The State Department unveiled a new space diplomacy strategy on Tuesday in a bid to counter efforts by China and Russia to militarize space and challenge U.S. power.
The new “Strategic Framework for Space Diplomacy” calls for diplomats charged with promoting space activities to advance Biden administration policies on gender equality and controversial “diversity, equity and inclusion” programs.
The 37-page framework reflects the liberal policies of Vice President Kamala Harris, who was placed in charge of space issues by the president. Ms. Harris chairs the White House National Space Council.
The State Department spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the strategic space diplomacy report, which was produced by the department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs and the Bureau of Arms Control Verification and Compliance, which oversees monitoring arms control agreements that rely on spy satellites.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the framework is the first initiative of its kind seeking to advance U.S. global space leadership.
“As near-earth space gets more crowded, the framework will help maintain the rules-based international order and foster cooperation for long-term sustainability, commercialization, exploration and space utilization,” he said in a statement. “We will encourage responsible behavior, strengthen understanding and support for U.S. national space policies, and promote international use of U.S. space capabilities.”
One goal of the framework, officials said, will be to engage foreign governments, international organizations and commercial space groups in promoting safe and responsible space exploration and commerce. The diplomacy also will seek to reduce the potential for conflict as China and Russia field increasingly advanced space weaponry.
The framework identified both China and Russia as key strategic competitors that are working to undermine U.S. leadership in civilian and military space systems. On the same day the report was released, China launched a new three-person crew for its orbiting space station, a day after confirming it hopes to put its own astronauts on the moon before the end of the decade.
“U.S. competitors are organizing, training and equipping their forces to undermine U.S. and allied security in space,” the report states.
The most recent annual threat assessment by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence warned that China’s expanding space activities include activities to “strengthen attempts to erode U.S. influence across military, technological, economic, and diplomatic spheres.”
Space warfare by China will be “integral to potential People’s Liberation Army military campaigns, and China has counterspace weapons capabilities intended to target U.S. and allied satellites,” the report said.
Russia is also training its military and deploying new antisatellite weapons “to disrupt and degrade U.S. and allied space capabilities.”
U.S. diplomacy toward China and Russia on space will seek transparency and confidence-building measures aimed at reducing war in space. The State Department also will monitor foreign government “non-market practices” involving the space industry, while highlighting the risks of doing business with China and Russia.
While both China and Russia appear to be unbounded in developing space warfare tools and weapons, the State Department framework limits U.S. space activities to agreements signed in the 1960s and 1970s that prohibit deploying weapons in space.
The space diplomacy strategy calls for multilateral negotiations on international space law and seeking legally non-binding norms for space behavior.
“We will not cede U.S. leadership in these diplomatic fora to other space-faring nations that do not share our values and our commitment to an international rules-based order for space, space sustainability, and space for all,” the framework states.
Space diplomacy also will utilize satellite imagery to build government credibility and counter false narratives and disinformation, the report said.
In addition to supporting U.S. military action abroad, space systems are used “to combat climate change,” respond to disasters, track ocean plastic pollution, monitor unregulated fishing, monitor arms treaties and provide evidence of war crimes and human rights abuses.
Commercial space systems also are expanding — the report cites estimates putting the value of global space commerce at $469 billion in 2021.
A mandate for diversity
In addition to promoting U.S. leadership in space, the new framework also says State Department space diplomats can both advance national security and “diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Space diplomacy will be based on the administration’s 2022 national security strategy and several policy directives, along with the White House “National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality,” the framework states.
“We will showcase how U.S. space activities are conducted in a lawful, responsible, peaceful, and sustainable manner in line with these and other U.S. values, including diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA),” the strategy states. Diplomats will promote “diverse expertise” in space activities and showcase a diverse U.S. space community, the framework states.
“We will advocate for equity and equality in our diplomatic space dialogues to help close the gender gap and advance women’s economic security,” the report added. “We will work with allies and partners to understand and address shared barriers to the full participation of underrepresented, underserved, and marginalized communities in the space sector.”
One of several diplomatic priorities will be promoting gender issues in international meetings.
The report states that diplomats will “press to include gender equity and equality on the agendas of our regular space dialogues and for broad, consistent inclusion of civil society and non-governmental organizations, including those with indigenous representation and women-led organizations, in multilateral space governance fora.”
For space security, diplomats will work with American allies and partners to protect the nation against space-enabled threats, the report said. Other work will focus on space safety, satellite congestion, monitoring near-Earth objects and severe space weather.
U.S. diplomats will also seek to work with other nations on space-based satellite servicing, lunar operations, cleaning space debris and space tourism.
The administration in 2021 adopted a unilateral ban on destructive anti-satellite tests that it hopes will lead other nations to halt such tests.
China conducted an anti-satellite missile test against a Chinese weather satellite in 2007 that produced thousands of still-orbiting metal pieces. In November 2021, Russia conducted a similar ASAT missile test against a satellite, also producing potentially damaging debris pieces.
Despite building an array of space weapons, both China and Russia have been promoting an arms control agreement that would ban weapons in space.
U.S. officials have said the Beijing-Moscow space arms plan is designed to limit development of U.S. space weaponry.
The new Space Force has announced it has deployed a single space weapon – an electronic satellite jammer. Other space weapons are said to be under development by the Space Force in secret, according to defense sources.
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