Darker side of the moon: Are we on the verge of space war?
Armed build-up by the US and China means extraterrestrial warfare is no longer the stuff of fantasy
The news that China has landed an explorer robot on the dark side of the moon has echoed across the global media, a sign of the country’s growing prominence on the international stage. Let’s face it, space is still a sexy topic. And there is something rather fascinating about China – a non-Western global power – making the achievement. It feels like a turning of the page.
Western powers have dominated modern economics, sciences and political ideologies for so long that they implicitly set standards for what marks a civilised power. Space exploration remains a benchmark.
The Chinese government has sought to draw attention to the robot moon landing, celebrating it as a step forward not just for China but for all mankind. However, while the rise of its space programme is indeed a positive development, it comes at an odd time in China’s own history, a moment when the country seems beset by historic contradictions and tensions. It is an age when the economic relationship between the US and China – once the engine of global growth – has become dominated by a trade war and military competition.
While China has long insisted that its rise would be a peaceful one, the moon landing and the technology that undergirds it have been driven by what some scholars have called techno-nationalism. Accordingly, under the terms of President Xi Jinping’s “China Dream”, national rejuvenation will be the result of technological prowess, something that has driven its cyber-hacking and mercantilist policies.
We cannot ignore the fact that China has the most rapidly growing military presence in space. A US defence department report noted in 2018 that, since it tested anti-satellite weapons in 2007, China’s ability to take out American satellites has burgeoned, with near-space unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), satellite jammers and a “vast ground infrastructure”. Many of these systems are developed as “counter-space” technologies, in which China might deny other powers the ability to use space in a crisis or conflict.
The Trump administration announcing in 2018 that it would create a “space force” reveals the seriousness with which Washington views such developments. Outer space is a new frontier for warfare.
Given President Xi’s insistence that Taiwan “must and will be” reunited with the mainland, and the US commitment to defend it, a space conflict may no longer be merely in the realm of imagination. So, while we should all celebrate human progress in space, I can’t help but wonder if we’re simply taking our problems up there. • John Hemmings is director of the Asia Studies Centre at the Henry Jackson Society.
– © The Daily Telegraph