On 17 January, NATO released its space policy.
The document states: “Potential adversaries are increasing their own use of space, thereby extending their ability to project power over greater distances, with increased precision, speed and effectiveness. They are also using space capabilities to track NATO and Allies’ forces, exercises, and other activities. Satellite navigation and commercial services are also used for planning and targeting by potential adversaries, including by non-state actors. The capabilities being developed by potential adversaries could be used against the Alliance in order to, inter alia:
- Hold space assets at risk, thereby complicating NATO’s ability to take decisive action in a crisis or conflict;
- Deny or degrade Allies’ and NATO space-based capabilities critical to battlespace management and situational awareness and the ability to operate effectively in a crisis or conflict;
- Create impacts on Allies’ space systems that are damaging or disruptive to economic or public life and violate the principle of free use of space, yet fall below the thresholds of threat of force, use of force, armed attack or aggression.”
It doesn’t actually say who NATO’s adversaries might be, but there is no doubt that it is primarily referring to Russia, since China is far away. It also makes no mention of the fact that Russia has always been opposed to the militarisation of space and has proposed drawing up an agreement to that effect.
According to the new strategy, NATO’s approach to space will focus on the following key roles:
“a. Integrating space and space-related considerations into the delivery of NATO’s core tasks: collective defence, crisis management and, where appropriate, cooperative security;
- Serving as a forum for political-military consultations and information sharing on relevant deterrence and defence-related space developments, with a view to informing the Alliance’s situational awareness, decision-making, readiness and posture management across the spectrum of conflict. Such consultations could cover threats, challenges, vulnerabilities and opportunities, and take into account the development of legal and behavioural norms in other fora;
- Ensuring effective provision of space support and effects to the Alliance’s operations, missions and other activities;
- Facilitating the development of compatibility and interoperability between Allies’ space services, products and capabilities.”
Space must be seen as an integral part of NATO’s broad approach to deterrence and defence, using all the tools at NATO’s disposal to provide the Alliance with a wide range of options to respond to any threats, no matter where they may come from.
To achieve this goal, NATO will:
– consider a number of potential options, for Council approval, across the conflict spectrum to deter and defend against threats or attacks on Allies’ space systems, as appropriate and in line with the principles and tenets outlined in the policy;
– develop a common understanding of concepts such as the role of space in crisis or conflict;
– as part of efforts to increase the readiness and ability of the Alliance to operate decisively across all operational domains (land, maritime, air, and cyber), give due consideration to the role of space as a key enabler for operational domains, as well as for NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence, and, for Allies concerned, nuclear deterrence;
– while the resilience and survivability of Allies’ space systems is a national responsibility, consider ways to improve space resilience Alliance-wide, including through the sharing of best practices, and by using Allies’ redundant space capabilities to increase troop numbers;
– develop guidelines on how to enable and ensure NATO’s access to space data, products, services, and capabilities.
It is likely that the next step for NATO will be the mandatory militarisation of space. Chances are this will happen in secret and we’ll only find out about it after the fact.
One of the reasons NATO’s allies have been unwilling to discuss military and space issues publicly is that, with the exception of France and the UK, many European counties have traditionally been either deeply uneasy about or flatly against the idea of space warfare – especially offensive action. In fact, in a speech given in August 2019, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg found it necessary to declare that NATO’s declaration of space as an allied operational domain was “not about the militarization of space”.
It is therefore likely that France and Britain will initiate a more aggressive space strategy within NATO’s European wing. There is also a possible role for Germany.
France, in early 2020, and Germany, in late 2019, joined the US-led Combined Space Operations initiative. The initiative was launched by the Pentagon back in 2014 and taken over by the US Space Force after its creation. In fact, it was an expansion of the Five Eyes intelligence community, which the US media openly wrote about a couple of years ago.
In November 2019, NATO declared space to be an operational domain to ensure a coherent approach to the integration of space into NATO’s overall deterrence and defence strategy. And in October 2020, NATO created the NATO Space Center at Allied Air Command in Ramstein, Germany. NATO is also setting up a Space Center of Excellence in Toulouse, France.
In 2021, France led its first multinational military space exercise, with Germany, Italy and the US, marking the country’s efforts to re-vamp its forces and operations in order to meet 21st century threats.
The exercise shows the French government’s intention to reach for a higher “orbit” as a sovereign state so that it will be able to cope with any future space conflict. Up to now, Paris has been a participant in America’s space wargames.
The AsterX exercise took place in Toulouse from 8 to 12 March. It was referred to by General Michel Friedling, head of the French Space Command, as a “stress test” for the country’s space command processes and systems. A tactical exercise designed to train and prepare space combatants, AsterX simulated an international crisis involving no less than 18 different space events and scenarios ranging from an attack on a French satellite to space debris threatening civilian populations and interference with allied satellite communications.
This development is in America’s interests. After all, accusations regarding the militarisation of space will be directed at NATO members now, too, even if there are only a few countries pushing such an agenda. And Brussels will brazen it out by pretending there’s a need to improve collective defence and to protect against potential adversaries.