Post-Cold War Space Uncertainty
With the Soviet successor states—including the Russian Federation—scrambling to establish viable governments, worries about space security drifted far from the main radar screen of U.S. military planners compared to the 1980s. President Boris Yeltsin now used every opportunity to emphasize his close ties to Washington as he sought to root out vestiges of the old communist system, making the concept of a Russian ballistic missile attack on the United States highly unlikely. Instead, defense planners in Washington began to worry about the possible contribution of impoverished Russian and Ukrainian scientists to missile programs in countries like Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. The Chinese space program remained in its infancy and not on Washington’s list of potential concerns, particularly given the generally pro-Chinese direction of policies under Presidents George H.W. Bush and (until the Tiananmen Square massacre) Bill Clinton. More worrisome, by the end of the 1990s, was Beijing’s apparent success in attracting former Soviet engineers to help modernize its strategic delivery systems.
In many respects, Washington now held all of the cards in space. Although Russia retained know-how, extensive launch capabilities, and unparalleled experience in manned spaceflight, it lacked a key commodity for an active space program: money. The United States faced three basic options for maintaining space security: (1) a focused strategy to dominate space and force Russia into a subservient position (aggressive space nationalism); (2) a transformational strategy to expand collective security mechanisms by using America’s newfound hegemony to introduce stricter forms of space arms control (forward-leaning global institutionalism); or (3) a muddling-through approach aimed at reducing costs, preserving weapons options, and dampening Moscow’s incentive to