Why a coherent Middle East space policy is a necessity
by Michael J. Listner
|For the purposes of Middle East defense, a national space policy should address and include the perspective of national defense.|
The leadership of the Middle Eastern nations responded to this threat through substantial arms purchases to bolster their forces, including arms purchases authorized by the United States in an attempt to assuage concerns and offset the destabilizing effects of the nuclear agreement. Nonetheless, weapons alone are not the end-all for preparing to meet the potential Iranian threat. Weapons are only as good as the strategies and leadership that direct their use, and those strategies are dependent on policies as a foundation for their creation. This means without effective policy, strategies to effectively address theaters of a future open conflict cannot be created. The nations of the Middle East must consider the conventional theaters of war when making preparations, but they must also reflect on the high ground of outer space when considering the potential for future conflict. Consequently, it is imperative the nations of the Middle East create and implement a comprehensive national space policy not as a political goal but as a means to a pragmatic end. There are three fundamental reasons for the Middle Eastern nations to address space policy.
The primary motivation for the Middle Eastern nations to create a broad domestic national space policy is to establish a comprehensive primary policy for all government sectors that interact with the outer space environment from which to create their own subordinate policies. A national space policy by nature examines all segments of government and, from that, creates policy directions for government sectors. That means it addresses and involves all government agencies, including defense. From this comprehensive examination, a national space policy defines the roles and responsibilities of the government departments with a stake in the nation’s space sector, including their relationships with one another. It expresses national security, civil, commercial, and scientific interests and activities in the space environment from a collective point of view and provides implementation guidelines for the nation’s individual national security, civil, and commercial space communities.
A national space policy is a comprehensive effort of not just one segment of government but instead a collaboration among all segments, including its defense organs, to create a primary policy to guide individual sectors. For the purposes of Middle East defense, this means a national space policy should address and include the perspective of national defense, and provide guidance for defense agencies to create specific subordinate policies for the application of outer space to defense and national security that are congruent with the overall policy’s broad parameters.
|In principle, it compels government sectors to take a cold, hard look at themselves not only through their subjective perception but the outside perspective and assessment of other government sectors.|
The second fundamental benefit of a comprehensive national space policy to the defense of the Middle East nation results from the act of creating the policy itself. Creating a national space policy requires the defense sector to look inward and assess its strengths and vulnerabilities, but it also requires the defense sector to look outside itself to other sectors of government to assess their capabilities and shortcomings and how they correlate with the defense sector’s strength. Culturally, such transparency may be difficult and meet resistance, but in terms of developing an effective national space policy and, by extension, a specific defense sector space policy and strategy, such transparency is essential.
This fundamental process compels government sectors, including defense, to ask, “What is the sector’s current capabilities and weaknesses, and do other government sectors have capabilities and resources from which to draw upon?” In principle, it compels government sectors to take a cold, hard look at themselves not only through their subjective perception but the outside perspective and assessment of other government sectors. The objective of this introspection is to create a comprehensive understanding of a nation’s space capabilities and how the activities of other government sectors might relate to each other. Indeed, it is a tenet of war if you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. Accordingly, while the nations of the Middle East know the enemy, in the instance of their space capabilities they may not truly know themselves. The scrupulous exercise of creating a comprehensive national space policy would ensure they indeed know themselves.
The third fundamental purpose relates to the foundations a true national space policy creates in terms of interagency cooperation and interaction with allies. The exercise of taking stock of capabilities from the second fundamental purpose also reveals relationships that exist between government sectors and those that need to be present to create an effective subordinate space policy and space strategy. Creating a national space policy not only identifies existing resources and capabilities to be drawn upon, it also identifies and defines necessary interagency relationships, which can be relied upon in the event of hostilities. Equally important, a national space policy creates the core from which subordinate policies can establish the scope and authorities for the defense sector to correlate a nation’s space assets and capabilities with those of allies during an open conflict.
|A current and likely future conflict environment with Iran will be info-centric and include outer space as a critical theater.|
This crucial relationship was epitomized during the 2016 Schriever war games, which was set in 2026 and focused on policy and strategy between US forces and those of its allies with emphasis on space and cyber strategy. The 2016 games revealed significant gaps between policies of the United States and its allies with regards to space and cyber warfare. Most of the details of the games are classified, but it was revealed in some instances many allies participating in the games could not continuously operate in space and cyber environments concurrently with the United States not because they didn’t have the capabilities or the assets, but for the straightforward reason they didn’t have a policy that authorized them to do so. Significantly, as Iran becomes a more dominant player, the nations of the Middle East will look for continued mutual defense assurances from the United States and other allies, which will include functioning in a cooperative space environment. Without a comprehensive national space policy, the requisite subordinate policy and authority for these nations to coordinate with US space capabilities cannot be effectuated, which could lead to failure on the battlefield.
It is unclear whether a resurgent Iran will choose to engage its neighbors in open war in the future or continue its proxy wars through third parties. Unlike Persia’s past conquest over the land and the sea, a current and likely future conflict environment with Iran will be info-centric and include outer space as a critical theater. That said, given the importance of information in the present and future battlefield, an articulate space strategy must be employed to utilize and coordinate space capabilities with conventional resources. To that end, comprehensive and coherent national space policy is a needed first step for the Middle East nations to cast light on the growing shadow of Iran’s resurgence.