Wednesday’s Book Review: “The Politics of Space Security: Strategic Restraint and the Pursuit of National Interests”

The Politics of Space SecurityThe Politics of Space Security: Strategic Restraint and the Pursuit of National Interests. By James Clay Moltz. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011, second edition. 383 pp., acknowledgments, introduction, footnotes, index. Paperback, ISBN: 978-0-8047-7858-9, $35.00 U.S.

Originally published in 2008, this second edition of The Politics of Space Security: Strategic Restraint and the Pursuit of National Interests offers a welcome analysis of the national security implications of space assets in the United States. Written as a textbook it should find use in space policy courses, as well as some history courses. Moltz takes a decidedly orderly approach to this subject. He divides the book into three parts, an introductory section on the general parameters of space security followed by a section on national security space issues in the twentieth century (essentially a Cold War discussion) and a concluding section on space security in the twenty-first century.

In the first two sections Moltz focuses on historical analogues of space security and the unfolding of twentieth century space security policy, especially the ever present Mahan thesis of the influence of sea power on history. He lays out the gradual process whereby the political leadership of the United States—especially the Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy administrations—decided which governmental organizations should take responsibility for which space missions and how that led to persistent and sometime sharp difficulties.

Little has changed since that initial set of decisions, serving well the needs of all spacefaring nations during the Cold War. Regardless of some relatively modest alterations over time, the national security space policy of the United States has been remarkably consistent for the first fifty years of the space age. Six basic principles enunciated in various policy documents have served the nation well. First, the United States and the Soviet Union established in the 1950s and has maintained to the present “freedom of space,” ensuring free access to space and the unimpeded passage through space of all satellites and other vehicles regardless of national origin and for whatever purposes intended. Any interference with operational space systems became an infringement on sovereignty and could be construed as an act of war. Second, the parties agreed not to press claims of sovereignty over any part of space or its bodies. Third, the right to defend against attack was preserved and would be considered self-defense just as on the Earth. Fourth, this policy regime explicitly recognized all the various nations’ civil, military, and intelligence programs as legitimate. Fifth, ownership of space assets rested with the original entity placing them in space, and laws of salvage similar to that of the sea were extended to space. Finally, all parties agreed that no weapons of mass destruction were to be placed in space, ensconcing this decision in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. The following discussion elaborates on a few of these issues, and indeed each is tied to the others in myriad, complex ways.

Each of these principles held important ramifications for the conduct of national security activities in space throughout the cold war. Each enabled greater stability in a highly volatile situation and helped preserve a tenuous peace. Few today appreciate the desperate nature of the cold war rivalry with the Soviet Union and the potential for any misstep to instigate nuclear confrontation. The rivals nearly stepped over the line during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, but wiser diplomacy prevailed. The national security space regime made possible a less tense set of relations than would have been the case otherwise, but it was certainly tense enough even with those space capabilities. Collectively these principles offered the building blocks of an effective national security strategy. Overthrowing them after such a venerable career will prove a task not without difficulties.

This discussion leads naturally to the central policy debate relative to national security space in the last few years: the weaponization of space. The last part of the book deals with this subject, discussing the sanctuary/theater of war dichotomy that has so dominated thinking about military space in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Several military entities, especially U.S. Air Force leaders, had visions of dominating the new arena of space, visions that were only partially realized. In essence, they thought of space as a new theater of conflict just like land, sea, and air and chafed under the decision of Eisenhower, reaffirmed to the present, to make space a sanctuary from armed operations.

For nearly fifty years the world has engaged in activity in outer space for military scientific, and commercial purposes, but without placing weapons there or engaging in serious efforts to target objects in space. Working effectively during the cold war, since then the space arena has witnessed the entry of many more actors and a much broader array of vested interests than during the cold war, resulting in a variety of positions regarding future space activities. Advocates of space as a theater of war note that new capabilities, broader uses, and greater efficiencies have made the U.S. military far more dependent on space systems than ever, especially since the 1991 Persian Gulf war, to the extent that loss of this arena might mean the difference between victory and defeat in a major war.

This last question is the major issued discussed in the last section of this fine textbook. Moltz addresses the various sides of the debate and offers his unique perspective on the subject. This is an especially valuable contribution, making the work more than a history. It is also a strong policy analysis.

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One Response to Wednesday’s Book Review: “The Politics of Space Security: Strategic Restraint and the Pursuit of National Interests”

  1. says:

    Roger: Are you familiar with ‘Solo’- a book dealing with the FBI’s penetration of the highest levels of the Russian government by the Child’s brothers?

    Relieving Soviet apprehensions over a pre-emptive ‘Starwars-implemented nuke strike , by the U.S. , was one of Morris Child’s great contributions toward peaceful co-existence..

    Almost of equal import: “pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training camp in 50 days.”


    Lee Branch Sent from my HTC EVO Design™ 4G from Boost Mobile


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