Why Articulate A National Space Policy: The Indo-Pacific Context
Though the emerging security competition in the Indo-Pacific region gets a lot of attention, much of that is limited to the diplomatic and military maneuvers. The competition also has far flung corollaries. Outer space is one such. As access to outer space becomes more important with each passing year, there is a growing tussle accelerated by conflicts and competition on earth.
The Indo-Pacific region is seeing an increase in the number of countries interested in space. The necessity of access to outer space for national economic development is well understood. But space can also be used for military and security purposes. Space technology is dual use. While these technologies have uses in the civilian sector, there are also military and security purposes that are increasingly driving the space programs.
However, most countries have not thought through carefully their civilian and military requirements in space and how best to devote scarce resources to achieve these requirements. It will help if governments in the region develop and publish their own national space policies. There are multiple benefits for the Indo-Pacific powers to articulate their aspirations for space. This article outlines four specific reasons why it would be beneficial.
One, a declared space policy clarifies and outlines a long-term perspective on what space is meant to do, especially in combining national development and security purposes. A long-term perspective on space should ideally begin by developing national aims that sets out where a country wants to be in a 30-year timeframe. Accordingly, its space policy and program must be developed to assist in that national vision. This national vision should translate to sector-specific national policies within the space and technology arena. Such strategy outlines should ideally be done by the political leadership rather than by the space or the scientific bureaucracy, though they also need to be part of the deliberations. This broader political perspective is necessary because outer space and technologies related to it is not just about technology development or acquisition. It must also fit within the context of broader national developmental and security goals.
Two, an open space policy and published statements will allay fears, build trust and confidence, and remove ambiguities. These can strengthen efforts at reducing wariness and tensions between different countries and improve transparency, which are important in today’s regional and global context. This is particularly important in the Indo-Pacific which has been seeing increasing competition and rivalry between the major powers. Even small steps aimed at improving transparency and confidence in the region can be enormously beneficial and bring down the regional insecurities at least in small measures. It can also be an effective messaging tool for external audiences. While the internal audience, in terms of different ministries and departments, is important, the external dimension needs to be paid particular attention to. It must be written clearly to avoid risks of misperception and in a manner that does not accentuate regional anxieties and insecurities. Therefore, how the external audience will perceive one’s goals and future plans, must be factored in while writing one’s space policy.
Third, national space policies must also be framed to give opportunities for private sector involvement. Especially in the post-COVID world, state resources are likely to be stretched because of the need for dealing with after-effects of the pandemic, thus leaving little for areas such as space technology development. Private sector can easily supplement state resources and such private enterprise should be encouraged to fill in the gap. The role of private sector in the area of global governance can also be enhanced though this needs to be negotiated with other countries.
Last but not the least, the most important rationale of this exercise should be to create a better understanding of the future a country wants to see in space and decipher the behaviors that may be counterproductive in materializing those goals. Such an understanding could be useful in reviewing one’s space program, devising new priorities internally while working to create externally appropriate governance framework that would facilitate realization of those goals. A national space policy document can also be used to spell out a country’s commitment to global governance measures including transparency and confidence building measures (TCBMs) and norms of responsible behavior. Some of the broader TCBMs in the area of space traffic management include pre-launch notifications, standards for small satellites to ensure tracking, and space situational awareness data exchange.
Framing of national space policies can help thinking through the problems of global governance and how enlightened national interest can help in creating a global outer space regime. This ensures better global governance of outer space and security of the national interest.
All of these are good reasons for developing national space policies and publicizing them. These should provide sufficient rationale for the Philippines to also outline a space policy in the open.
Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan is Distinguished Fellow, and Head of the Nuclear & Space Policy Initiative, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.