The Wrong Stuff: U.S. Space Policy


Since his monumental election in 2016, President Donald J. Trump has consistently supported a robust U.S. space policy. Yet, the president’s recent tweet implied that he was wavering on a key component of his space program: the quest to return Americans to the moon.

Here is the tweet:

Clearly, this is the president’s attempt to tweak the sclerotic and elephantine NASA bureaucracy into actually accomplishing a big mission that it has wanted to do (get to Mars) for decades–and inexplicably has been unable to do that. Yet, the president is not conceptualizing space operations properly. This is strange since it was the president’s own White House Space Council that called for–and approved–the Mars via moon program in 2017.

The president’s tweet was misrepresented by the “mainstream” media. The implication was that President Trump did not know that our moon was not part of Mars. In fact, it is clear that he does understand that. The issue with the president’s tweet should be that his comments indicate he has a very short-sighted view of space and America’s role in it. Going into space is not simply about taking pretty, Twitter-able photos on places that we’ve never put astronauts on before, such as Mars. The true nature of a viable space program should be about building an ecosystem in the cosmos that would support an increased and permanent manned presence there. As such, colonizing the moon is an unquestionable prerequisite before venturing out to Mars.

For their part, NASA and the White House have insisted that the president’s tweet was taken out-of-context. That, in fact, the United States plans on placing men back on the moon by 2024. Of course, this seven year time-frame is convenient and underscores another point that NASA is completely incapable of accomplishing basic missions that have been put to it by its commander-in-chief. Despite this fact, though, the president’s tweet and hectoring of NASA to effectively abandon the lunar component of its moon-to-Mars plan only complicates the already-complex task of doing that which the president campaigned on. What’s more, it gives American rivals, such as China, crucial time to finish catching-up with the United States in space.

The Geopolitics of Space

Writing in his magnum opus, Astropolitik: Classical Geopolitics in the Space Age, the geostrategist, Everett C. Dolman, urged his readers to learn the lessons of the great geopolitical theorists in history (Alfred T. Mahan, Sir Halford Mackinder, Giulio Douhet, just to name a few) so they can be effectively applied to space operations. He believed that space was akin to any other strategic domain that human beings operated in (land, sea, air, and nowadays, cyber).

Thus, it made little sense for the United States continue to be stymied in pursuing a more robust space policy–to be prevented from bringing its superior private sector, scientific community, and military force into the cosmos–when space played such an important role in the basic operations of American society. What’s more, Dolman feared that if the United States failed to take a more proactive role in space then another state would. And, the only way to get more active in space was to abandon the present course that the United States was on in space (since it led to a strategic dead end).

In his study, Dolman brought out classical concepts of geopolitics and applied them to the final frontier. In so doing, Dolman likened space to the ocean and attempted to apply the theories for sea dominance that Alfred T. Mahan advocated in The Influence of Seapower Upon History to space. Specifically, Dolman makes the case that Mahan’s “Pacific Strategy” can be applied to a space dominance model for any state with the gumption and foresight to attempt such an “astrostrategy” (Dolman’s term).

This image was taken from Dolman’s 2002 book, Astropolitik: Classical Geopolitics in the Space Age and is an adaptation of Alfred T. Mahan’s “Pacific Strategy” devised by Mahan in 1904 for the U.S. Navy to dominate the Pacific (pictured in the upper lefthand corner). As you can see, Earth (identified as “Terra”) and the Moon form a symbiotic system within the larger Solar System. From there, the dominant space power can push on to Mars; settle it; and then move to the resource-rich asteroid belt dividing the Inner Solar System (where Earth is) and the Outer Solar System (where the resource-rich gas giants are).

Notice in the above diagram how Hawaii plays the role of a key transit and chokepoint for American power projection from the West Coast of the United States into the Asia-Pacific. Be sure to note how the Moon in Dolman’s 2002 diagram pictured above is analogous to Hawaii. In geopolitical terms, it is the sine qua non for any country seeking to project its power and influence into the vast depths of space. Or, as Dolman advocated, “In space there are specific orbits and transit routes that because of their advantages in fuel efficiency create natural corridors of movement and commerce.”

