Asia’s Space Race: National Motivations, Regional Rivalries, and International Risks. By James Clay Moltz. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011. hardcover, 288 pp. ISBN: 978-0-231-15688-2. USD $35.00.
When I speak to general audiences one of the first questions to be asked is whether or not China’s actions in space, especially its human spaceflight program, might spark a new space race similar to that of the 1960s between the United States and the Soviet Union. In reality, China and the United States will not engage in a repetition of that earlier human space race, but that does not mean that a space race is not underway. It is, but it is between emerging space powers in Asia, especially China and India, but also including Japan, both North and South Korea, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and other more minor players. In some cases national plans are exceptionally ambitious, involving the development of new launchers and ballistic missiles, robotic probes, and even plans for human missions.
Each of these nations is engaged in aggressive space activities for all of the reasons that earlier entrants into the space club did so. First there is national security, and the key capabilities of space technology in this arena is well known. All have developed military missiles and other systems useful in a conflict. Second, there are commercial opportunities, and communications and other types of satellites are being pursued. Working on these systems advance technological capability in each nation. Third, the issue of pride at home and prestige abroad also motivate forceful actions in space. As the space age advances the competition between these Asian nations has intensified, and the situation may get more aggressive in the future.
Political scientist James Clay Moltz offers in Asia’s Space Race: National Motivations, Regional Rivalries, and International Risks a full-scale analysis of the fourteen leading space programs in Asia and their current state. The bulk of his effort, as it should be, is on developments in China, Japan, India, and South Korea. Asia’s Space Race lays out the goals, interests, and capabilities of these various nations and seeks to delineate the state of the art. It is very much a broad-brush overview with chapters on various national programs. If there is a race, Moltz states, it is really between China and its “relative place with respect to its Asian neighbors.” He adds, “when China sprints forward in its space activity, there is no question that India, Japan, and South Korea all feel challenged and want to react” (p. 18).
The most troubling aspect of the rise of Asian space capability, according to Moltz, is that it is fundamentally competitive and seems to be becoming more tense as the years pass. There is virtually no cooperative efforts between these powers, and their rivalries from a military standpoint are very real. As latecomers to the space age, these Asian nations feel that they must work hard to catch up, spurring rivals to do the same. How they do so is effectively surveyed in this important analysis, well designed for classroom use and also for general reading.