By Amy E.T. Puente
June 27th, 2020
With Russia’s anti-satellite missile test in April 2020, the Kremlin reasserted its posture on international activities in space. Since the 1950s, Russia has been in some form of space competition with the United States (Baird 2013, 52-54). While most of the scientific progress during the Cold War was basic international competition, there were many indicators that Russia had other strategic intentions. Soviet military doctrines from 1968 and 1984 detailed Russian plans for space operations to include weaponization and development of offensive capabilities, but these policies were to prevent other nations from doing the same (Anantatmula 2013, 144-145). Beyond written policy, Russia has taken physical measures to prove it has the capability to challenge American space dominance. The Institute for Defense Analyses highlights the destruction of a United States satellite in 1977 by the Soviet Union as an example of Russian aggression, but other measures of Russian hostility in space such as the testing of offensive and maneuverable tracking and monitoring satellites solidifies Russian intentions (Davenport 2008, 10; Lambakis 2017, 29). In the end, Russia plans to dominate a part of the international theater. Because of previous successes in the space arena, the Kremlin plans to focus as much attention on space operations as possible.
Although the Soviet collapse degraded some aspects of Russian space activity, the autocratic nation has reconstituted its space capabilities. Similar to the United States, Russia has combined components of its military to establish a sub-branch called Space Forces to focus singularly on Russian space operations (DIA 2019, 24). The Kremlin designed this new force to stay ahead of its competitors in the space domain by any means necessary. In so doing, Russia uses electronic warfare, directed energy, cyber operations, on-orbit capabilities, ground-based kinetic energy, and situational awareness to disrupt, deny, degrade, and destroy American space infrastructure (DIA 2019, 28-29; NASIC 2018, 15-16). These activities can have severe implications for United States national security. Russian aggression in the space domain targets satellites and other space infrastructure, which can have significant social, economic, and political impacts on civil, commercial, military, intelligence, and other state operations (Baird 2013, 51; Davenport 2008, 10; NASIC 2018, 3, 6, 15). Without access to its satellites, the United States has minimal capability to protect its citizens and its interests from hostile nations and activities.
So far, Russian foreign policy has not explicitly determined whether it will favor a space war over a maintenance of the status quo or toward international cooperation and partnership. Russia prefers to keep its strategic policies secret to maintain the element of surprise. The three policy options are space war, “normal tensions,” and international cooperation and partnership. According to the current research, a space war is extremely likely in the next 5 – 10 years, but it is unknown whether the space war will occur or which states it will involve. Additionally, “normal tensions” will start at a complete refusal to cooperate internationally and end at physical violence against an adversary. Russia has a tendency to antagonize its opponents, which perpetuates a consistent level of tension among states. Ideally, Russia would pursue a significant policy of international cooperation and partnership, but Russian cooperation is dependent upon receivable benefits. Russia has entered into some mutually beneficial agreements with states and institutions, but these agreements are shallow and temporary. The Federation favors some aspects of the DIMEFIL framework – diplomatic, informational, military, economic, financial, intelligence, and law enforcement policy components, while limiting some of the other aspects. Overall, developing an educated estimate regarding this predicament is essential for state preparation and the maintenance of strong United States national security.
Geopolitical moves indicating a space war would be the development, experimentation, or use of any offensive space capability. Withdrawn international agreements, disinformation campaigns, direct threats or acts of force, economic sanctions, detrimental cyberattacks on state financial systems, denial and deception tactics regarding the space capabilities of others, and creation of legislation against others states will be the indicators of a potential space war. “Normal tensions” would include any moderately resistant activity on Russia’s part. Kremlin-backed interference of diplomatic agreements, misinformation, military space maneuvers, economic sanctions against Russia’s adversaries, moderate cyberattacks on state financial systems, on-orbit surveillance and reconnaissance of satellites, and accusations of undiplomatic behavior would fall under the “normal tensions” variable. For the “full cooperation/partnership” variable, significant change in the Kremlin would be apparent. “Full cooperation/partnership” activities would include meaningful compromise along with the creation of international agreements, information campaigns indicating the successes of others, joint military exercises and space operations, removal of economic sanctions, financial support to state and non-state space programs, establishment of intelligence sharing agreements, and international legislation that supports all positive space activities.
For explanation and externalization, this analytical method uses a simple decision matrix to determine the optimum answer in accordance with descriptive decision theory. If each DIMEFIL requirement existed under an IV option, the option received a positive mark (+). If the indicator did not exist, the option received a negative mark (-). If the requirement was unclear or inconclusive, the option received a zero (0). Once the researcher completed the tally, she determines which space policy option is the most likely based on a simple calculation of the scores. Some of the information presented itself multiple times throughout the collection period. Even though the researcher still considered data sources with previously collected information, she did not give duplicates greater significance over other information. Additionally, although the collection period covered five years, the researcher considered newer information as more relevant than older information in the analysis.
