Low Earth Orbit Becomes A Venue For Geopolitical Conflict
With satellites now central to the smooth functioning of civil and military technologies, the amount of commercial and government activity in space has been increasing. This is a legally ambiguous realm, creating the potential for confusion, accident and even wilful disruption. Space debris is proliferating too—half a million pieces are now moving at the speed of a bullet in low orbit.
Even accidental debris collisions could cause significant disruption to internet connectivity and all that relies on it. But at a time of intensifying geopolitical competition, space could also become an arena for active conflict. Even defensive moves to protect critical space assets might trigger a destabilizing arms race. Precision weapons and military early-warning systems rely on high-orbit satellites—militarizing space might be seen as necessary to deter a crippling attack on them. In the future, as space becomes more affordably accessible, new threats of space-based terrorism could emerge.
New rules or updated protocols would provide greater clarity—particularly on the rapid expansion of commercial activity, but also on military activity. Even simple measures could help—such as ensuring transparency on debris-removal activities to prevent the misinterpretation of intentions. At a time of fraying global cooperation, space might be an area where multilateral advances could be signed up to by all.