Tuesday, November 12, 2013

EU’s New Space Code: A Significant Improvement, my OpEd on the EU's new space code, published in this week's Space News....

Here's an OpEd of mine on the EU's new Space Code published in this week's Space News.

A new draft of the European Union (EU)-initiated International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities is out. The text of this draft is a huge progress from the previous versions, incorporating many of the comments and suggestions from countries around the world. The language of the new document is tighter and avoids some of the vagueness of the earlier drafts, which had been a cause for concern.

For the full essay, click here.

A new draft of the European Union (EU)-initiated International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities is out. The text of this draft is a huge progress from the previous versions, incorporating many of the comments and suggestions from countries around the world. The language of the new document is tighter and avoids some of the vagueness of the earlier drafts, which had been a cause for concern.

One of the key changes is that the new draft has made it amply clear that it is not in conflict with any of the existing treaties and conventions and that it is fully consistent with other U.N. instruments, including previous international legal instruments, declarations, principles and guidelines.

Starting with the Preamble, the new draft makes explicit the objectives of the code, highlighting “greater international cooperation, collaboration, openness and transparency.” More importantly, the new text omits the reference to the “legitimate defence interests of States.” This clause was seen as particularly troublesome by many states given that it could be interpreted subjectively, favoring certain states to potentially weaponize their space capabilities.

Under General Principles, the new draft clarifies the right to individual or collective self-defense in the face of vehement criticism that the right may be pursued by states to legitimize acts of weaponization. While the reference to the right to self-defense has been retained, it has been balanced with the principle of refraining “from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state or in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the Charter of the United Nations” in an effort to reflect customary international law, as enshrined in the U.N. Charter. Oddly, this clause generated no debate in the Asian context or even among the major spacefaring powers. The principle is also mentioned in the draft treaty proposed by Russia and China (Article 5) — a fact that could infuse confidence among a large number of developing countries.

In the section on Safety, Security and Sustainability of Outer Space Activities, clause 4.2 avoids a troubling qualification (contained in the 2012 version) that in conducting outer space activities, states will “refrain from any action which brings about ... damage, or destruction, of space objects unless such action is conducted to reduce the creation of outer space debris” (emphasis added). The new version has removed this qualification. The earlier version raised problems because of the subjective manner in which actions could be justified as legitimate and also who determines what actions can be deemed legitimate and that a particular activity has been undertaken to reduce creation of outer space debris.

The one area where some concerns continue is the distinction made between countries that sign the code and those that do not.

Section 5 of the new version, Cooperation Mechanisms, is a good example. Clause 5.1 of the new text says that subscribing states “resolve to notify, in a timely manner, to the greatest extent practicable, all potentially affected Subscribing States of any event related to the outer space activities they are conducting which are relevant for the purposes of this Code, including: scheduled manoeuvres that could pose a risk to the safety of flight of the space objects of other Subscribing States.” Similarly, clause 5.2 says, “The Subscribing States resolve to provide the notifications on any event related to the outer space activities described above to all potentially affected Subscribing States.”

This distinction continues in Section 6, on Information on Outer Space Activities, which also calls for sharing information only among subscribing states. Indeed, the new text actually omits the reference in the previous text to sharing information with nonsubscribing states. Clause 6.2, for instance, states that subscribing states may provide “timely information on outer space environmental conditions and forecasts ... to relevant governmental and non-governmental entities of other Subscribing States.”

Such distinctions between subscribing and nonsubscribing states may have been included in order to create pressure on states to endorse and become parties to the code, but there are two problems, especially when it comes to information sharing:

n It goes against many of the U.N. and other multilateral instruments on space that encourage sharing of information among all states.

n Outer space being truly global commons, any threat to space assets that could cause damage or destruction through collision or other means needs to be shared irrespective of whether a particular state is a party to the code. Space debris does not make a distinction between subscribing and nonsubscribing states, and a collision will result in polluting the outer space environment further. Sharing information with nonsubscribing states might create free-rider problems, but is it really in the interest of any state, including those that accept the code, to not share information when all states could be potentially affected?

