The Adventures of IR and Putin in Space


This is in part a response to Henning’s blog- but also to those other ‘spacey’ themed ones we have been writing of… While I realise I could have posted this under the comments section, I figured it was a bit long to do so. Incidentally, me not knowing how many blogs I’ve written throughout the year and thus being unsure of whether I’ve reached my quota has absolutely NOTHING to do with this being posted as a new topic.


Just kidding, it does.


Henning I found your point an interesting if not potentially disturbing one to make. I can only assume/hope(?) that colonization requires more than a few microbes- but as you say, it is doubtful any of us will be here to find out. I did some more useless web reading this afternoon and stumbled across a couple of essays posted on (a site where students of IR can get their essays published if they really want to ) and it turns out the space topic is rather prominent at the moment. Interestingly the articles I was looking at all happen to be written by not-under-grad-students and bare some interesting points (and have much more substantial documentation to back these points up than we have thus providing a nice gate way into literature on the topic for those interested).

In ‘Will the U.S. be Overtaken by China In Space?’ Bertrand de Montluc (who is apparently an associate professor) argues that it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where China is in terms of its space capabilities. This is because a substantial portion (if not all) of States’ interest in space is strategic (despite the numerous agreements forbidding armaments being placed in space). While States aren’t meant to put weapons within Earths orbit, there is nothing stopping them using satellites to gain a strategic advantage by monitoring communications/ spying on everyone left right and center (look at how the U.S has used its space tech to fight the ‘war on terror’ for instance). While this may not present immediate problems, de Montuluc points out that it is possible in ten years time China makes it to the moon, and thus European/Russian/ and U.S leaders need to be careful of how they respond to China’s significant rise (to space).  If States respond critically (as they appear to be doing), there could be big problems down the line especially if one were to consider those beloved Realist conceptions of ‘the security dilemma’.

Daryl Morini (deputy editor of e-IR, gosh there’s some really big wigs talking about this topic!) writes in ‘The Causes of the New Space Race’ and ‘The Coming U.S.-China Space Race’ how China/U.S competition is only likely to increase in the coming years “becom[ing] increasingly militarized’. To Morini, the space race “is now in full swing” and the landing of Curiosity was a big “In your face,[to] China” (The Coming U.S.-China Space Race). Taking Henning’s argument of microbes being used to colonize Mars this could indeed be a significant blow to China (assuming Mars isn’t just a hunk of rock floating in space offering no scientific advantage or livable environment- in which case China will be laughing when they come to collect the 2.5 billion dollars that the U.S probably borrowed off them to launch the thing).

To Jana Robinson (previously a Resident Fellow at the European Space Policy Institute) this “dramatic intensification of space-related activities” makes the need to look at attempts of “Advancing an International Space Code of Conduct” imperative (incidentally, that’s also the name of her article). In her piece, she offers a concise summary of the different attempts at inter-space cooperation (between States, not aliens) and argues that there is a need to bring State as well as non-State actors onto the same page through Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures (because they work or something…) to ensure misunderstandings don’t occur. While her point may be valid, this raised another aspect of the space venture I had not previously considered. That is, Transnational corporations and other non-State actors emergence in the Space environment.

While the venture for Space has traditionally been undertaken by States (one can only assume due to the massive costs involved), our discussion a couple of weeks ago regarding the power of transnational advocacy groups and  other non-State actors “got me thinking”. While at the time I was momentarily dumbfounded (yes, momentarily) and was unable to respond to David’s question in any articulate or definitive manner, I have since refined my position to a “yes”. I do believe  non-state actors and trans-national advocacy groups have power (though whether more than states is dependent on the circumstances (actually now that I think about it, I’m not sure if that answer is any more literate). In the coming scramble for Space (space?), the growing power and wealth that non-State actors are quickly accumulating seems to be outstripping many smaller States, and if Apple who supposedly has an annual net income of around $5.5 billion was to decide that monitoring people using their phones wasn’t enough- their ability to launch their own satellite or rover wouldn’t be that far off. (Although as Ryan pointed out, it may be more likely for Google to do so considering the minimal investment Apple places in research design).

Not only would the emergence of non-State actors into the Space race clutter the already rapidly “growing number of space-faring nations and satellite applications [that] are increasing demand for limited radiofrequencey spectrum and orbital slots” (Robinson, 2012) but it could also cause massive problems for Space cooperation. Questions of whether Apples successful launching of a rocket would be a win for the U.S. (who would have designed it) or China (who would have made it) aside, non-State actors would be incredibly difficult to get on board any form of ‘Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures’. The problems of holding non-State actors accountable for their actions on Earth are difficult enough (look at Private Security Companies– Glenn blogged something to this extent I believe, or maybe he just spoke about it..), but their actions in Space would be even more difficult to constrain. Would they have to sign up to the various treaties and regulation agreements that are in place which have yet to be tested for durability? What if a transnational organisation decided that it was a ‘space’ organisation and not affiliated with any State on Earth and therefore not under their jurisdiction?  This point becomes even more problematic if we take what Henning said into consideration- What if a transnational organisation sent life to the moon or any distant planet (beating China and the U.S. to the punch) and began to colonize it. While I’m sure many of the Apple fanatics here on Earth would jump at the thought of being branded an ‘iCitizen’, the thought of being called a ‘Humandroid’ is slightly more disturbing.

All in all I think the ‘Space race’ or what ever is currently occurring in the Worlds pursuit of the stars is heavily and perhaps detrimentally couched in Realist, especially zero-sum, thinking. While the militarization of Space to Morini (and myself) seems almost inevitable, a greater effort really needs to be made to ensure humankinds rise to Space is peaceful. Hopefully when Earth 2.0 is being built we don’t stuff up and break the planet as we potentially have done to this earth. Personally I think efforts around the International Space Station need to be reinvigorated and could offer the best hope of constraining lofty and perhaps devious ambitions. If States were to integrate their Space programs with one another, not only would less resources be wasted to create the same thing, but rewards from Space exploration could be mutually shared by all. Failing that, we could find an Alien race, label them an ‘enemy of the Earth’ and use that to unite our ambitions and countries together in one concerted effort. Perhaps Hennings Mars Microbes could develop fascists or communist tendencies.


On a side note, if transnational advocacy groups made it to Space, I wonder what would happen to Russia when PETA and other Animal Rights groups find a (hopefully still living due to space dust) Laika. On an even more side note, can you imagine the photo shoot opportunities for our dear friend Vlad Putin??!


2 comments on “The Adventures of IR and Putin in Space

  1. […] regional powers meeting in international space (no Aidan, there will be no Moon Summit hosted by a shirtless Vlad with Laika by his side) to frolic in the economic waters of prosperity and […]

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