On January 11, 2016—building on a 2015 feature on space weapons and the risk of nuclear exchange—the South Asia Center and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists convened a panel of experts to discuss the danger that anti-satellite weapons pose to global security. Panelists included Dr. Nancy Gallagher, Interim Director at the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy; Ms. Theresa Hitchens, Senior Research Scholar at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy; Dr. Gaurav Kampani, Nonresident Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center. The panel was moderated by Mr. Lucien Crowder, Senior Editor at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. The conversation was initiated with a special keynote address by Ms. Mallory Stewart, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Emerging Security Challenges and Defense Policy at the US Department of State.
January 11 is the ninth anniversary of China’s first anti-satellite (ASAT) test, which made China the third country—after the United States and the former Soviet Union—to test a destructive ASAT capability. The 2007 test galvanized a debate in the United States about America’s increasing vulnerability to counterspace technologies. Many scholars believe that over the last few years, China has invested in counterspace capabilities that challenge the US “command of the commons.” China’s 2007 test also sparked a debate on an arms race in space that could someday trigger an inadvertent nuclear exchange between the United States and China, or between India and China. During the timely event, the discussants addressed this ongoing debate, the difficulty in legislating dual-use technology, and whether the United States should shift to a more relaxed defensive nuclear posture.