The second area of concern is with regard to the terms and conditions for international cooperation, which the new code leaves to individual states to determine. While the code should not be restraining those that are aspiring to emerge as spacefaring nations, leaving it to individual countries to formulate rules of engagement and cooperation could make the situation far more dangerous. Cooperation between states could be seen as positive, as a means of building greater confidence. But unregulated cooperation could increase regional or international insecurities, affect regional military balance, and even contribute to an arms race in space. Therefore, cooperation in space needs some regulation, and regimes need to spell out rules of the game for such cooperation.

Of course, this should not be in the form of technology controls and arms control in space, which are unlikely to work. What needs to be pursued is regulation in terms of how space technology is used, which would involve establishing rules for operations and activities rather than control of technology.

Thus, the new draft is a significant step forward. The language has been tightened to make it more precise and thereby avoid ambiguity and loopholes. The document is particularly mindful of the interests of emerging space actors and instituting measures for greater international cooperation. There have also been several practical measures suggested for more transparency (influenced by the language of existing instruments such as the Report of the U.N. Group of Governmental Experts on Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities) that could instill greater confidence among states, which also could address the political difficulties among major powers.

Given the growing number of challenges to safe and sustainable exploitation of outer space, it is time for concerted action by the global community. Outer space is truly a global commons and the responsibility for its safety and sustainability needs to be shared. One state’s action in this domain can affect a large number of states and their assets, which also suggests the need for greater cooperation and mutual consideration. Space is also a limited commodity and therefore measures to strengthen sustainable use of outer space should be actively pursued.

Monday, November 11, 2013

MARSMERISING, on India's Mars Mission in The Gulf Today....

Here's a story on India's Mars mission published last week in The Gulf Today... with my comments as well.

ndia launched its first rocket to Mars on Tuesday, aiming to reach the red planet at a much lower cost than successful missions by other nations, positioning the emerging Asian giant as a budget player in the latest global space race. The Mars Orbiter Mission’s red and white striped rocket blasted off from the southeastern coast, streaking across the sky in a blazing trail, and is scheduled to orbit Mars by next September.

Probes to Mars have a high failure rate and a success would be a boost for Indian national pride, especially after a similar mission by China failed to leave Earth’s orbit in 2011. Only the United States, Europe, and Russia have sent probes that have orbited or landed on the planet.

“The ISRO team will fulfil the expectations that the nation has in them,” said K. Radhakrishnan, head of the state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), after the spacecraft was successfully placed into orbit around Earth. “The journey has only begun. The challenging phase is coming.”

India’s space programme began 50 years ago and developed rapidly after Western powers imposed sanctions in response to a nuclear weapons test in 1974, spurring its scientists to build advanced rocket technology. Five years ago, its Chandrayaan satellite found evidence of water on the moon.

India’s relative prowess in space contrasts with mixed results in the aerospace industry. State-run Hindustan Aeronautics has been developing a light combat aircraft since the early 1980s with no success so far.

Reaching a new horizon

“The point is we don’t have the sound technological base for a car, forget about a fighter jet,” said Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.

The mission plans to study the Martian surface and mineral composition as well as search the atmosphere for methane, the chemical strongly tied to life on Earth. Recent measurements by Nasa’s rover, Curiosity, show only trace amounts of it on Mars.

India’s space programme has drawn criticism in a country that is dogged by poverty and power shortages, and is now experiencing its sharpest economic slowdown in a decade. India has long argued that technology developed in its space programme has practical applications to everyday life.

“For a country like India, it’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity,” said Susmita Mohanty, co-founder and chief executive of Earth2Orbit, India’s first private space start-up. She argued that satellites have applications from television broadcasting to weather forecasting for disaster management.

The mission is considerably cheaper than some of India’s more lavish spending schemes, including a $340 million plan to build the world’s largest statue in the state of Gujarat.

Analysts say India could capture more of the $304 billion global space market with its low-cost technology. The probe’s 4.5 billion rupee ($73 million) price tag is a fraction of the cost of Nasa’s MAVEN mission due to launch this month.

ISRO designed the craft to go around Earth six or seven times to build up the momentum needed to slingshot it to Mars, a measure that will help it save fuel, said Mayank N. Vahia, a scientist in the department of astronomy and astrophysics at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.

