Germany becomes fourth NATO country to create a Space Command.
Written by Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro
Amidst the contemporary space race, more and more countries decide to invest in expanding their military power through space technology. This Tuesday, July 13, Germany became the latest NATO country to inaugurate an autonomous space command, creating a branch of its armed forces specializing in operations in Earth orbit. Usually, the militaristic nature in the space policies of Western powers is justified as a response to the supposed “threat” posed by the aerospace power of Russia and China, which does not seem to have any concrete basis.
During an event at the German Space Situational Awareness Center in Uedem, German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer gave a long speech about the need to militarily protect the outer space. In her pronouncement, the creation of the German Space Command was also announced. The minister said that the main objective of the new command will be the protection of German satellites from enemy threats and other non-military dangers, such as space debris capable of damaging the equipment, which gives the Berlin project a more “peaceful” and defensive aspect. Commenting on the role of the members of such commando, Annegret stated: “Space has become a critical infrastructure that we need to secure (…) [The military are] responding to the increasing significance of space for our state’s ability to function, the prosperity of our population, and the increasing dependency of the armed forces on space-supported data, services and products.”
The German minister’s comments are undoubtedly legitimate, considering that outer space is a common zone of strategic interest to all states, whose exploration for military purposes has become increasingly frequent. In fact, space technology is already part of the central structure of the contemporary war and all countries interested in guaranteeing their sovereignty need to create mechanisms for the strategic use of space, which makes Berlin’s decision extremely interesting and correct, since a realistic point of view.
According to data from early 2021, the European country has only six satellites in orbit, which is a practically irrelevant number. For example, the US has 1,897 satellites. Obviously, this inferiority harms Germany, which not only becomes a militarily weak nation – considering the importance of space technology in modern warfare – but also becomes dependent on other countries to explore space resources even in a peaceful way, having to seek international partnerships with large private companies and foreign agencies to undertake any project that uses sophisticated space technology. In this sense, therefore, it is Berlin’s right to seek its space sovereignty, but we must analyze the situation considering the international trend towards the formation of military space forces around the West.
Since 2019, four NATO countries have created space commands in their armed forces. The trend began with former US President Donald Trump, who founded the US Space Force, the latest branch of the US military. The same attitude was taken by President Emmanuel Macron, who created the French Space Command in the same year. Also in 2019, during a summit, NATO pointed to outer space as a new domain of operations, alongside land, sea, air and cyberspace. In 2020, it was the UK’s time to create its space command, following an order given by Boris Johnson, setting one of the biggest British acts of military expansion in decades. Now, Germany becomes the fourth nation to follow this path.
This trend seems to grow more and more among the NATO states, however, a common speech to all these countries is the existence of a “Russian-Chinese threat”. Trump, Macron and Johnson made it clear that their respective space commands were created with the aim of countering the growing space power of Moscow and Beijing, highlighting once again the possible threat to Western security posed by these countries. Aggressive words against Russia and China did not appear in Kramp-Karrenbauer’s speech, but it is likely that the German government also embraces this notion and just avoid talking about it publicly to avoid further international tensions.
These accusations against the Russian and Chinese governments are absolutely unfounded. Moscow and Beijing pose a “threat” to peace in space as they simply develop their respective military space technologies. There is nothing special about the projects of such countries: every nation with extensive development in military application of space technology is a “threat” to peace. And such “threat” is greater or lesser depending on the willingness of the governments for peace. In this sense, it is visible that NATO has a more aggressive posture than its rivals, considering the large investments made by its states in this type of technology (especially the US, the largest military satellite launcher).
On the other hand, there is another possible analysis on the German case. Recently, Germany has increasingly sought to reduce its military dependence on the US. There is a process of militarization that is still small, but not irrelevant. The country has increased its defense spending and sought to modernize its arsenal. Considering the importance of space technology for military purposes, the German government can be simply seeking for greater military sovereignty, however, this is unlikely to mean a real change in the German government’s adoption of the anti-Russian and anti-Chinese speech spread by NATO.