As Dolman assesses:

Space, like the sea, can potentially be traversed in any direction, but because of gravity wells and the forbidding cost of getting fuel to orbit, over time spacefaring nations will develop specific pathways of heaviest traffic. Each of these pathways [what Dolman refers to as “Hohmann transfer orbits”] can be shown to have or to be in themselves critical chokepoints. The state that most efficiently occupies or controls these positions can ensure for itself domination of space commerce and, ultimately, terrestrial politics.

Taken from pg. 39 of Astropolitik: Classical Geopolitics in the Space Age

Dolman also attempted to apply the theories of other major geopolitical thinkers to his astropolitical model–from Sir Halford Mackinder to Giulio Douhet (and everyone in between). Yet, his comparison between space and sea is apt (sorry, Air Force strategists). In fact, this is also how America’s other great strategic competitor in space, China, views things.

When asked to describe the importance of placing Chinese equipment and, eventually citizens, on the moon (and beyond), Ye Pijian, the head of China’s lunar program explained:

The universe is an ocean, the moon is the Diaoyu Islands, Mars is Huangyan Island. If we don’t go there now even though we’re capable of doing so, then we will be blamed by our descendants. If others go there, then they will take over, and you won’t be able to go even if you want to. This is reason enough [to go to the moon].

Here is China’s version of Mahan’s “Pacific Strategy.” The map on the left identifies where the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands are located in the East China Sea (Japan and China both lay claim to these islands). The map on the right identifies Huangyang Island and its presence in the South China Sea, precariously near the borders of the Philippines. Chinese strategists desire to create a maritime defensive perimeter effectively encapsulating the East and South China Seas, thereby potentially denying the United States military the ability to project force into China (and, in turn, allowing for China to dominate countries like Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines). Ye Pijian has applied this terrestrial strategy to space.

Clearly, Beijing is applying the timeless geopolitical lessons that space nationalists in the United States, like myself and Dolman, have long argued for.

Presently, the Chinese are on the lunar surface with their Chang’e-4 rover. The mission is to explore the previously unexplored dark side of the moon, to collect soil samples from the lunar surface for further study, and to conduct a series of scientific experiments–such as growing cotton seeds on the moon. All of these things are meant to determine whether the creation of manned lunar colony is viable. What’s significant about this is that China has already declared its intention to place a permanent colony on the lunar surface by the mid-2020s; Beijing intends on strip-mining the moon, coming to control the precious Rare Earth metals there and to gain access to vital Helium-3 stores for energy production on Earth–akin to staking out a waterhole in a desert–and then proceeding onward to Mars, just as Ye described above (and just as the White House had planned to do before the president’s bizarre tweet).

China is proceeding along an axis of development for space that is more comprehensive and, therefore, effective than anything the United States has tried likely since the early days of the Apollo program. And, unlike the Americans, the Chinese leadership have identified tangible goals it seeks to achieve in space while at the same time planning–and budgeting–for obtaining these goals in the long-run. Chinese President Xi Jinping has identified space a key pillar of achieving his “China Dream” by 2049 (which very well could be the United States’ strategic nightmare). Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has now argued that NASA should be “focused on bigger things” than going to the moon which, as he notes, we did “50 years ago.” The problem, Mr. President, is that we did not stay and therefore left the region open to foreign dominance.

It’s akin to what happened in China, ironically, during the Ming Dynasty. Whereas the Chinese Empire was one of the most advanced and dominant powers in the world, after the death of the Ming Emperor, the Chinese Treasure Fleets that had sailed the Pacific Ocean and had explored the Horn of Africa, bringing back magnificent treasures from these distant places (such as giraffes), had been disbanded. Had China continued supporting the exploits of its Treasure Fleet, it is likely that the Chinese would have discovered the Americas before the Europeans had. Instead, China’s enfeebled leadership–short-sighted and petty bureaucrats who managed affairs after the Ming emperor’s death–turned inward and presided over the decline of Chinese civilization relative to the Europeans.