It costs India about 1,000 rupees ($16.20) to put a gram weight into space, less than a tenth of Nasa’s cost, he said.

India’s space programme still has challenges, including the need to import components and the lack of a deep space monitoring system which means it will rely on the United States to watch the satellite once it nears Mars.

There’s much at stake in the global space business, where revenues for the satellite industry in 2012 was $189.5 billion, according to the US Satellite Industry Association.

Space is the limit

“Given ISRO’s broad portfolio of space capabilities, India could, if it does things right, get at least a quarter of (the space industry) market if not more in the coming decade or two,” said Earth2Orbit’s Mohanty.

India’s relations with its giant neighbour China are marked as much by competition as cooperation, and analysts say New Delhi has stepped up its space programme because of concerns about China’s civilian and military space technology.

“The reality is that there is competition in Asia. There’s the angle of the potential space race,” said Rajagopalan.

Although India’s programme is largely for peaceful purposes, it has increasingly realised the need to grow its deterrence capability after China’s 2007 anti-satellite missile test.

“That was a wake-up call for India,” said Rajagopalan. “Until then we were taking it easy.”

China’s space programme is far ahead of India’s, with bigger rockets, more launches and equally cost-effective missions.

Officials dismissed the suggestion that India raced to prepare Tuesday’s launch to trump China’s failed attempt at Mars.

“We’re not in a race with anybody,” said ISRO spokesman Deviprasad Karnik, noting that the voyage can happen only every 26 months, when the spacecraft can travel the shortest distance between Earth and Mars. “The mission to Mars has to be organised whenever there is an opportunity available.”

Mangalyaan Mission Plays Vital Role in New Delhi’s Development Plans, my OpEd on India's Mars mission published in yesterday's Global Times

Here's my OpEd on India's Mars mission published by Global Times (China) yesterday.

My core argument is that India's space program was not originally driven by big ambitions. As noted by Vikram Sarabhai, one of India's space pioneers, India did "not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets or manned space-flight."

But this has changed. India is no longer as poor and backward as it was in the 1960s when Sarabhai spoke. The increasing intensity of international competition means that India needs to show off its abilities once in a while.

India successfully launched a Mars mission, the Mangalyaan, on November 5. The mission is a major demonstration of India's technological capabilities, and a reflection of the growing competition in the Asian space race.

At $73 million, this is one of the most cost-effective Mars missions. But the political and security considerations are also important. Being the first Asian country to conduct such a mission must also have been an important factor in India's calculations.

Despite being one of the most cost-effective missions yet, questions have been raised as to why India spends money on such efforts when it is faced with dire poverty and developmental issues at home.

There has been criticism, both in India and outside, about the waste of resources on spectacle while developmental needs remain unmet.

It is undoubtedly true that India has significant developmental challenges on which it needs to spend money and effort. Nevertheless, there are at least three important reasons for conducting such missions.

First, while India has poverty and developmental issues, it also has to develop its scientific and technological base. It would be foolish to suggest that India should ignore scientific and technological advances until all developmental issues are resolved.

High technology projects such as the moon mission in 2008 and now its Mars mission are important both for technology development as well as to motivate the scientific community and the general populace.

Space technology and assets are needed for everything from communications to weather forecasting. No nation, especially a developing one, can ignore such technologies. But such technologies and capacities cannot be developed without also developing India's space capabilities in general, which is why the Mangalyaan is important.

Space is a vital aspect of India's security. India does not live in a benign neighborhood and it has had to balance between its development and security needs. No major power can afford to ignore the importance of space technology for its military needs.

India has launched its first dedicated military satellite for the Indian navy, in recognition of the increasing geopolitical and military rivalry in the Indian Ocean. Staying in the space race is thus an important consideration for India because it affects other aspects of India's security.

There are increasing worries that space itself might become a direct security threat. The threat of the militarization of space is gaining greater momentum. And the idea of establishing an Indian aerospace command has been gaining greater traction.

Given its experience in the nuclear arms control area, India has to come to understand the importance of crossing a certain technological threshold if it wants to sit at the high table.

