Cooperation, Not Competition in Space

Today’s International Space Station (ISS) is a greater achievement in space than the Moon landings a half-century ago. Competition and fear fueled the space race to the Moon; cooperation created the ISS. The United States will achieve future greatness in space through cooperation.

The 2020 Defense Space Strategy (DSS) calls for the U.S. to advance space power in order to compete, deter, and win any conflicts that extend into the space domain. Though at the moment the U.S. is not seeking to weaponize space, the aggressive language and tone of the DSS sends adversaries, like China and Russia, a different message. To prevent avoidable conflicts in space, the U.S. needs to adjust both language and tone in the DSS from one of hostility to cooperation.

Now is the time for a new wave of international space cooperation. Our strategy should be a framework for space operations based on the principles of security, stability, and accessibility.

Changing the DSS from antagonism to cooperation will prevent unnecessary fear and competition and prevent a space arms race. Adversaries like China and Russia see the use of strong language as a provocation. Authoritarian governments will see language calling for “space superiority” as a pretext for a space arms buildup. If the U.S. can allay their concerns, it decreases the chance of a new space arms race.

Changing the DSS will save taxpayer dollars. There will be less need to spend money on expensive space programs. It will be much cheaper to fund cooperative, scientific space programs than adversarial weapons of deterrence.

Shifting the tone of the DSS will also foster a sense of cooperation. This new age of space exploration will be defined by cooperation. No one will gain anything in space through competition. Competition among space powers wastes resources and decreases security for all. Instead, through cooperation, everyone will benefit from pooling resources and technical expertise.

Some will argue that simple word changes and a softer tone in the DSS will not be credible with adversaries. Those adversaries will initiate a space arms buildup because they feel threatened by U.S. space activities, no matter how we characterize them. Yet words matter, and these word changes will help the U.S. lower suspicions and tension. They will lead to further space dialogues that will continue to decrease tensions between the U.S. and its adversaries.

The ISS stands as a shining beacon of international cooperation in space. We must not let fear and competition dim that bright light. Changing the language and tone of the Defense Space Strategy from antagonism to cooperation will help us prevent avoidable conflicts in space. Cooperation in space will help that bright light shine for all humanity for generations to come.