A New Space Age Demands International Cooperation, Not Competition or ‘Dominance’

A New Space Age Demands International Cooperation, Not Competition or ‘Dominance’
The Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft launches carrying a Russian-American crew of three, bound for the International Space Station, Baikonur, Kazakhstan, March 15, 2019 (NASA photo by Bill Ingalls via AP Images).

Fifty years after Apollo 11 astronauts first walked on the moon, the world is entering a new Space Age. Outer space, a domain once reserved for the great powers, is democratizing. New “space-faring” nations and private corporations are entering the final frontier, taking advantage of breakthrough technologies and lower financial barriers. The possibilities for humanity are immense. They include new opportunities for communication, for observing and understanding the Earth’s natural systems, for exploring the solar system and the heavens beyond, for exploiting space-based resources, and for constructing planetary defense systems to protect the planet from catastrophic collisions with near-Earth objects—asteroids, comets—and other celestial hazards.

Realizing these objectives, however, will require a broad international commitment to maintaining outer space as a stable, open and rule-bound commons. Sovereign countries must collectively manage the dilemmas of growing interdependence and agree to keep their geopolitical rivalries in check. As the Earth’s orbit becomes more congested, the world urgently needs a more robust regulatory regime to manage space traffic, mitigate space debris, regulate dual-use technologies like laser arrays, and maintain a sufficient radio frequency spectrum for satellite use. The primary challenge is to construct such a system without stifling private sector innovation. The second overriding objective is to ensure that intergovernmental collaboration on common space issues trumps zero-sum strategic competition.

Unfortunately, the country best placed to lead such a renaissance in multilateral cooperation, the United States, seems determined to pursue a unilateral course in outer space. In proposing his new “Space Force,” President Donald Trump framed the U.S. objective as one of “dominance.” More recently, ostensibly in response to China’s Chang’e 4 lunar mission, Vice President Mike Pence declared a “renewed American presence” on the moon to be a “vital strategic goal.” The stage could be set for a Cold War-style space race that overwhelms any multilateral cooperation.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.