Analysis / Strategy

A Balance of Instability: Effects of a Direct-Ascent Anti-Satellite Weapons Ban on Nuclear Stability

International Security at the Nuclear Nexus Series

The rise of a new age for space—characterized by a greater number of national actors and commercial space companies—has also created more opportunities for mayhem. This has led to a growing call from the international space community, governments, and commercial entities to create a sustainable and stable space domain through norms of behavior, best practices, and even international regulation.

Recent tests of direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons from India and Russia, in 2019 and 2020 respectively, give cause to reevaluate the possibility of building an international arms control agreement to limit space weapons or weapons testing. There have long been calls from within the international space community to create a limiting test ban treaty for these weapons due to the inevitability of space debris created by ASATs’ kinetic effects. However, the secondary effects of such a ban, such as its impact on greater strategic stability, must be considered. How would new norms for testing space weapons affect nuclear stability and traditional deterrence? Would a direct-ascent ASAT limit or ban create stability or further destabilize the space and nuclear domains?

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(Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force, Tech. Sgt. David Salanitri)