grounds or taking an alternate (asymmetric) approach to the school to avoid the bully or gang. Does this solve the problem of getting hit and losing freedom of the use of the school grounds and its approaches? Maybe temporarily until the bad kids find out that the good kid in question has been taking an alternate path and in addition to taking over the first approach to the school yard, they then split off and engage the kid again on his new path to school. In short, the kid was afraid of confrontation and was not prepared or willing to stand up to the bully/gang and ceded his freedom of movement to the school grounds to the bad guys. For some reason, people who consider themselves policy experts or space strategists are advocating a position in space policy like this hypothetical school kid. Rather than prepare (i.e. get stronger and prepared to fight) and stand up to the aggressive behavior of the few bad actors in space, they advocate retreat from the high ground of space in the hopes that it will “protect”, but in reality it only endangers more people and territory by ceding freedom of movement of free nations in space.
In another vane of the same thought process, these same people who advocate avoiding the problem, decide that its best to convince the aggressor that it’s important to “act responsibly” in space. Using our school analogy, it would be akin to having the bullied kid bring a list of proposed rules of traversing the path from home to the school that include leaving everyone alone because its “in the best interests of all.”. The bullied kid may be even willing to include some incentives such as, helping the bad actors get good grades through tutoring, if only they would not beat him and his friends up. How would that bully react? He would probably laugh or ignore it and continue to beat up the kid, or he might act like he is going along with him so he could advance his cause and get through school without doing much work in the process. Once the bully gets what he wants however, he resumes beating up the kid. In the strategic environment of space, an environment vital to the American way of life as a whole as well as national defense specifically, promoting a rules of the road or code of conduct that has no force of arms behind it, will end up like this fictional story. A bad actor on the international stage will just ignore it and continue to develop, deploy and use counterspace methods to disrupt, degrade or destroy American spacepower or they might play along to keep the United States from building up the necessary capabilities and strategic fortitude to do what is necessary to actively deter and prevent an attack on our critical space infrastructure. Such is the condition of the present day strategic space environment.
While some have been pushing to be “less reliant upon space” (the retreat scenario discussed above), some have advocated that the best way to move ahead in the strategic space environment is to promote a “resilient” space architecture, indeed many of the current space policy leaders of our nation are pushing just that in official documents and Congressional testimony. However, like much else, it doesn’t make much sense. The summary view of this position is sometimes called “deterrence through denial” where an adversary finds that their intended end state is not going to be achieved given the fact that the space infrastructure is able to survive blows across the counterspace spectrum and continue to conduct its mission. Let’s use our analogy of the school boy and the bully/gang. Resiliency or put another way, making our space architecture more resilient (i.e. allowing for it to absorb hits and bounce back and endure) is like the school boy putting some padding in his clothes to help the hits hurt a bit less while stashing some ibuprofen in his bag to deal with the pain of a post-attack situation trying to enjoy his freedom of movement about the school yard. Or sending another friend of his with his backpack with homework to the school in his place given he has a broken arm and is at home recovering. That other kid will get targeted just as easy as the primary kid who carried the Ibuprofen but found the damage to be worse than he thought. Like many of the other ideas in the present “strategy” it doesn’t solve or address the problem it focuses on the symptoms. Even that isn’t done well.
What is a better alternative? Addressing and accepting the problem and not avoiding the reality of the 21st Century space environment is a good first start. It is not an environment where reversible counterspace attacks and “purposeful interference” MAY exist, it is an environment where they DO exist and have been occurring and growing rates for several years in the commercial and government sectors. The testing and deployment of kinetic counterspace is also something that has been happening and not something that could happen. It is as General Raymond, former Commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Space (JFCC SPACE) once called an “offense dominant domain”. Yet for some reason, authors such as Mr. Lamrani as well as key space policy leaders such as Douglas Loverro and Secretary of the Air Force James have changed their tune to say that space is not an offense dominant domain and war is not something that is happening in space but something that could happen in some distant future (see Loverro’s congressional testimonly to HASC in March 2016, and Secretary James speech at the Space Symposium in April 2016). This type of worldview does not help address the active problem we as a country face today in space and its impact on national security as a whole.
Next we will explore another topic that Mr. Lamrani from Stratfor pushes in his piece on Avoiding a War in Space-That the strength of the United States spacepower is to blame for the situation we face.
[i] Webster’s Dictionary. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/avoidance