Space Power, Space Force, and Space Law

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Articles of War

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Space is a unique operational domain not only due to its physics, but also due to its legal regime. Although Space Power, the inaugural doctrinal manual of the U.S. Space Force, does not focus on legal issues in and of themselves, it does mention at least one way in which law affects strategy in outer space: “Military spacepower achieves… global persistence by combining the high-altitude perspective of space with the enduring longevity of forward employed spacecraft and an international legal regime which recognizes overflight of any point on the Earth by spacecraft” (pp 21-22). The fact that space is not within any national jurisdiction is but one aspect of the importance of law to civilian and military space activities. Space may be the final frontier, but it is not beyond the law.

This post provides a brief background to the current evolution in space activities and introduces the interactions of legal regimes concerning military space activities. Drawing in part from my chapter in The Future Law of Armed Conflict (forthcoming in the Lieber Studies Series), I describe the types of legal questions animated by military space activities (but make no claim of resolving them in this short piece).

Also, by way of disclosure, I am involved in drafting of the Woomera Manual on the International Law of Military Space Operations. However, the views in this essay are my own and should not be taken as reflecting the substance of the Woomera Manual.