While there has been threatening activity to the United States from Russia in the past, the data did not indicate that the two nations are on the verge of a space war. Diplomatically, Russia has stalled the development of best practices in space in international institutions and often counters the path most accepted by its fellow state actors (Khudoley 2019, 101-102; Moltz 2020, 20; Pace 2015, 51-55). The intelligence and law enforcement aspects of the DIMEFIL method add to the positive diplomatic score because of the denial operations Russia undertakes to influence decision-making at the international level and policies designed to threaten and prevent the United States from conducting military space activities (Baghel 2019, 1; Interfax 2020a; McGrath 2020, 23). Russia’s biggest issue here is America’s dominance in other aspects of foreign policy. By aggressively countering the United States’ ambitions, the space race could limit competition between Russia and its partner China.
On the negative side, Russia has had a formidable military to which the government designates most of its budget. However, the data does not show that Russia has or plans to take direct action against the United States. The data does indicate that Moscow has undertaken some aggressive measures against American satellites, and it has attempted to flex is strength in space by testing several missile and anti-satellite systems (Baghel 2019, 11; Interfax 2018c; Sciutto 2019; Sherman 2017; Space Daily 2020; Staff 2016; Tanaka 2017, 86; Triezenberg 2017, 5). Without a true, consistent, direct indicator of Russia’s negative behavior toward the US, it would be difficult for a researcher to determine Putin’s intention without working in the highest positions in the Kremlin.
In information, economic, and financial operations, the result for Russia is inconclusive. Scholars and government officials know Russia runs aggressive information campaigns on domestic and foreign accounts to achieve its policy goals, but the researcher did not find any evidence of a disinformation campaign specific to America’s efforts in space (Aro 2016, 121-132; Baghel 2019, 14; Mirovalev 2016; Nocetti 2015, 111-130). Furthermore, while Moscow may press economic sanctions and provide financial aid to nations to influence policymaking in space, the data shows very little. Russia has an impact on its own economy by altering the contracts between Moscow and other nations, but its efforts to support or inhibit the economies and space abilities of others may be classified (Interfax 2015b). With this assessment, the researcher determined that Russia is less likely (+2) to pursue a space war policy over the other policy options. From an alternative view, if the researcher analyzes the DIMEFIL indicators horizontally, those rows with the same marks have little effect on the overall decision-making process. Instead, Russia would receive a score based on the two indicators left (0), which would still be on the low end in comparison to the other scores.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the collected data shows that the most likely policy option Putin will take regarding space activities will be one that maintains “normal tensions” between the United States and Russia. Many of the selected articles referred to activities in this middle posture likely because it is the traditional fallback position for Russia. The strongest indicator of this policy option in the diplomatic arena is Russia’s accusations that the United States is instigating a space arms race (Arbatov 2019, 153; BBC Monitoring 2019a; Chang 2018, A4; ContentEngine LLC 2020). By failing to accept the Sino-Russian backed Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space Treaty (PPWT), Russia sees the United States as a threat to Russian national security. However, the US has good reason to deny the treaty because it fails to address significant loopholes that both Russia and China could exploit (ANM 2018c). Additionally, military, intelligence, and law enforcement DIMEFIL applications indicate that Russia is using military space maneuvers and missile tests; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) procedures; and government policy to test the United States while attempting to make Russia appear as the moral and ethical opponent (BBC Monitoring 2019b; Broder 2016; Chim 2018, 6; Collins 2018, 30; Davis 2018, 19-20; Larsen 2018, 148; Robinson 2016, 19; Whitney, Thompson, and Park 2019, 86-89; Zhao and Jiang 2019, 52). These activities earn Russia four positive marks toward the “normal tensions” policy that the inconclusive designations for the other three DIMEFIL components counter.
Because “normal tensions” act as a catchall for Russian decision-making that is not at the space war or full cooperation extremes, the researcher discovered multiple sources that can support this policy option. However, in information, economic, and financial areas of decision-making, the researcher found the results to be inconclusive. Part of this problem results from a lack of resources on the specific topics, but another part of the issue arises from Russia’s inability to act otherwise. Russia speaks its own praises while condemning American behavior. Since Russia’s information operations are highly secretive and often unrecognizable, one can only assume Russia’s actions in this area are for a political purpose but it may be unrelated to space activities (Collins 2018, 30; MENA Report 2017). Regarding economic and financial actions, the economic sanctions Russia experiences, preference to filter money into the space program, and information limits on the economic and financial activities of the Russian Federation make it difficult to discern whether Russia has used economic sanctions or foreign aid as significant tools in favor of spacy policy (Arbatov 2019, 153; Orlova 2016, 203-217). With the highest cumulative score (4+), normal tensions land in the highest position for the most likely policy Russia will pursue. Alternatively, if the researcher discards all consistent items from the decision matrix, the overall score for “normal tensions” lands in the top spot again (2+).