Similarly, when the United States ultimately took to the cosmos, it was to play catch-up with the Soviet menace. Having lost both the race to place a satellite in orbit and, later, to place a human being in orbit, the Americans threw everything they had into getting to the moon before their Red competitors could. After much hardship and dedication–and leadership–the Americans won the race for the moon. We then went back repeatedly. Yet, thanks to unimaginative leaders in the 1970s, the United States decommissioned its Saturn V rockets; mothballed the Apollo program; and drastically reduced funding and support for manned space exploration. Things have never been the same.

The Chinese, meanwhile, have a conceptual framework that lends itself to dominance of the cosmos. Already, they have a manned space station (their second one), the Tiangong-2 and are preparing to place their larger modular station, the Tianhe, into orbit. Speaking in 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping stated:

The space dream is part of the dream to make China stronger. With the development of space programs, the Chinese people will take bigger strides to explore further into space.

At present, the Chinese need their heavy-lift rocket, the Long March 5, to operate properly. It has stalled repeatedly in the development phase. Although, it is only a matter of time, given the talent pool in China (or, frankly, the large financial resources China can draw on to lure Western know-how to assist them in overcoming their heavy lift woes), before Beijing can surmount this obstacle. Once that occurs, the Solar System will be within reach for Beijing and it will only be Beijing’s leadership that places the limits on Chinese ambitions in space.

In 2016, Xi also proclaimed that:

Exploring the vast universe, developing space programs and becoming an aerospace power have always been the dream we’ve been striving for.

The key difference between the United States and China is that U.S. policymakers are woefully impatient and short-sighted whereas the Chinese leadership is dedicated and single-minded in the pursuit of their goal: achieve space dominance over the United States in order to achieve overall hegemony of the world.

Also, Xi made the vital connection between technological innovation and a national space program that has decisive, visionary leadership as well as consistently high levels of funding by describing innovation as being the “soul of a people and the source for a country’s prosperity.” This plays heavily into Xi’s other big initiative known as “Made in China 2025,” which seeks to remove China’s reliance on foreign goods and products (especially in the face of the Trade War with the United States) to be as self-reliant as possible, thereby enhancing both Chinese security and facilitating their dominance.

The fusion of classical geopolitics applied to the strategic domain of space; a willingness to use space for the benefit of their nation; and the consistent commitment to indigenous innovation in order to fuel their dominion over the cosmos has given China key strategic advantages over America’s ailing space program. The Chinese view the moon as a stepping stone to Mars and the space beyond. Apparently, the president simply views space exploration as a one-off, been-there-done-that experience that gets boring if you keep revisiting the same places you’ve already been.

Utopians and Naysayers

The president’s comments have the unfortunate side effect of giving further cover to the short-sighted and feckless bureaucrats who dominate America’s space policy community. Specifically, these people are divided into two, at times overlapping groups: the utopians and the naysayers. The utopians tend to be Left-leaning globalist-types with a high degree of academic training, who believe that space should be viewed in the same manner as we view Antarctica: it must be a weapons-free sanctuary. These individuals proclaim that former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the first American president to be confronted with the prospect of militarizing space, was correct when he insisted that U.S. military avoid turning space into another hot zone of human geopolitical competition.

Treaties were crafted based on this fanciful notion. But, as I’ve argued elsewhere, the real reason behind the relatively small human footprint in space was not so much because we all believed in these airy notions of space being somehow “different” and, therefore, exempt from human nature as the utopians tend to believe. Instead, the reason behind the relatively small footprint in space at the beginning of humanity’s endeavors in that strategic domain was due to a limitation of technical capabilities (as well as a fundamental ignorance about that new domain). As time progressed, however, humanity–particularly the United States–came to increasingly rely on space for its most basic military and civilian functions. Today, one cannot access their Facebook account, use their ATM, or call in a drone strike against a terrorist in Yemen without relying on satellites. Everything our modern society does on a minute-by-minute basis is, in part, reliant on signals that must be relayed through satellites orbiting the planet.

