An aggressive and rapidly developing China challenges US dominance in space and will continue to do so without renewed American leadership and investment.
Mainstream narrative largely misses the significant dependence of the US on space for economic health and national security. Indeed, GPS, communications, broadband, financial transactions, and remote sensing and imaging all use space assets as indispensable sensors and relays. US intelligence and defense capabilities (such as C4ISR) are a cornerstone of national security today but are vulnerable because satellite positions are known, they are expensive to launch into orbit, and attribution of attacks are difficult. Americans also don’t know the fragile state of US technology leadership in space. As the front-runner in the cosmos for decades the emerging space power challenging America’s reign is China.
China has invested massively in R&D, space, and defense and has made great strides in these sectors. China has developed production of advanced rockets, survivable communications, satellites, manned missions, autonomous spacecraft, and persistent surveillance. Leadership in Beijing view space technologies as a crucial element of national power to include prestige of advanced S&T and economic benefits of these investments. The intent behind China’s space program, like many of its large S&T programs, is not so transparent. Chinese civil and military organizations for space are integrated. For instance, China’s navigation system, Beidou, can be used for civil purposes or for expanded operational capability needed in long-range strike. In a report to the US China Commission by Mark Stokes and Dean Chung it was highlighted that “R&D investments include foreign satellite communications monitoring systems, electronic countermeasure systems to disrupt an opponent’s use of space based systems, and developing the capability for physical destruction of satellites in orbit.” Electronic intelligence satellites and dual use synthetic aperture radar are also maturing, according to the report.
China has greatly progressed in ballistic missile technology that threatens assured access to space and has the potential to be used offensively. A much-cited 2007 test of a Chinese anti-satellite (ASAT) missile took place in 2007 and created thousands of pieces of debris. China’s missile tests in 2010 and 2013 are still debated by experts but in May 2013 strong evidence points to another successful ASAT test took place from a road-mobile ballistic missile. More recently, the US State Department accused China of conducting an ASAT test on July 23, 2014, calling “on China to refrain from destabilizing actions – such as the continued development and testing of destructive anti-satellite systems – that threaten the long term security and sustainability of the outer space environment, on which all nations depend.” China’s ASAT capabilities clearly pose a direct threat to US satellites, however, US policy and leadership remains complacent in light of these developments.
Other nations are ramping up investment with the goal of leveraging its unique strategic and tactical advantage. DNI James Clapper testified to the SSCI earlier this year, saying “Chinese and Russian military leaders understand the unique information advantages afforded by space systems and are developing capabilities to disrupt US use of space in a conflict. Chinese military writings highlight the need to interfere with, damage, and destroy reconnaissance, navigation, and communication satellites.” The US does not need a major military or surprise event to catalyze government change in favor of US space leadership. The ubiquity of space technologies, powerful new capabilities, and the potential for mal-intent should drive us to do better.
Greater leadership and investment can solve the issues presented by unknown intent and capabilities of aggressive and developing countries such as China. Leadership can inspire a generation of the brightest minds to pursue STEM careers, tackle challenging national security issues in space, and participate in cutting edge science and research. By leading in this field of S&T, the US can make important long term decisions in areas like exploration and commercialization of space. More investment in civil and military space programs – with a renewed mission and focus – can maintain and progress US leadership in this domain. Programs that invigorate the national mindset and those that keep Americans safe should be some of the highest priorities in every President’s R&D agenda. Understanding the importance of space and acting upon it should deeply motivate US citizens and policymakers to maintain superiority and freedom of action in the future.
On the 13th anniversary of Sept 11, 2001, we pause to remember those lost. We have experienced 13 years without another major attack, thanks to the hard work of the military, intelligence community, and homeland security personnel charged with dismantling Al-Qaeda and preventing another terrorist strike.
This week, intelligence community officials have stated that there are no credible threats to the United States homeland from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL): according to Homeland Security secretary Jeh C. Johnson, "We know of no credible information that ISIL is planning to attack the homeland at present.” But at the same time, other government officials, including President Obama and Senator Dianne Feinstein, Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have said ISIL is a significant threat and must be dismantled and defeated.
ISIL has built a large cadre of fighters, seized huge weapons caches in Iraq, and has accrued far more cash than Al-Qaeda ever dreamed of. They have brutally murdered two American journalists and executed thousands, including hundreds of children and religious minorities. ISIL is highly organized and issues annual reports touting statistics of their activities—suicide bombings, murders, sniper attacks, and car bombs, among others. They have explicitly declared war on the West, making threats against the US homeland, stating American streets will run with blood. ISIL has people in their organization who are citizens of the western countries they wish to target and can easily travel and operate in them. The FBI has tracked some of these individuals, but many are unknown or unaccounted for. Attacks have already been carried out by ISIL associates in Belgium and foiled in France.
