SAMMARCO: Space Force and Great Power Competition

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Tuesday, May 26, 2020


Last week in the Oval Office, President Trump and Department of Defense officials unfurled the flag of the newest branch of the armed forces, the United States Space Force. To many, the idea of space as a warfighting domain is a far-fetched notion reminiscent of science fiction. Though skepticism of an extraterrestrial fighting force is only natural, the creation of the Space Force is a seminal moment in American military history. 

Now, for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union, America is meaningfully engaged in great power competition against a dangerous adversary: China.

In 2015, China established the Strategic Support Force (PLASSF), a portion of the People’s Liberation Army dedicated to conducting cyber, electronic, and space warfare. Since then, the Chinese successfully tested anti-satellite missiles capable of destroying key communications, imaging, and military satellites (including satellites capable of detecting a first-strike nuclear missile launch) in orbit. China also added strategic communication, meteorological, and military equipment to its space armada. The US has not made comparable gains.

Many China hawks argue that aircraft carriers and frigates are the linchpins in a hot war, but that is not the case. As the German philosopher Hegel noted, “For [the Chinese] the sea is only the limit, the ceasing of the land; they have no positive relations to it.” The Chinese focus on the unlimited, ever-expanding sea that is space is intended to render America’s undoubted superiority in Earth-based sea warfare obsolete. Space, truly, is the last frontier when it comes to future warfare.

Currently, the Chinese are spending considerable time and resources developing “Super-EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) Bombs” that would be detonated in space. One well-placed detonation of such a weapon could instantly disable all electronic equipment, including radio, radar, GPS, and missile guidance systems. Developing the capability to counter such an attack from space is of paramount importance, especially for a tech-dependent military such as America’s. The combination of this destructive capability with China’s expanding logistical extraterrestrial infrastructure makes clear the need for a combative branch of our own.   

Besides its utility in a hot war with China, Space Force will be an indispensable resource in diplomatic competition. Alongside its space-based military forces, China has grown its civilian space program. In 2017, its space program’s budget ballooned to roughly $8.4 billion, three times the budget of Russia. Much like its $8 trillion Belt-and-Road Initiative, China intends to use its emerging civilian space prowess to extract influence and exert leverage over developing nations.

As detailed by Michael S. Chase, a senior political scientist at RAND Corporation and professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, “[China’s] space and cyberspace initiatives could increase economic dependence on China in ways that give it even greater leverage over participating countries. Moreover, growing reliance on [information and communication technology] provided by Chinese companies with close ties to China’s military and intelligence services could exacerbate security risks for recipient countries.” 

As cash-strapped nations look to expand their cyber communications abilities, major powers with well-established space programs such as the Americans, Russians, and Chinese will become de-facto partners in launching their equipment into space. This poses a major threat to American national security interests. Failing to counter China’s leverage over developing nations’ space infrastructure would be a dramatic mistake. 

On top of all of this, Space Force will aid in the enforcement of international agreements in space. The US must develop a fighting force capable of responding to violations in space. If UN Peacekeepers are to be tasked with enforcing agreements in space without a capable US Space Force backing it up, the international community may as well begin to teach its astronauts Mandarin.  

Nick Sammarco studies economics and Spanish at Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.


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About Nick Sammarco

Suffolk University

Nick Sammarco studies economics and Spanish at Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts.

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