Moreover, Russia’s space program required increased funding that China could provide in exchange for the Russian expertise it craved. The pair even announced they were considering building a lunar research base together. Nevertheless, it is clear this new friendship will create a destabilizing counter-system in space.
To be fair, there is good reason for the United States to pursue the Artemis Accords without Russia and China. China’s official policy is to become the preeminent space power by 2045. This means a nuclear-powered space fleet, space transport for humans, and mining colonies on the Moon, Mars, and asteroids. President Xi Jinping described the Chinese space program as “part of the dream to make China stronger.” Furthermore, for nearly a decade the annual Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bills included the Wolf Amendment, which has prohibited NASA from cooperating with China to prevent technology theft.
Russia also represents a serious threat in space and the need for a counter-coalition. In November 2019, Russia launched a single satellite that subsequently and unexpectedly “birthed” a twin. In January 2020, the pair floated near KH-11, a multi-billion-dollar U.S. military reconnaissance satellite. After the United States complained, Moscow moved the satellites away from KH-11.
However, on July 15, 2020, the “birthed” satellite launched a missile into outer space. Russia claimed the satellites were non-military, but these “Nesting Doll” satellites demonstrate the dual nature of space technology: that Russia and China can readily turn allegedly benign infrastructure into military weapons to threaten the United States. Thus, although the Artemis Accords govern commercial space activities, assembling a like-minded coalition ready to challenge American foes seems prudent.
The Sino-Russo partnership not only undermines national security, but also risks the very aim of the Artemis Accords: the expansion of space commerce. A competing alliance in space will prevent the Artemis Accords from developing into customary international law that would increase stability.
For example, under the Artemis Accords, nations agree to increase transparency and employ “safety zones” for activities like lunar mining. As nations and corporations compete over the best locations on the moon to extract lunar ice to create rocket fuel, it is important that a single system govern who may operate where. Otherwise, potential conflicts lack peaceful means of resolution.
The incoming Biden Administration will have to decide how to proceed under the Artemis Accords. As political commitments, they could readily be abandoned. However, this would be unwise. After four years of the Trump Administration undermining alliances and sowing international distrust of the United States, withdrawal would only continue this course. Additionally, so long as Russia and China continue to challenge the United States in space, smart policy necessitates a NATO-like alliance to check and confront them. Accordingly, the Artemis Accords are not so unlike the Obama Administration’s goal to surround China economically via the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The Artemis Accords represent a rare opportunity for diplomacy with two of America’s archrivals. True, tensions with Russia and China remain high and little diplomatic progress has been achieved recently. But progress must start from somewhere. Ultimately, Russia, China, and the United States all want to commercialize space. A single legal system will decrease uncertainty and benefit all three nations. Moreover, American technology and investment outstrips both rivals combined. The United States may currently engage from a position of strength.
Fortunately, the United States and Russia have a long history of working together in outer space. The fact that the Outer Space Treaty was negotiated and ratified at the height of the Cold War demonstrates that diplomacy is possible and can even strengthen national security. More recently, the United States and Russia worked together on the International Space Station (ISS). The trust gained from the ISS is, perhaps, a path forward. In fact, Rogozin recently explained, “The most important thing … would be to base [lunar exploration] on the principles of international cooperation that … were used in order to fly the ISS program. If we could get back to considering making these principles as the foundation of the program then Roscomos would also consider its participation.”
Clearly, the door is not shut. At minimum, the United States should use this opening to drive a wedge between a blossoming Sino-Russo space relationship. Diplomacy may fail. But not trying accomplishes nothing. The Biden Administration should engage both Russia and China in space diplomacy while continuing to assemble a strong and durable Artemis Accords coalition that is prepared to counter America’s outer space adversaries should diplomacy fail or the need arise.
This Article firstly Publish on www.politico.com