Space Race: “To Infinity and Beyond”?

The 5the edition of the Normandy World Peace Forum devotes one of its many debates to the desire that space arouses in states, but also in private space actors.

The central question linked to this fundamental problem can be formulated as follows: can humanity take advantage of the benefits of space without succumbing to aggressive competition that would call into question the principle of “peaceful space activity” (as described in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty ) and would lead to the temptation of the use of force (as defined in Art. 2(4) of the UN Charter)?

Space neutrality: what are we talking about?

The concept of “greed” in space instinctively refers to the concept of “neutrality” of activities in this environment. But the use of the term “space neutrality” is legally questionable. Indeed, in international law the term “neutrality” is used exclusively during an armed conflict to refer to the status of a state or a non-state actor enjoying legal personality. This personified status therefore does not apply to an environment.

The formula “space neutrality” therefore does not refer to neutrality in the legal sense (Hague Convention V, 18 October 1907), but rather to neutrality in the general sense of the term, denoting a state or an intermediate position between two positions.

In this case, it would be an intermediate position in the spectrum of peace and conflict situations in space. If we keep this definition, it is clear that since humans have had access to it, space has never been a factor of neutrality.

Indeed, humans have created services there – military and civilian – that have been factors of strategic, scientific or commercial dominance. Their behavior has generated, willingly or not, an imbalance that defies neutrality. An interesting example is the astronauts. They have always been considered humans “sent for humanity” who allow scientific experiments to be carried out for the benefit of those humans who remain on Earth and perhaps tomorrow for those who will travel the solar system or even beyond. . But in reality, they always defended their country’s flag first and participated in a particularly lively space race. Is there now a race without greed?

So are the Olympic Games, symbolic bearers of peace, neutral and devoid of greed? In fact, this human will, even this need to always go higher, always further, to conquer an unknown and a priori inaccessible world, has never ceased. Some were able to convince themselves of this by observing the sky on a summer night in 2022 in the middle of the mountains, in a place protected from all light pollution … until the parade above their heads by the super constellation of Starlink satellites sent by the US company SpaceX…

This large-scale exploitation of space by private companies can be perceived as an obstacle to neutrality or even a threat to states, but also to many scientists and researchers who question the “monopolizing” nature of such operations in an environment that until recently was , devoid of human traces.

However, it must be remembered that there is a system of international responsibility of states and that space activity adheres to principles that seek to avoid risky behaviour. Thus, even Elon Musk must comply with international law and obtain permission from the launching country for his satellites, in this case the United States, which must then monitor them continuously (1967 Treaty, Art. VI).

But the human imagination sometimes exceeds reason, and the risks of poorly controlled initiatives are legion. Whether governmental (like anti-satellite fire) or private (like sending a Tesla car into space unnecessarily), one wonders if the responsible space authorities have taken the proper measure of their responsibilities.

Hope is still allowed. For several months there have been discussions withinOpen group on reducing threats from space, at the Conference on Disarmament (UNODA, Geneva), between representatives of states and civil society experts, to establish legal standards for responsible behavior in outer space. At the initiative of the United States, a pledge aimed at banning the voluntary destruction of satellites in orbit – thus avoiding the creation of a wealth of debris – was taken by several nations, including France, Canada, New Zealand and Japan.

Finally, although many voices defend this thesis, space is not the Wild West. An international legal framework exists that combines space ambition and peacekeeping as closely as possible, no offense to those who would like to reduce space operations to the subject of a popular novel.

While space neutrality is wishful thinking, humanity is trying to limit space threats. So, to use the metaphor of the Western, if space is to be compared to it anyway, it should not be for its representation of a world without faith or law, as for example in the film Hostiles by Scott Cooper, but for the scenario where a dry and dangerous environments where former enemies will have to show solidarity in order to survive.

Can we separate the desirability of space from a logic of non-peaceful use of it?

On the scale of space, can we talk about infinite desires? Or rather of a coveted infinity? Certainly, always, but for what reasons today? According to General Jean-Marc Laurent, we cannot separate space and desire. Because greed is inherent in the human ambition to develop knowledge, to push boundaries, geographically but also strategically.

The race for the Moon in the 1960s or today the desire to return to it are certainly scientific approaches, but which are primarily the result of human greed (the Artemis program). To dominate in and from space is to dominate on Earth. This was the case yesterday, for observation, surveillance or navigation; it is also valid today, in an age of ultra-connectivity and civil and military space dependence, for “safety and security issues that directly affect our economies and our societies”.

Quite specifically is State Service of Ukraine for Special Communications and Information Protection (SSSCIP) pointed out that a cyber attack launched the day before the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukrainian territory had damaged Ukrainian communications satellites and thus hampered certain military maneuvers. ANSSI, which in France corresponds to Ukraine’s SSSCIP, confirmed for its part:

“The current international tensions caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are accompanied by effects in cyberspace. While the fighting in Ukraine is mainly conventional, ANSSI notes the use of cyber attacks in the context of the conflict. In a digital space without borders, these cyber attacks can affect French entities and it is advisable, without giving in to panic, to anticipate and prepare for them. »

The expert Laetitia Cézari clarifies that “the disruption of a space system, especially when it is caused by deliberate non-kinetic electromagnetic, cyber or physical interference, can have serious consequences and dangerously compromise vital civil, economic and military, as a function of society depends, especially with regard to the humanitarian, financial and commercial sectors”.

However, we will beware of systematically associating human greed with a morally and practically negative form of ambition. Yes, peace in space does not mean doing nothing there. The neutrality of a state or an actor does not equate to a prohibition to desire space or to act there. On the other hand, this greed, which can be a driving force for progress, must be controlled and framed in a legal way, because despite its positive contribution, it can also give rise to dangerous actions.

Thus, space greed is not necessarily a space threat, and conversely, space threats do not automatically translate to space greed: Cyber ​​attacks or interference develop as levers of power, which have always led to military land operations.

We can therefore confirm that the thesis “modern space operations: To infinity and beyond »? has been verified. We could have transformed this maxim and written “towards infinity and below”, but let’s not be Earth-centric and admit that other perspectives are possible, today more than ever. In any case, Buzz Lightyear’s adventures still have a bright future ahead of them, and it will make people happy.

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