Clearing the Fog: The Grey Zones of Space Governance

Speakers: Jessica West Jordan Miller

April 22, 2024

Clearing the Fog: The Grey Zones of Space Governance

CIGI experts Jessica West and Jordan Miller provide insight into the complexities of space governance, including policy dilemmas and technological advancements. In this video, they explore the intricacies of regulating activities beyond Earth’s atmosphere and of navigating through “grey zones” in rules and conduct, offering a comprehensive look at the challenges and opportunities for the future of space governance.

The Grey Zone is fundamentally about a lack of clarity around the rules of governance.

If we look at the grey zone in terms of governance and rules and conduct, it allows us to do something about it. When it’s seen as a military challenge, military responses alone are likely to make the problem worse. They can encourage an arms race and they can encourage greater confrontation and, even risk conflict.

I mean, there's always greyness in governance. Nothing is ever 100 percent clear. If that were the case, I think that we would find ourselves in a really difficult situation, where governance rules would quickly be outstripped by new activities and new capabilities.

With poor definition across a range of activities, some states can engage in a give and take of actions against each other that are poorly defined. This doesn't mean these actions are necessarily good, but what it does mean is that without clear expectations of retaliation and escalation, states may tolerate bad behavior from each other without escalating further.

Peace is one of those slippery concepts. It is absolutely core to how we govern space. It is the fundamental principle that guides human activities. We are supposed to be using space for peaceful purposes that benefit everyone. That's becoming more challenging as we have greater and greater technology related to outer space-the kind of technology that can be both peaceful at non-peaceful.

Anti-satellite missile tests have been justified under the rubric of scientific research for peaceful purposes. And the same was true of the “Star Wars” program in the 1980s. Without stronger governance, this is likely to continue because that umbrella and that definition of peace is so broad that it allows virtually anything to fall under it.

I mean, when we silo our governance conversations, we miss opportunities to find low hanging fruit where there is existing governance in one area, they apply in another. I think cyber is one. We already have rules for cyber space that put essential civilian services off limits when it comes to harmful activities.

The more we think about how space impacts other domains, including cybersecurity, the more we can take a holistic approach and begin thinking at a design level about the impacts in multiple domains, about choices made, about capabilities, and about how we use them.

Establishing a better definition for what we mean when we say, “responsible use” is a significant improvement over just saying “peace” or “peaceful uses.” By broadening this definition somewhat, what we're really talking about is having the governance catch up to the kinds of behaviour we’re already seeing in space.

We don’t always have to start from scratch when it comes to governance.

We certainly don’t have to start from scratch and outer space.

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