The New Space Race

According to the RIA news agency, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Viktorovich Lavrov, made a statement on Monday saying the United States’ plans to deploy weapons in space would have a devastating effect on the current security balance in space. He also stated that Russia does not have plans to solve problems in space by using weapons. This statement comes shortly after the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) released an extensive report regarding military expansion in space and specifically regarding the “weaponization of space” by China and Russia. They specifically reported intelligence on the development of capabilities which include cyberspace threats, directed energy weapons, and threats to orbital space systems. Capabilities stemming from China and Russia’s development of laser weapons and ground-based anti-satellite missiles. Russia has been in the process of procuring a modified version of the Russian MiG-31, a supersonic near-space interceptor meant to intercept and destroy satellites.


The United States has also sent brazen signals to the international community of military mobilization in space. In January of 2020, the U.S. became the first nation to establish an independent space force, a new service branch of the U.S. armed forces. The Space Force is a designated umbrella branch within the Department of the Air Force. According to its official mission statement, the Force’s “responsibilities include, developing military space professionals, acquiring military space systems, maturing the military doctrine for space power, and organizing space forces to present to our Combatant Commands.” There is no denial that the U.S. is preparing its space program for military use, and if Russia and China are developing armed capabilities in space, the potential of armed conflict in outer space in the near future is highly feasible.


Statements from Russia and the United States both express concerns about space militarization from both sides. According to CNBC, Russian President, Vladimir Putin made a statement in December regarding Russian concerns of U.S. competitiveness in space: “for preserving strategic supremacy in this field the United States is accelerating creation of its space forces, which are already in the process of operative preparations.” These statements were related to prior statements Putin made in November, in which he was concerned about NATO’s attempts to militarize outer space.  Putin has expressed his opposition to militarization in space but has also stated, “the march of events requires greater attention to strengthening the orbital group and the space rocket and missile industry in general.” These comments occurred after NATO added an additional operational domain for its military alliance, consisting of air, sea, land, cyber and now space. During a meeting of foreign ministers in late November, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced, “space is part of our daily life here on Earth. It can be used for peaceful purposes. But it can also be used aggressively,” and that, “making space an operational domain will help us ensure all aspects are taken into account to ensure the success of our missions.” In addition, she adds “NATO has no intention to put weapons in space. We are a defensive alliance.” Although NATO officials have clarified that their mobilization in space is for defense purposes only, from the perspective of America’s rival, it’s viewed as a military buildup in preparation for potential conflict.


According to the newly appointed commander of the Space Force, John Raymond, a pair of Russian spacecrafts had been allegedly shadowing American spy satellites hundreds of miles above the earth’s surface in January. Russia’s Foreign Ministry denied Washington’s claims and clarified that its satellites were “inspector” spacecrafts engaged in an experiment rather than as weapons threatening American satellites. But Russia’s flirtatious aggression in space combined with the current U.S. administration’s eagerness to militarize, could be the provocation of a new arms race. The primary deterrent preventing an arms race between the two nations is the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), a bilateral treaty signed in 1991 to limit the development and deployment of nuclear warheads. The last treaty was signed in 2009 and expires in 2021 but the treaty can be extended for another five years by mutual agreement. Last year, Vladimir Putin warned that nothing could prevent another arms race and the subsequent damage to international security if the treaty was not renewed. With the rapid military development in space, it isn’t unfathomable for either nation to eventually develop the capability to deploy nuclear weapons from space. Having any nation with nuclear capabilities in space is a threat to international security and therefore renewing the START treaty is essential in limiting an arms buildup and should be the primary diplomatic focus between Russia and the U.S. regarding policy concerning bilateral security.