Full Cooperation and Partnership
For most nations, Russia’s full cooperation and partnership in the international space theater is the ideal policy even if it is not realistic. However, despite what critics may think, Russia promotes and complies with many international cooperatives related to space activities. Russia’s cooperation with the remaining space community outside of warfare has been beneficial for all space-faring nations. Beyond cooperation with the US at the International Space Station (ISS), Russia has cooperative relationships with multiple countries to promote scientific research, exploration, and peaceful activities (Annett and Dennis 2018, 20; ANM 2017a; ANM 2019a; ANM 2019b; ANM 2019d; BBC Monitoring 2019c; Gibney 2016, 288; Giorgio and Bianchi 2016, 14). Additionally, Russia assists other nations with sharing information about dangers in space and promoting active debris removal (ADR) (Becheru and Stan 2019, 70-71; Kasku-Jackson 2016, 93). These activities help Russia and other nations maintain situational space awareness, which can have positive implications for land-based activities as well. Even at times when Russia would disrupt the activities of international institutions especially regarding space governance, Russian cooperation was still a shining light from this otherwise dark and difficult nation.
In contrast to the positive actions Russia has taken to progress in the international theater, more than half of the DIMEFIL indicators received an inconclusive mark. In information operations, Russia promotes cooperation, partnership, and the prevention of an arms race in space (Arbatov 2019, 156; Byers 2019, 36). However, other Russian activities counter these outward exhibitions. Military, intelligence, and law enforcement activities that show aggression toward the United States and other nations indicate Russia’s true intent and policy goals for outer space. Furthermore, the data lacked information regarding Russia’s economic and financial activities again. Russia has economic ties to the United States regarding space equipment, and the nation restricts the foreign aid it disburses because it prefers to reinvest it into its space programs (Byers 2019, 35). While Russia likely has a program in place to manage economic sanctions and financial ties, the lack of the subject in the library potentially indicates Russia’s lack of interest in using these tools to develop and enhance space policy. Finally, Russia has been proactive in promoting international legislation to manage the benefits and advantages of outer space. However, the loopholes contained within these anti-weaponization policies make this positive progress moot especially if the United States fails to agree with the terms of the treaty (Chow 2018, 113; Driscoll 2019). In all, the full international cooperative and partnership policy option is a worthy challenge for Russia, but the inconclusive marks outweigh the positives and leave the third policy option in second place for Russian decision-making. The alternative view (see table) indicates a full cooperative policy would be second to “normal tensions” as well (1+).
Based on the data collected and applied to the DIMEFIL framework, the information supports a Russian national policy aligned with “Normal Tensions.” Therefore, the data does not support the original hypothesis: The most likely space policy Vladimir Putin will adopt for future space operations will lead to a space war. Russia has taken some aggressive stances and actions against the United States because the US is a threat to Russian interests in space. With China, Russia has taken advantage of the distractions the United States must manage on the ground by putting significant time and resources into their space programs. In some parts of the DIMEFIL framework, a space war might be likely. However, the Space War policy option did not have has much support as the other policy options. The data represents “Normal Tensions” and Full Cooperation/Partnership somewhat evenly, but the number of positive, negative, and inconclusive marks among all three policy options leaned in favor of “Normal Tensions.”
In sum, Russia’s decision-making process is secretive and mercurial. President Putin prefers to keep the world guessing regarding Russia’s next moves, and he often chooses policies counter to the status quo for no other purpose than to avoid cooperation. Because space activities are progressing at a rapid rate again, it is essential for the United States to prepare for whatever decision Russia makes in outer space. Russia has been a fierce competitor in space for the United States, and the nation has a significant interest in dominating this new operational domain. A space war would entail direct, aggressive action against the United States, while cooperation would be just the opposite. “Normal tensions” would include a similar atmosphere to what exists today. Russia makes threats and takes on threatening activities, but oftentimes, it does not follow through. Additionally, Putin will advance Russian interests in whichever way possible with little regard for short-term or long-term risks. To determine which policy Putin might choose, the researcher tested and compared the three policy options against the seven elements of the DIMEFIL grand strategy framework: diplomacy, information, military, economic, finance, intelligence, and law enforcement. When comparing the variables, the researcher found the results of the study did not support the original assumption that President Putin’s actions would result in a space war.
Instead, the data supports the continuation of “Normal Tensions.” Data moderately supported Full Cooperation/Partnership as well, but the inconclusive marks brought the likelihood of the cooperative policy down. Despite the results of this study, one can never know the true intentions of an adversary. Ultimately, understanding the decision-making processes and outcomes of state leaders is necessary to advance the United States’ comprehension of and preparation for state-based decisions. However, government officials should not rely on an adversary’s selection of a single policy, and the nation should prepare for all policy options to protect the life, liberty, and happiness of all Americans. In the next five years, the international theater and progress in space may change significantly. For now, the United States must prepare to counter Russian aggression at every turn.
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