China, Russia, and the Geopolitics of Space - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
China, Russia, and the Geopolitics of Space

The Global Times, the English-language mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), reports that China and Russia will sign a new five-year space cooperation agreement. The report states that the two countries have joined forces “to achieve new heights in the sphere of space exploration,” including the creation of a lunar surface station. The report further notes that in March of this year, China’s national space agency signed a memorandum of understanding with its Russian counterpart. This was followed in November by the signing of the “Russian-Chinese Roadmap for Cooperation in Satellite Navigation.” That same month, Russia tested a direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) missile that successfully hit a Russian satellite and, according to R. Lincoln Hines of the Air War College, endangered the crew aboard the International Space Station. Hines notes that while the U.S. condemned the Russian ASAT test, China remained silent. China, like Russia, has ASAT weapons. The Sino-Russian geopolitical challenge to the U.S.-led world order extends to outer space.

Classical geopolitics — the works of Halford Mackinder, Alfred Thayer Mahan, Nicholas Spykman, Colin S. Gray, and others — focused on the dichotomy of land power and sea power, and later added the air power dimension in assessing the global balance of power. In 2002, Everett C. Dolman, of the School of Advanced Airpower Studies, published Astropolitik: Classical Geopolitics in the Space Age. Dolman described Astropolitik as “the extension of … theories of global geopolitics into the vast context of the human conquest of outer space.” Dolman wrote: “Even as states publicly denounce the use of violence and force in space operations, all spacefaring states … have military missions, goals, and contingency space-operations plans.”

Dolman’s use of “Astropolitik” brings to mind Bismarck’s Realpolitik as examined by August Ludwig von Rochau (who coined the term), and the German geographers in the 1920s and 1930s, led by Karl Haushofer, who wrote about Geopolitik. Space competition among the great powers must be viewed through the lens of hard-headed realism. Astropolitik, Dolman writes, “describes the geopolitical bases for power in outer space, and offers suggestions for dominance of space through military means.”

Even before Dolman’s book appeared, Colin Gray in 1996 wrote an article entitled “The Influence of Space Power upon History” (mimicking the title of Mahan’s most famous sea power book). Gray defined “spacepower” as “the ability to use space while denying reliable use to any foe.” Gray urged his fellow strategists to analyze spacepower as they had previously analyzed land, sea, and air power, and to integrate outer space into the analyses of the global balance of power.

In one sense, the geopolitics of outer space have been with us since the advent of missile technology during the Second World War. The German V-2 ballistic missile effectively launched the space age, and geopolitical competition ever since has included intercontinental ballistic missiles, space satellites, anti-satellite weapons, anti-ballistic missile systems, and other military space projects and technologies. President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) helped bring the Cold War to a successful end. And under President Trump, the United States established the U.S. Space Force in December 2019, whose mission is “to protect U.S. and allied interests in space and to provide space capabilities to the joint force.” This mission includes educating and developing military space professionals, organizing space forces, and updating spacepower military doctrine.

R. Lincoln Hines notes that “China and Russia have shared interests that will deepen their cooperation in space,” and those shared interests include an attempt to counterbalance U.S. military power. “Using counterspace weapons,” Hines writes, “Russia and China can threaten American satellites, potentially deterring American military action or denying the United States space-enabled advantages (e.g., communications, intelligence, reconnaissance, and precision-guided munitions) in the event of a conflict.” As noted previously in TAS, two recent novels of future wars between the U.S. and a Sino-Russian alliance portray Chinese space attacks on American space assets at the outbreak of war that cripple our military forces’ ability to communicate with each other and with political leaders in Washington.

Hines, however, also sees fault lines in the Sino-Russian space relationship, including nationalism, mutual distrust, and competing interests elsewhere in the world. It would behoove the Biden administration to exploit these potential fissures in the China-Russia relationship the way that President Nixon and Henry Kissinger did in the early 1970s. To be sure, the potential fissures today are not as great as those exploited by Nixon and Kissinger, but that doesn’t mean we should not try. Instead, however, we seem bent on pushing China and Russia closer together, seemingly impervious to the idea that a principal security goal of our foreign policy is to maintain the geopolitical pluralism of Eurasia. Historians may one day look back on all of this and conclude that the United States lost the second Cold War because successive U.S. administrations pursued policies and diplomacy that fostered the very alliance that in the end defeated us.

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