Here is my lecture from November 2017 to a Silicon Valley audience on behalf of the Institute of World Politics.

Therefore, the United States embraced a sanctuary view of space in the beginning of Man’s presence in that strategic domain less out of a utopian ethos and more out of expediency. What’s more, it was never entirely a sanctuary to begin with. In 2017, I argued as much in Orbis: FPRI’s Journal of World Affairs. This is easily provable: the so-called space age was made only possible, thanks to the advent of rockets. Rockets only came into vogue, thanks to the Second World War. During the Second World War, the Manhattan Project invented atomic weapons. From there, the Cold War began in earnest as the Soviet Union strove to threaten the United States with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles of its own. This, in turn, led the two rival superpowers to begin searching for ways to better defend and to overcome such threats.

Thus, the need for increased surveillance and the desire to get “higher” than the physical strategic domain of airspace (in this case, space). Within this context, then, the Soviets deployed Sputnik, a military surveillance satellite. They then invested heavily in developing technology that would enhance their satellite usage to give them greater communications capability, which, in turn, would give the Red Army greater command-and-control capability; Moscow eventually looked at the establishment of manned battle stations in orbit (as evidenced by their Almaz program in the 1970s) and constantly viewed space as a strategic domain to be exploited by them. The Americans, too, embraced a militarized view of space (while eschewing the overt weaponization of that domain). For all of the talk surrounding Eisenhower’s passivity on the matter of the militarization of space, people forget that from the onset of human involvement in space, Eisenhower viewed that domain as a way to conduct surveillance by both superpowers when it came to verifying arms control agreements.

Beyond that, as the technology matured over the decades, the United States increased its presence in space and its reliance on space-based technology. From the beginning, space was meant to be a strategic domain where human beings would compete–as they do in every other domain. Yet, the utopians continue to cling on to the false notion that space is somehow different; that humanity’s inherently dark nature can be overcome by an endless production of international treaties and mutual admiration societies with our rivals. This thought process is exemplified by the erudite and brilliant utopian theorist, Mike Moore, of the Independent Institute in California.

Writing in 2008, Moore argued:

Space is different from land, sea, and air, a fact recognized by virtually every nation save the United States and Israel. Combat on land and on the seas is as ancient as humankind. As for war in the air, we might as well cite Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Miss Topsy, who ‘just grow’d.’

Yet, as I have shown above, space is not all that different from the other strategic domains. It’s only different because Left-leaning academicians proclaim it to be. In fact, given that it is the ultimate high ground–and whomsoever controls the high ground controls the outcome of events on the lower planes–space is possibly the most important strategic domain that humanity operates in today. And, since the universe is infinite and there are an abundance of vital natural resources waiting to be harvested on the celestial bodies located throughout space, it stands to reason that humanity’s engagement with this realm will only intensify, regardless of whether or not Washington hews to the tired ideas from 60 years ago.

The solution the utopians proffer is an unrealistic and globalist attempt to expand the international legal regime that supposedly governs the use of space today. Beginning with the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, the Earth’s atmosphere is to remain a weapons-free sanctuary. Although, militarization is clearly allowed. The Moon Agreement of 1979 was never ratified by the United States Senate (or by China). The Soviet Union also opposed it. Essentially, this treaty sought to ensure that the moon was made into an Antarctica-type legal entity wherein anyone who could travel there could and would be allowed to conduct scientific research. However, no nation or corporation lay any claim to the moon. Despite not having ratified the treaty, though, a succession of American administrations have crafted policies that serve as a de facto recognition of this treaty. Meanwhile, China and its state-owned enterprises continue progressing toward the inevitable day (soon) of claiming important parts of the moon for themselves.

