ESPI Series: Global Space Governance

European Space Policy Institute

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Marco Aliberti

ESPI Series - on Global Space Governance

The global space governance comprises the extant set of regimes that govern the interaction among space actors and around which the expectations of behavior of these actors converge. Space governance structures are based on a combination of principles, norms, rules and enforcement tools that are formally or informally shared by the actors to either avoid a mutually undesirable outcome or ensure a mutually desirable outcome in the conduct of their space activities.

The most striking observation about the current space governance is how resilient its principles, norms and rules continue to be. This is despite having mostly been formulated several decades ago, when all the activities flourishing today did barely exist. From a neo-realist perspective, this resilience can be primarily explained with the fact that, unlike other global governance’s issue-areas, strategic interaction in outer space has been traditionally very limited. This is an occurrence that has not inhibited states, and now private actors, from pursuing their objectives. Indeed, most issues associated with space have entailed situations where different actors could do as they pleased without harming others. In those few areas where unrestrained activities could cause collective problems, such as the use of the radio-spectrum, issues have been solved through relatively simple coordination regimes. But even where visible restrictions have been accepted, these have not, to date, imposed real constraints upon the actors (for instance, the denial of sovereignty claims over celestial bodies or the ban on placing WMD have been costless concessions given the state of technologies). 

This situation, however, is nowadays changing considerably. The entry of many new actors with far-reaching undertakings (e.g., the mega-constellations), the advent of new enabling technologies and new uses of space – coupled with the critical dependence modern society has on space assets and the unravelling of the post-cold-war order – are all transformations strongly impacting strategic interaction and creating a clear progression towards typical dilemmas of common interest, for which only cooperation mechanism could guarantee stability. Constructing regimes to solve cooperation problems is, however, notoriously challenging because cooperation regimes, unlike coordination ones, require not only convergence around a set of rules that all actors share, but also mechanisms for verifying and enforcing these rules.

The greatest challenge confronting the current global space governance is that more and more space issues are moving towards cooperation problems. More elaborated governance structures with proper mechanisms of verification, adjudication and enforcement will hence be needed for actors’ behaviour to converge and ensure that conditions in outer space will remain suitable for continued use.


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