In the nuclear arena, India did not conduct an atomic test in the 1960s even though it had the capacity to do so and therefore found itself left out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and various other aspects of the NPT regime.

Today, world powers are debating a regime to regulate outer space activities. India cannot let itself be left out of any space regime as happened over nuclear weapons.

But in order to be heard in the discussions of any new rule-making effort, India needs to demonstrate its capabilities in space research and technology, something that the Mangalyaan amply did.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

India’s Race to Mars Goes Way Beyond Science, my essay in Asian Wall Street Journal on India's Mars mission....

Here's a short essay of mine on India's Mars mission on November 05, published in Asian Wall Street Journal.

India’s space program did not begin with big ambitions. Vikram Sarabhai, one of the original leaders of the Indian space program in the early 1960s, said that India did “not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets or manned space-flight.”

Even if we take Mr. Sarabhai at his word, India’s maiden mission to Mars, set for lift off today, shows that things have changed.

For the full essay, click here.

Firstly, it provides an indication of a growing space race between India and China. Fielding its Mars mission before China has reached the Red Planet is clearly a big factor in Delhi’s calculations. China attempted a Mars orbiter mission in 2011, piggybacking it on a Russian Mars spacecraft, but that failed to leave Earth’s orbit.

Setting off to Mars is a demonstration of India’s technological capabilities and an attempt to join the US, Russia and the European Union in successful interplanetary exploration before China.

The mission is not without its critics, including some former officials of Indian Space Research Organisation, India’s space agency, who argue that it is a waste of money, especially in a country where so many live in poverty. It is unlikely that critics will get much of a hearing.

India claims that its missions are much cheaper than similar ones elsewhere, with this attempt costing $73 million, about a tenth as much as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration spends on comparable programs.

The bread or gun argument is real for India, but the country doesn’t live in a benign neighborhood and the security imperative also requires it to focus on those capabilities which can prepare it for the challenge presented by its location.

India’s security compulsions are becoming a more compelling driver for its space program. Countries around the world have so far used space for so-called passive military applications such as communications and reconnaissance but there is a growing trend towards ‘weaponizing’ outer space.

The U.S.’s Prompt Global Strike program, which includes using long-range missiles and hypersonic vehicles that will transit through space, has created the impression that it plans to weaponize space. This could provoke reactions from Russia and China and set off a broader arms race in space.

China’s anti-satellite test in January 2007 served as a wake-up call to India about the challenges that exist in its neighborhood. The test sparked a new debate, both within the Indian security establishment and the larger Indian strategic community about the country’s traditional policy against the militarization of space and put pressure to develop its own anti-satellite system. While India is yet to demonstrate such capability, the scientific establishment has made it amply clear that they have the technological blocks ready should there be a political decision to do so.

One indicator of Indian concerns about the nature of the space race, is the likely establishment of an Indian aerospace command. Many of the key global powers such as the U.S. and Russia have such commands, India does not. While the Indian government has been debating the issue for close to a decade, there are indications that it is moving forward with the proposal. In 2008, India established an Integrated Space Cell under the aegis of the Integrated Defence Staff. The cell has functioned well in coordinating between the military, the Department of Space and ISRO.

India also launched the first dedicated military satellite this August for its navy, reflecting a gradual shift in the country’s approach to security. The maritime communications satellite is a necessary tool for the marine force as the competition for the Indian Ocean, particularly with China, gradually gathers pace.

From the outset of its space program, demonstrating technological pride and capability has always been an important consideration for India. No less so today. But the Mars mission is as much about demonstrating India’s capabilities as a force in space, as it is about scientific skill.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Staying away from CHOGM meeting will be a strategic blunder, my take on India's indecisiveness reg. CHOGM in Colombo and what it means for IFP...

Here's an OpEd of mine on India's indecisiveness regarding CHOGM to held in Colombo next month and what it means for Indian foreign policy.

If Prime Minister Singh decides not to go to Colombo for narrow political interests, it will be a strategic blunder. India's foreign policy interests cannot be driven by such narrow political interests of just staying in power. This is a dangerous trend in Indian foreign policy.