In fact, the entire basis of the international legal regime for the use of outer space has little to do with preserving the cosmos from humanity’s darker nature–whatever the utopians who populate America’s space policy community claim. At every turn, the treaties were designed to stymie and stunt American power projection into the great beyond. Meanwhile, the Soviets giddily signed on to many of these agreements and then, as we’ve seen with the aforementioned Almaz battle station program, did everything in their power to ignore and undercut these agreements–while the United States happily remained in comportment with these agreements, weakening our country; denying our economy the vital fruits of innovation, while ceding more maneuverability to our rivals with which to threaten us.

Moore advocates that Washington not only maintain its de-weaponized sanctuary view of space but that it also signs on to the odious United Nations initiative known as the “Prevention of an Arms Race in Space,” or PAROS. Yet, this again eschews human nature. To paraphrase Adam Smith, the founder of capitalism, human nature is flawed but fixed. Warfare and competition are the basis of human existence since the beginning of our species. Try as hard as we might, but this nature will never be overcome–especially when dealing with international relations. The old criticism of international law in general can be applied specifically to an international legal framework for space.

While we can all play nice when times are good, when things get tricky, no treaty or agreement will save one nation from the aggressive ire of a rival state. Laws are only enforced and consistently followed when there is a party with a monopoly on the use of force. In the anarchic international system, there is no unitary body that can consistently enforce these treaties. Therefore, it falls on to the state (or states) with the most amount of power to enforce what it perceives to be beneficial to itself. This is not law, then, as much as it is “might-makes-right.” China is no more interested in preserving space as a sanctuary (unless it weakens the United States) than America’s space warriors are. As such, China will continue to pay lip-service to the peaceful use of space while covertly increasing their offensive capabilities there.

If it’s not the utopians out to weaken American resolve and presence in space, then it is the naysayers. These individuals tend to have engineering background and are generally skeptical of unorthodox new technologies or techniques. They tend to populate the ranks of NASA and several other space policy bodies. These are the people who convince leaders not to invest precious resources into developing an experimental technology and then are stunned when a purportedly inferior state, like China, not only creates the impossible technology but then makes it work, giving them a key strategic advantage over the United States.

Such pessimism from America’s naysayers is best viewed in light of the recent strides China made in the realm of quantum communication. Here is new technology that will revolutionize the way humanity interacts with each other. Relying on quantum entanglement–wherein a particle can exist simultaneously in two places and a scientist can manipulate that particle to transfer un-hackable information–China has deployed their Micius satellite in orbit. After two years in orbit, it has passed every test that has been given to it. Quantum internet, as it is called, is the wave of the future. The country that creates it and manages to sell it to the world will not only become immensely wealthy but they will also be given great strategic advantages over their rivals. Right now, China has the upperhand. How is this possible, though, considering that quantum technology has been a dream in the American tech community for more than a decade?

It is entirely the result of a lack of vision on the part of American policymakers. The naysayers convinced enough U.S. leaders that it could not be done, so it was ignored. The Chinese, meanwhile, were desperate to increase their advantages over the United States and dared to dream. Something similar is going on with the EmDrive, or the so-called “impossible drive.” A device that was created a British satellite engineer, the EmDrive was ridiculed by Western space policy naysayers because it violated Newtonian physics. Not one to be deterred by the endless whinging of American nerds, China turned around and built their own version of the device. They’ve been investing in its development for years. Only in the last few years has NASA taken the EmDrive seriously–and that was an uphill battle for the scientists involved with the tests at NASA’s Eagleworks Laboratory to get support from the bureaucracy.

Should the EmDrive work as advertised, it would reduce the cost of space operations because it would not require costly fuel. What’s more, it is quicker than any propulsion currently available to humanity and stealthier too. If it worked properly, a ship driven by an EmDrive could potentially travel from the Earth to Mars in around 70 days!

In fact, there is some concern that China’s space station, the Tiangong-2, may have a working prototype of the EmDrive on it. Last summer, the station performed a radical de-orbiting maneuver. The naysayers in America’s space policy community laughed as they believed it was just another example of bad Chinese engineering. But, then, the station shot back up to orbit. While it has never been proven, it is possible that that is precisely what allowed for the station to maneuver in the fashion it did.

