Trump’s Space Force: The Empire Strikes Back | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Trump’s Space Force: The Empire Strikes Back

Comment writer, Lola Ogunsanya, considers whether Trump's decision to create a 'Space Force' is just another desperate reach to regain US hegemony

Donald Trump's speech to the US National Space Council declared that there'll be action to create a United States Space Force. The name makes it sound like a bad Star Wars film, but this move from Trump once again informs the world he plans to return the US to the centre of the universe.

During his address, he clearly stated the intention of the Space Force as being a tool to show American strength when he stated, ‘We don’t want China and Russia and other countries leading us.’ This comment is reminiscent of the Cold War era where huge investments made in space technology by the government were directly linked to the space race against the Soviet Union. This aimed to prove their superiority by not only leading in economic performance but in scientific prestige. However, as the Cold War was coming to an end, the priority of the space programme was downgraded by presidents.

Although there were still some attempts to revamp the enthusiasm for space exploration, the strategy has changed from the Cold War period. Greater cooperation in space was most obviously symbolised by the launch of the International Space Station (ISS) in 1998 during the Clinton administration, which is used by space agencies from the US (NASA), Russia (Roscosmos), Japan (JAXA), 22 European states (European Space Agency) and Canada (Canadian Space Agency). There has also been increased involvement from the private sector who have become important actors in spaceflight, especially commercial spaceflight.

Although there were still some attempts to revamp the enthusiasm for space exploration, the strategy has changed from the Cold War period

This recent willingness for the US to further cooperate in the field of space exploration comes in great contrast to Trump’s clear assertion that he wants ‘American dominance in space’, with emphasis on dominance.  Although Trump doesn’t seem to have any qualms on private American businesses developing space technology, even encouraging them to ‘beat us to Mars, we’ll be very happy,’ it is clear that Trump intends to ditch multilateral collaboration and take the space frontier for himself.  Trump is linking greater government investment in space to his overall quest to reassert the US’ position as the hegemon of world politics. Whether he is successful in doing this or not, time will tell.

Regardless, there is clear symbolic importance in this move. With the Space Force being intended to comprise the sixth branch of the US military, Trump's commitment to embed the US’ space programme into one of the highest forms of national security concerns is demonstrated. The move brings the space programme up to the prestige of the US military in general - the most powerful military in the world. In some respects, who can blame Trump? Space is a hugely important territory. Just think about the reliance we have on satellites for communication across the globe, location services, media and surveillance. Whoever gains complete dominance over space will have great security leverage over other states, and those not powerful enough to catch up may find themselves in a vulnerable position.

However, the US has not securitised space to the extent that led it to prioritise its military management until now. This makes it a step backwards from space international cooperation, an important phase highlighting the willingness of states to work together to benefit all, instead of competitively to benefit some. Although the attempt to assert US sovereignty over space is another move to further the US’ global dominance, Trump’s presidency thus far indicates that this may not go to plan.

Whoever gains complete dominance over space will have great security leverage over other states

Analysing this power move along with Trump’s recent foreign policy, his tariffs on steel and aluminium are affecting relations with the EU, Canada, and Mexico. In addition to this, the tariffs on Chinese goods all raise concerns of an upcoming trade war. His withdrawal from the Paris Climate Deal, one of the most significant multilateral agreements to tackle climate change. The withdrawal of the US from the UN Human Rights Council, human rights being one of the fundamental pillars of the UN; the withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, a milestone in improving international relations in the Middle East. These recent events indicate the huge extent to which Trump is altering the Obama administration’s foreign policy consensus to cooperate with other states.

To add to this pattern, after years of collaboration in space, Trump’s administration wants to take its own lead. These are all bold moves by Trump to regain the US’ control of the economy, international politics, and space experienced during the Cold War period. But, this isn’t the post-war world where the US obtained a thriving economy while the European states endured a huge loss.

These recent events indicate the huge extent to which Trump is altering the Obama administration’s foreign policy consensus to cooperate with other states

In contemporary times, countries in the global South are also showing their political and economic might . The Paris Climate Deal is enduring; the EU, Canada, Mexico and China are not bowing down to pressure and are initiating retaliatory tariffs and the European states involved have pledged to maintain the Iran nuclear deal. As for the dominance of Trump’s space force, again, we are no longer living in the cold war period. Other countries are now increasingly able to compete with the US’s space capabilities.

Despite the US government’s refusal to cooperate with China, they have currently launched their Tiangong program, which aims to establish the China National Space Administration’s space station by 2022, making it the second space station in operation other than the ISS. The ESA and Roscosmos are working together on a project titled ‘ExoMars’, which plans to examine life on Mars, and India’s Space Research Organisation plans to complete their second mission to the moon by the end of 2018. There are clearly a vast number of actors who have an interest in space, and it is already too late for it to become a territory managed singularly by the US.

The world is once again proving that they won’t rely on the US as a leader. They are making big moves on their own.

 



Published

5th July 2018 at 9:00 am

Last Updated

4th July 2018 at 10:41 am



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