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Three Neglected Space Issues: Laser ASATs, Cooperation with China and Russia, and Space Secrecy

Earlier this summer, NPEC and the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Law and National Security held their fifth space policy workshop, “Three Neglected Space Issues: Laser ASAT's, Cooperation with China and Russia, and Space Secrecy.” Attached is the workshop report.

Very little has been said publicly about the Chinese and Russian ground-based anti-satellite weapon threat. The first panel clarified this threat. Like rendezvous satellites, ground-based lasers have perfectly legitimate civilian applications. However, they also can be used to disrupt, dazzle, and destroy important military satellites. Some technical fixes against this threat are possible. It also would be desirable to have certain rules governing the operations of these ground-based systems. Devising either set of fixes, however, are not possible without discussing these matters in a more open fashion.

The second panel focused on how excessive secrecy is hobbling America’s military space programs and related space control diplomacy. The details of how self-defeating some forms of secrecy are and what should be done about it were extensively discussed.

Finally, the third panel focused on space cooperation with Russia and China. What is the future of such cooperation? Might more cooperation help sort out rules for military space operations or is additional space cooperation ill-advised? On these matters, the participant’s views were divided: Some thought space cooperation was the best way to promote needed space control rules; others believed it would be unlikely China would ever comply.

Below is the workshop’s report. The impressive list of speakers and participants included James Clapper, former director of national intelligence, Mike Rogers former Chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, Michael Gold, acting associate NASA administrator, and Simon “Pete” Worden of Breakthrough Initiatives.

Nov 05, 2020
July 2020 Space Policy Workshop (PDF) 407.41 KB

Three Neglected Space Issues:
Laser ASAT's, Cooperation with China and Russia, and Space Secrecy

Workshop Report

July 2020


The virtual workshop began with the host from the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC). He congratulated the winner of the College Debate Space Paper Policy Contest. The winning paper is based on their work involving transcripts from the previous NPEC and American Bar Association (ABA) sponsored space policy event.

Panels 1 and 2 were held on the morning of July 21, 2020, while Panel 3 was held on the morning of July 22, 2020.

The host explained the workshop’s three topics. As with rendezvous satellites, dealt with in earlier workshops, ground-based lasers can be used for legitimate civil purposes or as anti-satellite weapons. The question is how might the United States best protect itself militarily and diplomatically against this threat. The second panel tackled the question of excessive secrecy which some argue is muffling America’s public diplomacy and hobbling its military space programs. The final panel dealt with U.S. space cooperation with Russia and China. What is the future of such cooperation? Will it afford channels to sort out rules for military space operations or is this ill-advised?

To read the entire report, click here.

The Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC), is a 501 (c)3 nonpartisan, nonprofit, educational organization
founded in 1994 to promote a better understanding of strategic weapons proliferation issues. NPEC educates policymakers, journalists,
and university professors about proliferation threats and possible new policies and measures to meet them.
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