Op-ed | Growing U.S.-India Space Security Ties

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The following is adapted from a March 5 address to the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.

 

As the world’s two largest democracies, the United States and India have a partnership that is indispensable to global peace, prosperity and stability.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington in September and President Barack Obama’s visit to India this January were critical steps toward strengthening and expanding the U.S.-India strategic partnership.

We’ve seen tremendous movement and progress made in all areas of our relationship — infrastructure and investment, civil nuclear cooperation, climate change, defense cooperation and defense trade, health and global issues like women’s rights and nonproliferation.

But it’s also important to remember that our partnership has deep roots.

As our leaders wrote in their joint op-ed in The Washington Post, “As nations committed to democracy, liberty, diversity, and enterprise, India and the United States are bound by common values and mutual interests. We have each shaped the positive trajectory of human history, and through our joint efforts, our natural and unique partnership can help shape international security and peace for years to come.”

As we deepen our strategic relationship, we share an interest in addressing the emerging security challenges of the 21st century.

Ensuring the long-term sustainability and security of the outer space environment is one of those challenges, and one that the United States and India are uniquely situated to address together.

Between the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and NASA, our two nations have done tremendous work in our exploration of outer space.

MOM launch ISRO
PSLV launch of ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission. Credit: ISRO

I would like to congratulate India on being one of just four space agencies to have reached Mars orbit and for being the first Asian nation to do so. It was a pleasant coincidence that NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft and ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission entered the orbit of Mars within a couple of days of each other.

We’re also pleased that ISRO and NASA have established a Mars Working Group to explore how our separate Mars missions can work together and coordinate their efforts. This is just one area of the nearly 15 years of strong civil space cooperation between India and the United States. We look forward to the continued growth across all areas of our space cooperation, potentially including India’s participation in research aboard the International Space Station.

U.S.-India civil cooperation in space has not led to extensive cooperation on space security, at least to date.

But I believe that just as this is a time of transformation and progress for our strategic partnership, so too is it a time of growth for our space security relationship.

Our governments recognize the importance of space security; in September our president and prime minister called for the establishment of a dialogue to address this important issue.

 

Bilateral Space Security Cooperation

Our leaders also committed to a new mantra for our relationship, “Chalein saath saath; forward together we go.” I believe this is true for our space security relationship as well.
As we begin bilateral cooperation on space security, it is important that we have an open dialogue where we share information, discuss areas in which we disagree as well as those where we agree, and identify areas for cooperation.

I am excited to start that conversation here in New Delhi.

We also need to identify areas of concrete collaboration.

U.S.-India civil cooperation in space has not led to extensive cooperation on space security, at least to date. But I believe that just as this is a time of transformation and progress for our strategic partnership, so too is it a time of growth for our space security relationship.

Collaboration in space situational awareness and collision avoidance, as identified by the U.S.-India Joint Statement of September 2014, is one such potential area.

As we all know, space situational awareness (SSA) is a foundational capability for spaceflight safety and prevention of collisions in space. International cooperation on SSA is greatly beneficial, as international partnerships bring the resources, capabilities and geographical advantages to enhance SSA upon which we increasingly depend.

The Department of State works closely with the Department of Defense on SSA information-sharing agreements with foreign partners.

Establishing an arrangement to share information between the United States and India would be one possible way to begin bilateral collaboration.

Another area of potential bilateral collaboration could be on the utilization of space assets for maritime domain awareness.

Maritime domain awareness is greatly enhanced when data from ground- and sea-based sensors and local human observations are combined with data from space-based sensors, whether those data are from Automatic Identification Systems or Earth observation satellites.

As both of our countries have a strong interest in promoting maritime security and have developed robust and multilayered maritime domain awareness architectures that utilize satellite information, I believe it would be worthwhile to explore cooperation and information exchanges in this area.

 

Multilateral Space Security Cooperation

There is much that our nations can do together in the multilateral arena as well.

Today, India, the United States and the world all rely on satellites for communications, for disaster management and relief, for treaty monitoring, and for sustainable development, among many other things.

But there are risks and dangers to operating in space. As the U.S. director of national intelligence noted in January 2014, threats to space services are increasing as potential adversaries pursue disruptive and destructive counterspace capabilities. For example, Chinese military writings highlight the need to interfere with, damage and destroy reconnaissance, navigation and communications satellites. China has satellite jamming capabilities and is pursuing anti-satellite systems.

The United States and India are both strong believers in transparency and rules based on international law and customs. Our “Declaration of Friendship” released during the president’s visit in January specifically mentions our mutual respect for “an open, just, sustainable, and inclusive rule-based global order.”

Given the threats and risks, and our national principles and laws, I believe that one of the most obvious and most beneficial areas of cooperation between our countries is in the establishment of rules of the road for outer space activities.

As established spacefaring nations, India and the United States should work together to clearly and publicly define what behavior the international community should find both acceptable and unacceptable.

Transparency and confidence-building measures, or TCBMs, such as the proposed International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, can contribute to everyone’s awareness of the space environment.

Among the code’s commitments for signatories is to refrain from any action that brings about, directly or indirectly, damage or destruction of space objects and to minimize, to the greatest extent possible, the creation of space debris — in particular, the creation of long-lived space debris.

Political commitments such as the code of conduct are complemented by work on guidelines on space operations and collaborative space situational awareness in multilateral forums such as the U.N. Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, or COPUOS.

The Working Group on the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities, a part of COPUOS’s scientific and technical subcommittee, is doing important work to move forward in the development of international long-term sustainability guidelines.

Initiatives like the establishment of TCBMs, the code of conduct and the work of COPUOS cannot be successful without the support and active participation of India.

But Indian support for these or other rules of the road initiatives only gets us halfway there. I firmly believe that with U.S.-India collaboration in establishing norms of responsible behavior and Indian leadership in multilateral forums, we can make these and future initiatives even better.

There is much we can do as global partners to ensure the long-term sustainability and security of the outer space environment. Cooperation on space is just one piece of a strategic U.S.-India relationship in the 21st century. As President Obama said in this very city a little more than one month ago, “[O]ur nations will be more secure and the world will be a safer and more just place when our two democracies stand together.”

 

Frank A. Rose is the U.S. assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification and compliance.