If we compare this to the period leading up to September 11, 2001, the parallels are chilling. Osama bin Laden declared war on the US, threatened us, and launched attacks on embassies, the USS Cole, and even the World Trade Center. We saw evidence before Sept 11 that some kind of plot was in the works, but did not connect the dots on the specifics. We continued to believe that a larger attack would never happen.
This time, we are paying attention and know from experience that groups like this are willing and able to threaten the US. Our ability to collect intelligence has been damaged by the exposure of methods by Edward Snowden—targets have changed their communications practices. Human intelligence in these groups is difficult. But we seem to have a mindset that just because we don’t have direct evidence of a plot to attack US soil, there isn’t one. Like 9/11, this is another failure of imagination. We should listen to what ISIL is telling us about their intentions, and take action to ensure they cannot bring their vicious fight to us.
Of course, this is easier said than done. The President’s strategy as announced last night is to use airstrikes and support a coalition of fighters in Iraq and Syria to defeat ISIL. Arming and equipping rebels in Syria is a complicated proposition; how do we arm Syrian rebels and ensure that those arms don’t end up in the hands of ISIL? How can we expect the rebels fighting Assad to also take on ISIL? Syria has no good options, and if we rely on a coalition approach we will be forced to deal with the lesser of many evils. The President has pledged not to put boots on the ground. But if we continue to let ISIL simmer and build strength, they will have to be dealt with militarily before long.
Tension is increasingly mounting over the future governance framework of the Internet. The Internet Governance Forum came to a close last week, and Internet stakeholders are beginning to look to October’s Internet Governance Telecommunications Union (ITU) Plenipotentiary with anxiety. As the U.S. prepares for October’s meeting, it would be wise for them to look back to April’s NETmundial meeting. NETmunidal provides an informative example of a concluding meeting statement that does not necessarily reflect the ‘mulitstakeholder’ decision it supposedly endorsed.
The conflict over the future of the Internet is over two differing approaches to Internet governance: multistakeholderism and multilateralism. Multistakeholder advocates believe stakeholders from a multitude of entities should govern the Internet: states, private sector, civil society groups, academia, and non-governmental institutions. Multilateral champions, in contrast, believe that a conglomeration of states, most likely located within the United Nations (UN), should govern the Internet. While the divide separating both camps is not necessarily manichaeistic, their divergences over how the Internet should be governed has tremendous social, economic, and security implications.
At first glance, the April NETmundial Internet governance meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil appears to be a victory for the ‘multistakeholder’ Internet governance camp. A quick look at the website home page shows the ‘NETmundial multistakholder statement’ as the first item on their banner. Country statements post meeting seem to support this view. In late April, the U.S. State Department—perhaps one of the more vocal advocates of multistakeholderism—issued a press release that noted their ‘pleas[ure] that the [NETmundial] document continues to focus on a future Internet rooted in mutlistakeholder processes and institutions.” Likewise, the European Commission, another important member of ‘team multistakeholder’ stated that, “NETmundial has put us on the right track.” However, a closer analysis of the NETmundial statement seems to suggest otherwise.
The outcome document from NETmundial, “The NETmundial Multistakeholder Statement”, provides various taskings or suggestions that advocate for either a multilateral or multistakeholder process. There are fifteen such statements that task an item or make a suggestion. Overall when comparing the various items that support multistakeholderism to the items that advocate multilateralism, the outcome of the various statements are 40% promoting a mulistakeholder approach to 60% advocating multilateralism. Moreover, if one only includes concrete follow-on taskings to organizations, the result would be 100% multilateralism. Of those fifteen statements, the only concrete taskings that takes place in the document is to UN forums or UN sponsored conferences. The UN is a multilateral institution, composed of member states.
There is also some disconnect between statements advocating a multistakeholder process and the institution or former document the ‘NETmundial Statement’ endorses as a mechanism to achieve multistakeholderism. For example, in 2.1.2 the document advocates for a mulitstakeholder process to enhance cooperation on Internet governance public policy. While making this statement, the document notes that cooperation should be in the spirit of the Tunis Agenda and should consider UN Commission on Science and Technology Development (CSTD) working groups. The Tunis Agenda places emphasis on development goals through a multilateral process and the CSTD is a UN institution, which is inherently multilateral. While 2.1.2 advocates for a multi-stakeholder approach, the institutions that are mentioned to help facilitate that process are multilateral.
From a U.S. policy perspective NETmundial was not the success that the U.S. State Department purported. In the upcoming ITU Plenipotentiary negotiations, the U.S. government would be wise to heed the example of NETmundial and take note of the disparity between overt statements and actual outcomes.
This blog is based on a conversation with Senior Fellow, Melissa Hathaway. Initial observations on the disparity between the NETmundial document and outcomes are hers.
Injecting a conflated understanding of ethics into journalism negatively affects scientific progress. That is to say, unethically performed research such as the fraudulent Wakefield paper on autism and vaccines or the Tuskegee syphilis experiment should be reported on and brought to the attention of the public. In contrast, journalism involving research findings should not jump to conclusions about the potential for research to be used unethically. When these unwarranted ethical questions are presented in the media, their only utility is to propagate a mistrust of science research.
