Some Thoughts on the Space Deterrence Section of the Public Report of the Commission on National Security Space Defense and Protection

Like many of you space fans out there, I was excited to read several of the reports coming out this past year dealing with space defense issues such as Center for Security Policy, Hudson Institute and Atlantic Council, but with some minor areas…I was disappointed in what the results of these studies came up with. When I heard that the National Academies put out a public report on National Security Space Defense and Protection…I was thinking…this should be interesting…and it was.. but…still disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great improvement over the Eisenhower Center’s study, the NSSS and other follow on documents such as Atlantic Council’s report, but not what I was hoping for.

The report’s section on space deterrence was of special interest to me given my background working with the topic and writing about it. Also, given the interest of Congress in developing and fielding a sound deterrence strategy , I figured this had to be an answer to those pushes toward a deterrent with real capabilities and strategic communications behind it.

The report speaks well of the main traditional components of deterrence: credibility, capability, and strategic communications (otherwise known as declaratory policy). Specifically they said…”Effective deterrence is classically based on three principles: 1) credibility often associated with a state’s perceived resolve or political will that a threated response can and will be executed if a red line is crossed; 2) possession of coercive capability sufficient and appropriate to hold an adversary’s valued assets at risk, and to implement a threatened response to an unwanted action; and 3) the ability to communicate to a potential adversary what actions are to b e avoided and the nature of the intended response (punishment).” All of this, sounds great and I was very happy to see it. They even have a great section that sort of alludes to the fact that space is now part of our critical infrastructure and they stated that deterrence non only requires “an understanding of an adversary’s doctrine, organization and war plans, but calls for insight into what the adversary desires and fears..” They seem to advocate for a tailored approach to space deterrence, something I argue for in my book. This was great to see.

Where I was disappointed, was they didn’t specify what types of capabilities were needed to counter the threat posed by adversary weapons (reversible or irreversible). They ended a very good paragraph by stated that we needed “capabilities that improve the resilience of space systems.” Sigh. I am not opposed to resiliency, but while the report speaks to the importance of capability in order to have the credibility to “punish” and deter an adversary from attack (not defining what that means either), they skip the part that is needed in the discussion…how to ensure that the credibility is presented in strategic communication/declaratory policy? Perhaps that wasn’t their goal…but it would have been very useful to get beyond stating the obvious about what makes for good deterrence but not providing the full analysis of WHAT capability provides the best means for holding at risk what the adversary might hold dear? Saying that it requires all instruments of national power is nothing new. Its a fine statement, but the purpose of credibility while approaching a great answer, fell short.

I am going to re-read it and hope I missed something. If I did I will update my statements here. If I didn’t, I may craft up an article expanding upon my own personal research into this topic and see if maybe I can contribute to the discussion in some meaningful way. This is important for America. We need to get things moving on this based on real deterrent capability, not just things we have that COULD be changed into ASAT weapons or retaliatory options. We need something we can clearly show, demonstrate and use if needed.

More to follow…



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