NATO made public its official “overarching Space Policy” this week, outlining how it would protect its members from space attacks, citing threats from potential adversaries.
The U.S.-led alliance said its collective defense principles will be extended to outer space in response to developments made at last year’s Brussels Summit.
“At the 2021 Brussels Summit, Allies agreed that attacks to, from, or within space present a clear challenge to the security of the Alliance, the impact of which could threaten national and Euro-Atlantic prosperity, security, and stability, and could be as harmful to modern societies as a conventional attack. Such attacks could lead to the invocation of Article 5. A decision as to when such attacks would lead to the invocation of Article 5 would be taken by the North Atlantic Council on a case-by-case basis,” the document states.
Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty states that an attack on any one of the 30 allies will be considered an attack on them all. Until now, it has only applied to more traditional military attacks on land, sea, or in the air, and more recently in cyberspace.
Considering that members have recognized that space is essential to NATO’s deterrence and defense, NATO will consider a range of potential options, for council approval, across the conflict spectrum to deter and defend against threats to or attacks on allies’ space systems, it said.
Around 2,000 satellites orbit the earth, over half operated by NATO countries, ensuring everything from cellphone and banking services to weather forecasts. Military commanders rely on some of them to navigate, communicate, share intelligence, and detect missile launches.
In December 2019, NATO leaders declared space to be the alliance’s “fifth domain” of operations. Many member countries are concerned about what they say is increasingly aggressive behavior in space by China and Russia.
Space has become “increasingly important” for the security and prosperity of NATO members, the alliance added.
“Space is an inherently global environment and any conflict that extends into space has the potential to affect all users of space. Even in cases where NATO is not involved in conflict, Allies’ space systems could be affected,” the document reads.
NATO noted that a number of nations are developing counter-space and anti-satellite systems.
“Potential adversaries” in particular are pursuing the development of a wide range of capabilities from non-kinetic (such as dazzling, blinding, and jamming of space assets) to kinetic destructive systems (such as direct-ascent anti-satellite missiles, on orbit anti-satellite systems, and laser and electromagnetic capabilities), it said.
“Such space destruction, disruption, degradation, and denial capabilities are further exacerbated by the susceptibility of space to hybrid approaches and the associated difficulty of attributing harmful effects to space systems. Some threats, such as signal jamming and cyber attacks, can potentially be caused also by non-state actors, including terrorist organizations.”
The document says, “Many threats to Allies’ space systems originate in the cyber domain and are likely to increase.”
NATO said it would carry out its activities in outer space in accordance with international law, including the U.N. Charter, “in the interest of maintaining international peace and security and promoting international cooperation and understanding.”
Baiba Braze, NATO assistant secretary general for public diplomacy, said in a statement on Twitter on Monday that it is “no surprise” that space is essential to NATO’s deterrence and defense.
“Space has fascinated our imagination for centuries,” said Braze.
The UK Space Command expressed support for the policy, saying on Twitter, “Space is a congested & competitive domain which is increasingly important for civilian and military activities.”
“We rely on #space systems for everything from weather forecasts & navigation to intelligence & missile detection. But potential adversaries could threaten our freedom to operate, including with anti-satellite systems. #NATO’s new space policy sets out our approach,” said NATO Press Officer Dylan P. White.