But, the combination of utopians and naysayers in the space policy community have prevented the full-throated development of space by the United States, creating strategic gaps in our presence in space, allowing for other more unscrupulous rivals to take advantage. When he was first elected, the president appeared to be resolute in his desire to make space a priority. Trump has done some great things for space policy. But, as of late, his calls for a space force have floundered in Congress (though this is not necessarily his fault) and now his tweets appear to undercut the basic premise of his robust space policy of going through the moon in order to conquer Mars. These confusing pronouncements will only inspire the utopians and naysayers within the bloated ranks of the space community to further resist the president’s otherwise-inspired space policy agenda.

The Importance of Space in Modern Warfare

This isn’t just about the potential that space exploration and the exploitation of natural resources in space could provide the state that gets up there first. It’s also about what we already have experienced from using space. Since the Cold War, the United States (and Russia, to a lesser extent) increasingly relied on satellites for communications, surveillance, and other blatantly military functions. As time progressed and the technology matured, the United States was able to do more by relying more heavily on its growing satellite architecture around the world. Going back to the Vietnam War, American forces began using satellites for combat purposes.

Notably, Desert Storm–America’s first “space war,” according to a 1992 Pentagon assessment–would never have been accomplished the way it was without satellites. At the onset of hostilities, U.S. Army General Colin Powell said:

Our strategy to go after this army is very, very simple. First, we’re going to cut it off, and then we’re going to kill it. To cut it off, that began last week when we started to go after the nerve center, the brains of the operation, the command and control of the operation, and the lines of communication that come out of Baghdad and other places in the country.

In order to achieve this, the United States needed to closely coordinate its Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps to conduct a combined, rapidly mobile assault on what was then the fourth largest military in the world. U.S. Army General Norman Schwarzkopf’s famous “Left Hook” in the desert, in which his mechanized force defied all odds and managed to conduct a sweeping flanking maneuver against Saddam’s forces, cutting them off, and allowing for the coalition to strangle that force, was only achieved thanks to American global positioning system satellites. Desert Storm was an historic military victory that took only 100 hours of combat to achieve. Whatever one’s opinion on the conflict and its implications for wider U.S. foreign policy in the Mideast, one cannot deny the impressive victory the United States was able to achieve thanks, in large part, to the advantages that satellites offered.

One state, in particular, watched Desert Storm in horror and that was China. After all, like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the Chinese had a military that was mostly a variation of the Soviet Red Army; they used much of the same Soviet technology and relied on similar tactics. The American victory showed that space operations could completely mollify China’s military with little risk to American forces. A grand military modernization campaign took place, in order to make China’s military more like the mighty American one. Subsequent geopolitical events would only solidify China’s drive to “catch up” with the advanced, space-reliant American military whilst crafting ways to neuter the perceived American military advantages, should conflict ever erupt between Beijing and Washington.

The Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1995-96 prompted China to create a military strategy of asymmetrical warfare against the United States (as Chinese People’s Liberation Army Senior Colonels Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui wrote in their military treatise, Unrestricted Warfare). At that time, China’s leadership opposed the election of leaders in nearby Taiwan (which Beijing views as nothing more than a “Breakaway Province”) who they feared would encourage greater separatist notions. Therefore, China began lobbing missiles across the narrow Taiwan Strait in the run-up to the Taiwanese presidential elections that year. In response, the Bill Clinton Administration sailed two aircraft carriers through the strait on the eve of the Taiwanese elections, sending unimaginable fear throughout China’s leaders, as they understood they had little ability to prevent the Americans from conducting a redux of Desert Storm on China.

