t the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) December 2019 Leader’s Summit in London, leaders acknowledged that technology is rapidly changing the international security environment, stating: “To stay secure, we must look to the future together. We are addressing the breadth and scale of new technologies to maintain our technological edge.” Leaders also identified outer space as a key area of focus. They declared that “space [is] an operational domain for NATO, recognizing its importance in keeping us safe and tackling security challenges, while upholding international law.” NATO defense ministers had previously approved an initial space policy in June 2019, but the details of that policy have not been publicly released.
Given the increasing role outer space is playing in NATO military operations, and the growing anti-satellite threat from states like Russia and China, NATO’s decision to declare outer space an operational domain was the correct one. The key question now is: How can the alliance develop an effective implementation strategy to ensure it can maintain assured access to outer space and space-derived data?
Such a strategy will require several elements. First, NATO will need to improve its understanding of the anti-satellite threat. Second, outer space will need to be “mainstreamed” within NATO, especially with regard to the defense planning and operations process. Third, NATO will need to improve cooperation and coordination with the United States, the alliance’s leader on outer space issues. Fourth, NATO should identify areas where it might work with the European Union (EU) on outer space. And finally, the alliance will need to find a way incorporate diplomacy into any eventual strategy.
The emerging anti-satellite threat
The threat to U.S. and allied space systems from anti-satellite weapons continues to grow. As former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats noted in testimony before Congress in January 2019: “China and Russia are training and equipping their military space forces and fielding new anti-satellite weapons to hold U.S. and allied space systems at risk.”