A recent Atlantic article presents recent neuroscience research as a potential treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The research focuses on altering memories that trigger PTSD symptoms. When a memory is retrieved, it can be affected by additional stimuli or neural signals. This is generally useful, as memories need a way to update themselves in response to changes in the environment or behavior. The research targeted the unstable nature of recalled memories by giving participants a dose of propranolol (a beta blocker drug) before asking them to recall a fearful memory. The idea is that these drugs reduce emotional responses (e.g. some musicians take beta blockers before a big audition so that their nervousness or anxiety is lowered and they are able to play well). If a person’s emotional responsiveness is reduced, then recalling a fearful memory might not produce the usual physiological response. Over time, repeated and directed therapy could cause this memory to reconsolidate into a non-stressful version.
The article does a great job of explaining the content of the research in a concise fashion, but its attempt to incorporate ethical concern is harmful. The subheading at the top of the article is as follows: “A controversial area of brain research suggests [changing memories] may be possible - but is it ethical?” The article does not mention ethics again until the very last sentence, where the author asks the same exact question. The author wants to make sure that the first thing that the reader sees after the title is this question. I find this disconcerting. When a proposed treatment is not even close to being verifiable, and the scientific community understands the limitations of a specific study, we do not need to spend time questioning its ethical nature.
It is easy to take our science findings and extrapolate them to their scary extremes. Tacking on a question of ethics probably generates controversy and can be good for an author’s page views. It is telling that the author asks the question but does not address it. It can be hard to make definitive statements about what is right or wrong when it comes to a complex concept like memory alteration. Regardless of how difficult this question is to answer, science research on memory alteration should not be stopped. When our scientists are not close to figuring out how to reliably alter memories in a benign, therapeutic context, then we do not need to worry about their ability to perform unethical experiments. The research studies presented in the article followed Institutional Review Board guidelines and underwent stringent peer review (processes which are largely meant to prevent unethical research from occurring). There is a distinction between ethically performed research and the ethical use of a technology or process. This neuroscience research followed all established ethical guidelines and it should not be stopped because of the fear that it might lead to unethical practices later on.
If we are going to worry about anything at all involving this research, it would be that a rogue actor, who somehow does understand how to manipulate memories, starts to cause undue harm and suffering to others. If this hypothetical situation occurs, what can we do? Our only option would be to perform even more research to figure out how to undo his or her actions! Opportunists will always try to take advantage of science and technology advancements. We cannot avoid that fact, unless we become complacent, halt all research, and never solve another difficult problem again. Performing solid, peer-reviewed research on topics like PTSD therapy is a valuable endeavor and placing unnecessary questions of ethics around it will limit our abilities to succeed. Ethics are an important aspect of our society and are the vehicle by which we demonstrate fair and just treatment of our fellow citizens. However, scientific research should not be hampered by premature concern about its ethical consequences.
Ignoring social approaches to national security analysis severely degrades our understanding of adversaries’ intentions and capabilities. The only way to understand the intentions and technological capabilities of a state or non-state actor is by using a holistic approach that analyzes social aspects, such as the creation of ideas, management, and characteristics of an organization. These critical pieces of knowledge can be overlooked without deep knowledge of a culture, people, and region. Some recently studied examples of these oversights cover the bioweapons program of the Soviet Union.
In the case of the Soviet’s bioweapons program, Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley argues “that the success of a bioweapons program also depends on ‘intangible factors,’ such as work organization, program management, structural organization, and social environment, that affect the acquisition and efficient use of scientific knowledge.” For example, the director of one Anthrax bioweapon facility broke Soviet rules of compartmentalization by having scientists and weaponeers collaborate and communicate openly with each other, ultimately helping lead to success of the program. Kathleen Vogel’s recent work, Phantom Menace or Looming Danger?, describes US bioweapons threat assessments that have excluded “from analytic and policy attention (1) a serious consideration of the social dimensions of biotechnology and its associated bioweapons implications; and (2) the social practices surrounding analytic work that can introduce biases into bioweapons assessments.” Vogel’s work depicts the “biotech revolution frame” and its ramifications for overestimating technical capability. Both cases show a hindsight view of capabilities that were “knowable” at the time. Thus, by including in national security assessments a better understanding of the social aspects, the US has the potential to better predict the nature of threats.
To ensure the security of the US through knowledge of intentions and capabilities, the social aspect must become an integral part of the analytical toolkit. The social approach to national security should be used more robustly, but not at the expense of other quantitative approaches. Material, resources, and expertise impact social and technical spheres of knowledge creation just as organization, management, and ideation do. A toolbox of approaches including ones that emphasize social dynamics of an adversary and data-driven ones should be utilized together. Current practices in the US Intelligence Community and the Department of Defense need to take the take this approach more seriously in order to produce rigorous analytic products that accurately identify and predict our adversaries’ intentions and capabilities.