In the same STRATFOR article written by Mr. Omar Lamrani, the author states that “The current dependence on space…could give adversaries incentive to attack its infrastructure in orbit.” This entry will discuss this false notion that military dominance in space or at least the capability for offensive deterrence breeds war and vulnerability breeds peace.
It’s not the dependence on space or its “strength” in space that gives adversaries “incentive to attack [U.S] infrastructure in orbit”, it’s our vulnerabilities that create that incentive. Yet for some reason, people have viewed strength as the catalyst for war rather than its deterrent and view vulnerability as a measure of security. As one space writer put it, “Deterrence is by no means assured, it could break down by conscious choice or by accidents, uncontrolled events, or inadvertence…Mutual vulnerability in space could serve, in part, to keep warfare in space from occurring.”[i]
One of the problems with this view is that if one looks into the writings of some of the perceived future and some argue present adversaries (China for example) one will see that their doctrines and strategy for warfare extending to space is not because of our strength but because of our weakness, or put another way our inability to defend our critical space infrastructure. “Soft ribs” is one phrase that is used by Chinese military strategists to describe what is the perception and reality of the United States in space. Yes, we have tremendous capabilities and yes we have a huge dependence upon critical space infrastructures as part of our American way of diplomacy, economics, information security and military force projection and defense, but all of these reliance are not defendable against the threats abounding and being tested in the counterspace spectrum, especially those of kinetic ASATs being tested by the Russians and the Chinese. It is difficult to promote “mutual vulnerability” when vulnerabilities are not viewed as a means toward greater security by these two potential adversaries. The Chinese are averse to the Western concept of “transparency” as it highlights the weaknesses of one’s capabilities to potential adversaries where uncertainty in the mind of one’s adversary would prove more advantages than the olive branch of highlighting that weakness. In addition, the leadership of those two nations Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin do not appear to embrace the idea of vulnerability as they have advocated for restoration of the pride and strength of their two nations, indeed superiority is a more realistic goal than what many are writing falsely in defense newspapers and journals these days.
An analogy from nature, would be this. Do cheetahs in the wild of Africa search for the strongest predator to attack? Do they attack the strength of a strong, healthy pack of animals? No. They typically go for the vulnerable or weak. Why? It takes less energy to chase down and kill that animal because either its sick, smaller or just not fast enough to escape the speed and agility of the cheetah. In space, its similar. Nation-states and non-state actors with counterspace capabilities will not target the strong parts of an alliance or a nation’s military forces, but will search out asymmetric areas of vulnerability to hit and hit hard.
The United States is vulnerable in space because we are choosing to be. We are creating the open gates for a full on assault on our nation’s center of gravity that spacepower provides us and our allies. It is very difficult to defend assets without a deterrence policy based on capabilities and the political will to understand that space is an offense dominant domain. Because its offensive dominant, defense may require offensive acts (the Chinese call this active defense) in order to prevent the denial, degradation or destruction of critical space infrastructure. The goal is not to avoid a war in space, the goal should be deterrence (actively) with the political will and military force prepared to actively deny successful first strike instability on the part of our adversaries.
Finally, Mr. Lamrani stated also that “Washington’s dependence on space infrastructure reflects the United States’ dominance in space.” Not so much. Dependence and dominance are two different things. Our dependence is based on the strategic utility and force multiplication that spacepower provides to any nation, especially a nation such as the United States with the international responsivities it holds within treaties, trade agreements and military alliances. Dominance requires sufficient strength to give pause to other nation states from acting upon one’s nation via military attack. This has been true in many areas, however, in space…there hasn’t been a need in the minds of many to develop a space defense network or as the Chinese refer to it a “space attack network” given the post-Cold War appearance of sanctuary in orbital space. This has not and is not a true assessment, and now that our “soft ribs” are exposed, some nations are capitalizing on it while we stand by attempting to “deter” through non deterrence means such as “norms of responsible behavior”, “entanglement” or “transparency and confidence building measures”. These things are not bad in and of themselves or of a complete strategic framework but they are not deterrents and do not take the place of a sound national defense strategy for space.
This notion that strength breeds attack and vulnerability breeds peace needs to be fought and fought hard until the American public once again sees the importance and need for a robust national security space architecture and strategy before we fall further and further behind in a space environment that is signaling the alarms of first strike instability to our detriment and that of our allies.
Next entry will dive further into space deterrence and exploration into Mr. Lamrani’s interesting phrase “reinforcing deterrence”
[i] Krepon, Michael. “A Code of Conduct for Responsible Space-Faring Nations”. Space Security and Global Cooperation. IDSA, New Delhi. 2009. P. 56