Sri Lanka is all set to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) on November 15, 2013. India still appears to be uncertain whether it should take part or boycott altogether the meeting on account of mounting pressure from Tamil Nadu. On October 24, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha sponsored a resolution calling for a "total boycott" of the meeting and the State Assembly unanimously adopted the resolution. The resolution noted that "only a boycott would bring about a genuine change in Colombo's attitude to the Tamils on the island." In addition, the state opposition party, the DMK that has remained traditionally supportive of the Tamil cause, has also asked the central government to boycott the meeting in Colombo. Congress Party MPs from Tamil Nadu are also raising the pitch asking for a boycott of the meeting.

The political pressure displayed by all the political parties appears to be a stunt in the backdrop of the national level elections in 2014. The UPA Government is concerned about losing the 39 seats from Tamil Nadu, either to the AIADMK or the DMK in the forthcoming elections. The government should have the guts to call the bluff and face the consequences. India's foreign policy cannot be run by such narrow political interests. India's decision to do a total boycott or a decision on who should represent and at what level, will have consequences beyond its domestic politics. Therefore, the decision should not be left to be driven by domestic interests alone.

Tamil Nadu politicising the Sri Lankan Tamil issue is also full of ironies and contradictions. While the AIADMK and the DMK have postured themselves as the ultimate guardians of the Tamil interests and therefore do not want to engage the Rajapakse Government until Colombo has acted on the alleged war crimes and violations of human rights in the final phase of the LTTE War, Tamil politicians based in Sri Lanka are on a pro-active mode with the Rajapakse government to strengthen their influence and leverage. The new Chief Minister of Sri Lanka's northern provincial council, CV Wigneswaran, in a message to the Indian government, was categorical that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should attend the CHOGM meeting, highlighting that the Indian leader could use the CHOGM forum to send a clear message.

India's indecisiveness on the CHOGM issue throws open opportunities to Sri Lanka to deepen and widen Colombo's relations with Beijing and Islamabad, among others. With the exception of the Canadian Prime Minister, all the other leaders from the Commonwealth countries are attending the meeting, implicating India negatively. Should India isolate itself at a major forum such as CHOGM when it is being held in its backyard?

Sri Lanka is generally seen in India as a potential area where China could create mischief and if the Indian Prime Minister decides to abstain, that only provides opportunities for Sri Lanka's friends to consolidate their ties at the cost of India. Given particularly the importance of Sri Lanka in India's Indian Ocean strategy, New Delhi cannot afford to isolate itself from Sri Lanka. In that context, India must remind itself that it is doing no favour to the Rajapakse Government if the Prime Minister finally decides to attend the CHOGM Summit. New Delhi's participation will create new avenues where it can highlight the deficiencies on the part of the Sri Lankan government. India's participation will also help keep the channels of communication open and the acceptability of India as a neutral party in dealing with the Tamil issue.

If India decides to abstain from the CHOGM meeting, New Delhi should be clear that it will isolate itself totally vis a vis the Sri Lankan leadership and thereby lose any opportunity to influence affairs in Sri Lanka, including the interests of the Tamils and that of (Indian) Tamil fishermen.

Commenting on the Indian dilemma, Sri Lankan High Commissioner to India, Prasad Kariyawasam, in a television interview, commented along the same line: "Sri Lanka would be going ahead hosting the conference and we are happy at the level of participation that we have. It will be those who do not participate who will be isolated, not those who are participating." In addition, India's abstention will strengthen the impression that the Tamil interests solely drive India's interests in Sri Lanka. India's efforts to create multiple constituency articulating closer India-Sri Lanka relations will be hampered as well.

Lastly, an OpEd in the Hindu highlighted Prime Minister Nehru's viewpoints on multilateral forums and how India must not waiver from its principled stand on "full participation in international conferences." Whether India has such a principle or not, the more important point is that it will have an ability to shape and influence events and actions if India is in the room than outside. Staying outside the camp and protesting also does not bode well for a major regional power such as India.

If Prime Minister Singh decides not to go to Colombo for narrow political interests, it will be a strategic blunder. India's foreign policy interests cannot be driven by such narrow political interests of just staying in power. This is a dangerous trend in Indian foreign policy.