Not long thereafter, as the United States was involved in its Air War over Kosovo in 1999, a NATO warplane accidentally bombed the Chinese consulate in the Serbian capital of Sarajevo. The Chinese consulate had been moved recently from its old location and the NATO war maps had not been updated to reflect this fact. So, when it was time for NATO to conduct an air raid on Sarajevo in an attempt to stop Serbia’s ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, NATO blew up a building it thought was a Serbian strategic target. In fact, it was the Chinese consulate. Few Chinese today, either government officials or ordinary Chinese citizens, truly believe the NATO explanation that it was an accident; the result of bad intelligence. Instead, they cling to the notion that the Americans feared China’s rise and were sending a message to them. After all, the American-piloted NATO warplane that blew up the Chinese consulate relied on the same fantastical technology that toppled the Iraqis in 100 hours and granted the American military unprecedented strategic dominance around the world.

In April of 2001, vexed by continual American surveillance of their advanced submarine base on Hainan Island, the Chinese conducted an irresponsible air interception of a U.S. Navy E-3 Spy Plane. Operating over international waters, the Chinese claimed the E-3 was violating Chinese sovereign territory and demanded that it cease its surveillance operations and leave Chinese airspace forthwith. The American crew refused, stating that they were legally allowed to be where they were–in international waters. One of the Chinese fighter pilots decided to get cocky, pulled a dangerous maneuver, and ended up getting his bird destroyed and himself killed. For their part, the Americans on the slower-moving, larger, propeller E-3 plane had a clipped wing and had to conduct an emergency landing at Hainan Island’s Chinese military airstrip! After a hostile standoff between Beijing and Washington that lasted 12 days, the Americans were returned and their plane was disassembled by China and returned in pieces to the United States.

China never forgot this. During that time, China has invested heavily in developing its own satellite systems to enhance their modern warfare capabilities. But, they have also invested significantly in what’s known as “counterspace” capabilities. This is the ability to deny another power access and use of space. The utopians in the United States would scream that Beijing cannot do that. But, they are–and will, if they believe it necessary. Meanwhile, the United States continues to lag behind in making its existing systems more survivable and in developing its ability (and the relevant doctrines) for attacking rival satellites.

In 2003, during China’s first spacewalk, the Chinese taikonaut is believed to have launched a tiny satellite (known as a cubesat). These small satellites are not only cheap, but they could be used as offensive satellites. Known in the space warfare community as “space stalkers,” cube satellites could be equipped with powerful grappling arms designed to latch on to sensitive American military satellites and push them out of their orbits, rendering U.S. military forces on Earth deaf, dumb, and blind. In 2013, U.S. Air Force Space Command detected a series of Chinese satellites conducting co-orbital docking procedures which, China claimed was for civilian purposes, but which also could be a practice run for attaching on to American satellites and attacking them.

In 2007, China conducted its first anti-satellite (ASAT) test which resulted in the largest debris field ever recorded in Earth orbit. And, China continues to seek new and innovative ways to not only use space for economic development but to also further its strategic objectives.

The idea that China would be as foolish as the United States has been in terms of squandering its overt strategic advantages in space at the altar of political correctness (and simple short-sightedness) is absurd. China has embraced an a la carte approach to space policy whereas the United States continues to ignore this strategic domain at its own peril.

Stepping Stones

President Donald Trump’s tweet last week was simply bizarre. Not only do we first have to take the moon before shooting out to Mars, but the United States must ensure that it holds the most advantageous orbits around the Earth. And, just as Dolman suggests, we must place assets in the “higher” orbits between the Earth and moon in order to threaten the systems of rivals operating at the “lower” planes.

This is basic geostrategy and if Trump abandons these concepts in favor of a slap-dash race to Mars, then China will simply smile and take what they want closer to home. Mars must be an objective…but a long-term one. Taking the key orbits of the Earth-Moon System; capturing the surface of the moon, claiming valuable asteroids for mining, all of these must come first.

China has a cogent and attainable plan. Right now, it would appear as though the Americans do not. We tell ourselves that we Americans are turnaround guys. Yes, things can get bad for us, but we come through when the chips are down. It’s possible that we can still turnaround our relative decline in space. But, the longer we wait–the more “Sputnik moments” we endure with little coordinated response–the more likely it is that we will go from being akin to the Roman or British Empire to being nothing more than France today: a great, middle power, constantly playing second-fiddle to a stronger one (in this case, China).



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