Expanding International Norms amid Tensions
Building on a number of factors coalescing at the end of the Bush administration, the election of Barack Obama to the U.S. presidency in November 2008 helped facilitate a shift toward international approaches to space security. This change brought about more active engagement of the United States in global discussions and a new emphasis on collective problem-solving. But the reorientation would take time and would stop short of a full-fledged global institutionalist approach—even on the scale seen in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Instead, to the frustration of those hoping for a more thorough, treaty-based approach, the administration adopted an informal, consensus-building strategy consistent with social interactionism. U.S. disagreements with China and Russia over their draft proposal to ban space-based weapons remained a stumbling block in the U.N. debate, and Washington seemed content to move slowly, following Europe’s lead. Indeed, for its first two years, the Obama administration did not formally support the European-led Code of Conduct proposal, only the “process” of its elaboration. China continued to test dual-use space systems and missile defense technologies in low-Earth orbit (although no longer causing long-lasting debris), as did the United States. Despite political pledges to the contrary, neither side offered the kind of transparency in its military space activities that supporters of greater international cooperation had hoped for. It remained unclear if such policies were residual manifestations of past space nationalism or an expression of the fundamental impossibility of changing traditional military and intelligence practices, even during a period in which great power hostilities had declined significantly.
The June 2010 release of the new U.S. National Space Policy (NSP) marked the clearest evidence of revised thinking by the world’s leading spacefaring nation, laying out a major refocusing of America’s space security policy from a