NATO Declares Space ‘Operational Zone,’ Is Space War Inevitable?
Is space about to become a war zone? After the addition of the United States Space Force, NATO is now signaling its own operations in space could be coming.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization foreign ministers declared space an “operational zone” in November but said it had no plans to weaponize it.
The announcement came on Wednesday, November 20 at a meeting in Brussels in which NATO said space will be of equal importance to land, air, sea and cyberspace, Defense News reported.
“This can allow NATO planners to make requests for allies to provide capabilities and services, such as hours of satellite communications,” Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary-General, said.
“Space is part of our daily life here on Earth. It can be used for peaceful purposes. But it can also be used aggressively,” he said.
“Satellites can be jammed, hacked or weaponized. Anti-satellite weapons could cripple communications and other services our societies rely on, such as air travel, weather forecast or banking.
“Space is also essential to the alliance’s deterrence and defense, including the ability to navigate, gather intelligence and to detect missile launches,” Stoltenberg added.
Dangers In Space
NATO said it fears that foreign adversaries have begun operations to weaponize space and that it could present a danger to civilian projects that could threaten the homeland.
“Foreign governments are developing capabilities that threaten others’ ability to use space,” a 2019 U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency assessment, read. “China and Russia, in particular, have taken steps to challenge the United States.”
It said that China “continues to improve its counter space weapons capabilities and has enacted military reforms to better integrate cyberspace, space, and EW into joint military operations.”
China, it said, is responsible for hacking U.S. weather systems and satellite networks and it suspects Russia was involved in 10,000 GPS spoofing incidents that affected 1,30 civilian navigation systems.
NATO said that its operations will strictly be for defensive purposes, promising not to weaponize space the way it has weaponized land, sea and air.
“Our approach will remain defensive and fully in line with international law. NATO has no intention to put weapons in space. But we need to ensure our missions and operations have the right support,” Stoltenberg said.
“But we have to relate to the fact that space is becoming more and more important for our military operations and missions. This is to do with the vulnerability and resilience of our civilian societies because space is so important for navigation, communications and for many other things,” he said.
The key words in that statement are “no intention.” While NATO may have no “intention” to weaponize space, Stoltenberg did not say they will not weaponize space and that is an important distinction. Regardless of NATO’s initial intentions, NATO may find itself going down a slippery slope and, in fact, weaponizing space even for purely defensive means.
It would be tough to believe that NATO is not going to weaponize any area in which it treads because it has done so in the past.
Now that the U.S. has officially passed the Space Force in the House and NATO has declared space operational, we could be, and likely are, on the precipice of a new arms race. This time, where no man has warred before.