Pentagon Seeks to ‘Reduce Uncertainty’ in Norms for Space Amid Increased Aggression by China, Russia

The Department of Defense (DoD) is seeking to establish more secure norms and behaviors in outer space amid increased aggression by China and Russia, according to one Pentagon official.“Developing a shared understanding among states of what constitutes safe and responsible space activities benefits all space operators, including DoD,” said John Hill, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space and missile defense policy. Hill made the comments during an April 20 panel on the development of counterspace weapons at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a security-focused think tank. “More practically, given the increased tension with Russia and China, we hope that advancing shared understandings of norms and responsible behaviors can also enable risk-reduction measures and enhance stability and reduce uncertainty.” The United States has faced an increasing number of belligerent activities in space in recent years. U.S. Space Force Gen. David Thompson said in November that Chinese and Russian forces carried out reversible cyber and electronic attacks on U.S. satellites “every single day.” The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has committed to pursuing space dominance as a key priority in its national strategy and is aggressively pursuing efforts to write international norms in its favor. China led the world in 2021 in terms of most space launches of any country, and the CCP currently intends to repeat the feat in 2022. White papers from the CCP detail the regime’s ambition to become a “space power”, and CCP leadership has committed to the development of anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons intended to target the United States’ vital space-based infrastructure. In the face of destructive ASAT tests conducted by China and Russia, which created untold thousands of pieces of dangerous space debris, Hill said that the United States would need to champion international recognition of space rules in accordance with longstanding American tenets. “First, we could seek a non-legally binding U.N. First Committee resolution which would call on all states to commit not to conducting such destructive ASAT tests,” Hill said. “Such a U.N. resolution would allow countries to go on record regarding their support, creating that shared agreement among the majority of U.N. member states while increasing political pressure on plans for future destructive ASAT missile tests.” “We could also consider making this into a legally-binding arms control agreement, though I view that as a much longer-term effort. Longstanding U.S. policy states that space arms control agreements must be equitable, verifiable, and in U.S. national security interests and those of our allies and partners. We believe the language of this commitment would allow activity contrary to it to be observed and attributed.” Relatedly, the United States announced on April 19 that it would ban ASAT missile tests due to the danger associated with the debris caused, making the United States the first nation to adopt such a policy. “As of today, the United States commits not to conduct destructive, direct-ascent, anti-satellite missile testing,” said Vice President Kamala Harris during a visit to California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base. “We are the first nation to make such a commitment. I call on all nations to join us.” Victoria Samson, director for the Washington office of the Secure World Foundation, a think tank dedicated to promoting security and peace in outer space, said that such unilateral decision making was increasingly necessary given the potential for deadlock in the United Nations following aggressive actions such as Russia’s most recent ASAT test. “We’ve been following a lot of these discussions internationally at the multilateral level, at the United Nations specifically, to look at how space security and stability issues have been progressing,” Samson said. “And frankly, they’ve just been stopped.” “You know, they’ve been stuck by going about the same proposed treaty for the past 15 years [which] has gone nowhere. In the meantime, the space environment is getting increasingly complicated.” Follow Andrew Thornebrooke is a reporter for The Epoch Times covering China-related issues with a focus on defense, military affairs, and national security. He holds a master's in military history from Norwich University.

Pentagon Seeks to ‘Reduce Uncertainty’ in Norms for Space Amid Increased Aggression by China, Russia

The Department of Defense (DoD) is seeking to establish more secure norms and behaviors in outer space amid increased aggression by China and Russia, according to one Pentagon official.

“Developing a shared understanding among states of what constitutes safe and responsible space activities benefits all space operators, including DoD,” said John Hill, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space and missile defense policy.

Hill made the comments during an April 20 panel on the development of counterspace weapons at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a security-focused think tank.

“More practically, given the increased tension with Russia and China, we hope that advancing shared understandings of norms and responsible behaviors can also enable risk-reduction measures and enhance stability and reduce uncertainty.”

The United States has faced an increasing number of belligerent activities in space in recent years.

U.S. Space Force Gen. David Thompson said in November that Chinese and Russian forces carried out reversible cyber and electronic attacks on U.S. satellites “every single day.”

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has committed to pursuing space dominance as a key priority in its national strategy and is aggressively pursuing efforts to write international norms in its favor. China led the world in 2021 in terms of most space launches of any country, and the CCP currently intends to repeat the feat in 2022.

White papers from the CCP detail the regime’s ambition to become a “space power”, and CCP leadership has committed to the development of anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons intended to target the United States’ vital space-based infrastructure.

In the face of destructive ASAT tests conducted by China and Russia, which created untold thousands of pieces of dangerous space debris, Hill said that the United States would need to champion international recognition of space rules in accordance with longstanding American tenets.

“First, we could seek a non-legally binding U.N. First Committee resolution which would call on all states to commit not to conducting such destructive ASAT tests,” Hill said. “Such a U.N. resolution would allow countries to go on record regarding their support, creating that shared agreement among the majority of U.N. member states while increasing political pressure on plans for future destructive ASAT missile tests.”

“We could also consider making this into a legally-binding arms control agreement, though I view that as a much longer-term effort. Longstanding U.S. policy states that space arms control agreements must be equitable, verifiable, and in U.S. national security interests and those of our allies and partners. We believe the language of this commitment would allow activity contrary to it to be observed and attributed.”

Relatedly, the United States announced on April 19 that it would ban ASAT missile tests due to the danger associated with the debris caused, making the United States the first nation to adopt such a policy.

“As of today, the United States commits not to conduct destructive, direct-ascent, anti-satellite missile testing,” said Vice President Kamala Harris during a visit to California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base. “We are the first nation to make such a commitment. I call on all nations to join us.”

Victoria Samson, director for the Washington office of the Secure World Foundation, a think tank dedicated to promoting security and peace in outer space, said that such unilateral decision making was increasingly necessary given the potential for deadlock in the United Nations following aggressive actions such as Russia’s most recent ASAT test.

“We’ve been following a lot of these discussions internationally at the multilateral level, at the United Nations specifically, to look at how space security and stability issues have been progressing,” Samson said. “And frankly, they’ve just been stopped.”

“You know, they’ve been stuck by going about the same proposed treaty for the past 15 years [which] has gone nowhere. In the meantime, the space environment is getting increasingly complicated.”


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Andrew Thornebrooke is a reporter for The Epoch Times covering China-related issues with a focus on defense, military affairs, and national security. He holds a master's in military history from Norwich University.