SpaceTech 2023 - Banner

The Necessity of Coherent Space Policy in the Shadow of the Iranian Resurgence

An image of the Arabian Peninsula taken from space. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
An image of the Arabian Peninsula taken from space. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Are Middle East governments ready to counter a resurgent Iran in space? American space law expert and policy consultant, Michael J. Listner, makes the case for more countries in the region to develop comprehensive national space policies so that their defence establishments can adequately prepare defensive measures in the space domain.

The nuclear deal spear-headed by the United States and the Obama Administration was ushered in with celebratory oratory by Western diplomats, positive political optics and assurance for the Administration its legacy would include the achievement of releasing Iran from the political and economic isolation it endured since the overthrow of the Shah. The non-treaty deal, among other benefits, relieves Iran from economic sanctions and released assets frozen since the revolution of 1979 in exchange for the promise to suspend its nuclear weapons program. Many nations in the Middle East see beyond the political veneer touted by the United States, and recognize the nuclear deal creates the foreboding reality of a more resurgent and potentially dominant Iran. Indeed, the economic resources and political cover the nuclear deal provides empowers their collective historical enemy to not only increase its manipulations and foment unrest in regional geopolitics but also creates a present military threat to the region, which holds the possibility to become an open conflict.

The leadership of Middle Eastern nations have responded to this threat through substantial arms purchases to bolster their forces, including arms purchases authorized by the United States in an attempt to assuage concerns and offset the destabilizing effects of the Iranian nuclear agreement. Nonetheless, weapons alone are not the end-all for preparing to meet the potential Iranian threat as weapons are only as good as the strategies and leadership that direct their use, and those strategies are dependent on policies as a foundation for their creation. This means without effective policy, strategies to effectively address theaters of a future open conflict cannot be created. Nations in the Middle East must consider the conventional theaters of war when making preparations, but they must also reflect on the high-ground of outer space when considering the potential for future conflict. Consequently, it is imperative that Middle East nations create and implement comprehensive national space policies not as a political goal but as a means to a pragmatic end.

There are three fundamental reasons for Middle Eastern nations to address space policy.

The primary reason for Middle Eastern nations to create broad national space policies is because they will establish a comprehensive and primary nexus for all government sectors that interact with the outer space environment from which they create their own subordinate policies. A national space policy by its nature examines all segments of government and from that creates policy directions for government sectors and supports relationships with the commercial, research and education sectors, which means it addresses and involves all government agencies, including defense. From this comprehensive examination a national space policy defines the roles and responsibilities of the government departments with a stake in the nation’s space sector, including their inter-relationships and expresses national security, civil, commercial, and scientific interests and activities in the space environment from a collective point of view and provides implementation guidelines for a nation’s individual national security (military and intelligence), civil, and commercial space communities. A national space policy is a comprehensive effort of not just one segment of government, but a collaboration all, including its defense establishment, to create a primary policy to guide individual sectors. For the purposes of defense in the Middle East, this means a national space policy should address and include the perspective of national defense establishments and provide guidance for defense agencies to create specific subordinate policies for the application of outer space to defense and national security congruent with a national space policy’s broad parameters.

The second fundamental benefit of a comprehensive national space policy to the defense of nations in the Middle East results from the act of creating the policy itself. Creating a national space policy requires the defense sector to look inward and assess its strengths and vulnerabilities, but it also requires the defense sector to look outside of itself to other sectors of government to assess their capabilities and shortcomings and how they correlate with the defense sectors strengths and weaknesses. Culturally, such transparency may be difficult and may meet resistance, but in terms of developing an effective national space policy and by extension a specific defense sector space policy and strategy, such transparency is essential. This fundamental compels government sectors, including defense, to ask the question “What is the [defense] sector’s current capabilities and weaknesses, and do other government sectors have capabilities and resources from which to draw upon?” In essence, the second fundamental compels government sectors to take a cold, hard look at themselves not only through their subjective perception but the outside perspective assessment of other government sectors as well. The objective of this introspection is to create a comprehensive understanding of a nation’s space capabilities and how the activities of other government agencies might relate to each other. Indeed it is a tenet of war that if you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. Accordingly, while Middle East nations know the enemy, in the instance of their space capabilities they may not truly know themselves. The scrupulous exercise of creating a comprehensive national space policy would ensure they indeed know themselves.

The third fundamental purpose relates to the foundations a true national space policy creates for interagency cooperation and interaction with allies. The exercise of taking stock of capabilities from the second fundamental also reveals relationships that exist between government sectors and those that need to be present to create an effective subordinate space policy and space strategy. Creating a national space policy not only identifies existing resources and capabilities to be drawn upon, but it also identifies and defines necessary interagency relationships, which can be relied upon in the event of hostilities. Equally important, a national space policy creates the basis from which subordinate policies can establish the scope and authorities in which the defense sector can correlate a nation’s space assets and capabilities with those of allies during an open conflict. This crucial relationship was demonstrated during the 2016 Schriever Wargames, which was set in 2026 and focused on policy and strategy between U.S. forces and those of its allies with an emphasis on space and cyber strategy. The 2016 war games revealed significant gaps between policies of the United States and its allies with regard to space and cyber warfare, the details of which are classified. It was revealed, however, that in some instances many allies participating in the games could not continuously operate in space and cyber environments concurrently with the United States not because they did not have the capabilities or the assets, but because they did not have a policy that authorized them to do so.

Significantly, as Iran becomes a more dominant player, the Middle East nations will look for continued mutual defense assurances from the United States and other allies, which will include functioning in a cooperative space environment. Without a comprehensive national space policy, the requisite subordinate policies and authorities for these nations to coordinate with U.S. space capabilities cannot be implemented, and this could lead to failure on the battlefield.

It is unclear whether a resurgent Iran will choose to engage its neighbors in open war in the future or continue its proxy wars through third parties. History has shown Iran’s desire to expand its influence, and it cannot be assumed the modern state of Iran does not share that aspiration. Unlike Iran’s past dominance line-of-sight over the land and the sea, the current and likely future conflict environment will be info-centric and will include outer space as a critical theater. That said, given the importance of information in the present and future battlefield, an articulate space policy must be employed to utilize and coordinate space capabilities with conventional resources. To that end, a comprehensive and coherent national space policy is a required first step for Middle East nations to cast light on the growing shadow of the Iranian resurgence.

Michael J. Listner is an attorney and the founder and principal of Space Law & Policy Solutions, which is a legal and policy think tank that identifies issues and offers pragmatic solutions relating to outer space law, policy, security and development. He is also the author of the space law and policy letter The Brief and the administrator of the space law and policy blog Space Thoughts.

Original published at:




Check Also


EU SST Wins T.S. Kelso Award for Flight Safety Contributions

Space Data Association has announced The European Union Space Surveillance and Tracking Partnership (EU SST) as the recipient of the T.S. Kelso Award in recognition of outstanding contributions to space flight safety. The EU SST Partnership relies on the SSA capabilities of 15 Member states of the European Union to provide space safety services, with the EU Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA) acting as the Front Desk.