Atlantic Council calls for U.S. and allies to lead global efforts on space security

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The Atlantic Council recommends steps that could be taken over the next 30 years to ensure space remains accessible and peaceful

WASHINGTON — The Atlantic Council, an international security think tank, released a 100-page report that calls on the United States and allies to advocate for new global rules for safe activities in outer space. 

“Space is getting pretty crowded. More than seventy nations operate national space programs, making international space governance prime for a reboot,” said the report released April 12 by the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center.

The report recommends steps that could be taken over the next 30 years to ensure space remains accessible and peaceful. 

The authors call for an overhaul of the body of international law governing space, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. The report suggests a new treaty is needed to address the security and commercial realities of space in the 21st century. The authors also call for a coalition to push back on Russian and Chinese testing and deployments of anti-satellites weapons. 

“As private sector investment catalyzes a space commerce boom, great power competition and counterspace capabilities threaten freedom of access,” said the Atlantic Council. “To contend with these challenges, the United States and its allies and partners need to work together on a strategy to advance their the short-, medium-, and long-term objectives in the space domain.”

Although there is still uncertainty about the future of space development, “space will surely become even more important for global security and prosperity in the decades and centuries to come,” the report said. 

One of the authors, retired Marine Corps general James Cartwright, said the U.S. government’s ambitions to develop a space economy around the moon will be in jeopardy unless rules of behavior are adopted by all nations that operate in space. 

“We do not want a wild west environment,” Cartwright said April 12 on a webinar. “Today that is what we have. There are no rules that are enforceable today. We have to figure out how to move forward. Alliances are going to be critical. We need a venue for cooperation now.”

Space policies tend to shift from one administration to the next but space security requires a longer term plan that transcends politics, said Cartwright. “We need a long view, not just a one administration, one budget cycle view.”

Former Air Force secretary Deborah Lee James, another co-author, said space is critical for prosperity and security on Earth and short-term strategy “isn’t going to cut it.” She endorsed the idea of a 30-year plan. “Something more long-term can cross different administrations and take us into the future,” said James.