Wednesday, September 26, 2012

China's Advances in Space: Taking Stock of the Recent Developments

Here's a recent publication on China's outer space activities both from a technological and diplomacy point of view. The issue brief, published by the Observer Research Foundation, has been co-authored with my colleague, Rahul Prakash.

China conducted its first manual space docking in June 2012, a feat so far achieved by only two other countries: the US and Russia. This particular achievement, along with several others in the Crecent years, highlights the importance attached by China to building its expertise and assets in outer space. China has emphasised that these are for 'peaceful purposes'; still, it might be naïve to accept such declarations at face value. China's increasing advances in space technology under the direction of the PLA are likely to have serious military implications. There is no denying the fact that these applications have economic and commercial value but the military utility should not be ignored.

For the full issue brief, click here.



An interesting aspect of China's programme is that it is promoting commercial initiatives within scientific laboratories in a big way. While on the one hand China's aerospace industry is expanding, Beijing has also frequently emphasised the national security dimensions of space. In one of his more recent statements, General Xu Qiliang, Commander of the PLA Air Force, reiterated the critical role played by space exploration in furthering China's national security interests. Earlier, the space White Paper of 2011 had also elucidated this stand: “The purposes of China's space industry are: to explore outer space and to enhance understanding of the Earth and the cosmos; to utilize outer space for peaceful purposes, promote human civilization and social progress, and to benefit the whole of mankind; to meet the demands of economic development, scientific and technological development, national security and social progress; and to improve the scientific and cultural knowledge of the Chinese people, protect China's national rights and interests, and build up its national comprehensive strength.”

This Issue Brief examines the major achievements of China in outer space in recent years, both from a technological as well as an arms-control perspective. The paper concludes by looking at the implications for India, both in the domain and in the broader regional security context.

China's Vision in Space
Since 1949, Chinese leaders have paid close attention and given importance to the utilisation of space for the country's overall development. While China began its space programme as early as in 1956, the intellectual foundations were laid with the establishment of research centres such as the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics in October 1952. Beihang University, as it is currently known, is closely linked with the various arms of the government; engineers associated with the recent Shenzhou space project, Qi Faran and Wang Yongzhi, are products of Beihang. These efforts continued well into the 1960s, with China making significant investments in research and development (R&D) and also establishing important institutions such as the Academy of Satellite Spaceship, today known as the China
Academy of Space Technology (CAST), responsible for spacecraft design and abrication. China also started launching sounding rockets into space for suborbital flights. However, the space programme could not really pick up pace due to economic and political turmoil in the country following the Cultural Revolution.

It was in 1970 that China achieved a major success by launching its first satellite, the “Dongfanghong-I.” China's space programme has come a long way since then. Major highlights of the 1970s and 1980s include: launching of the first recoverable satellite in 1975; development of geo-stationary satellites in 1984; and becoming a big player in the commercial satellite launching area with the launch of AsiaSAT-I in
1990. The 1990s saw a major push, with China launching the Long March series of rockets under “Project 921”. This project has assumed special status in China's space programme as it was the beginning of its manned space exploration programme. The aim of the Long March series has been to develop bigger and more powerful rockets required for a manned space programme. Earlier, China had also initiated a few other programmes such as Project 863, which identified key hightechnology sectors from nanotechnology and biotechnology to develop a sound biotechnological R & D
level indigenously. This was followed by Project 973, a continuation of the Project 863, outlining technological needs for improving competencies. Project 211 was initiated to set up national universities and colleges with an intent to study and research technologies for future development. China has around 2,000 institutions of higher education of which about 100 are categorised under Project 211; these
contribute 85 per cent of the state's key subjects in the technological arena, have 96 per cent of the state's key laboratories, and utilise 70 per cent of scientific research funding.

Having made heavy investments in space, China carried out the first space flight of Shenzhou in 1999. In 2003, China achieved a bigger feat as it carried out its first human space flight mission and became only the third country to do so after the Soviet Union and the US. Another achievement for China came in February 2004 when it began implementing the non-manned lunar exploration project. The first phase of
the project––orbiting the moon––has been completed. The second phase saw landing on the moon in October 2010. The mission was highly successful and produced some of the best resolution pictures ever taken.

Today, China has made significant progress in the technological realm and is on its way to developing its indigenous satellite navigation system–Beidou––and a space station by 2020. It has also entered in a big way the global satellite launch market and is likely to become an important player with a significant market share in the space industry. A major development which clearly indicated Chinese intent to use space for military purposes was the Anti-Satellite (ASAT) weapon test in February 2007 when China shot down its Feng Yun-1C meteorological satellite with a DF-21/KT-1 missile. The test generated large-scale debris in the orbit which provoked heavy criticism from the international community.

The next section will look at the recent developments in China's space programme, including the manned space docking and operationalisation of the Beidou satellite navigation system.

Recent Developments

Manned Space Docking
One of the most significant achievements in space for China so far has been the manual docking conducted in June 2012 when the spacecraft Shenzhou-9 was docked with the space lab Tiangong-1. Earlier in 2011, China successfully completed automated docking of Shenzhou-8 with the space lab. The astronauts of Shenzhou-9 conducted experiments during their mission, findings of which would contribute to future long duration missions. In a follow-up to this mission, Shenzhou-10 will be launched
in 2013. The Tiangong-1, in orbit since 2011, is part of a larger plan to build a space station by the year 2020, under an initiative known as Project 921. The space station, which was approved in 1992, will be the only one left in space by 2020, as the International Space Station is due to retire in the same year. However, it is argued that the success of the Chinese space station will depend on the successful development of the Long March-5 rocket, which is likely to make its first flight in 2014.

Beidou Satellite Navigation System
The Beidou (also known as Compass) satellite navigation system is one of
China's most ambitious missions in space. According to China's plans for Beidou, a
total of 35 satellites will be launched in orbit which would cover the entire Earth
by 2020 and send navigation data for users. As of April 2012, China had set 13
satellites into orbit. By the end of 2012, China will add three more satellites into
the constellation, making a total of 16 satellites and covering the entire Asia-Pacific, both for real-time navigation and weather monitoring purposes.

Some countries in the region such as Mongolia and Pakistan have already expressed interest in using Beidou's services. Beidou, which is aiming to achieve a positioning accuracy of 10 meters, will make China the third country to possess its very own satellite navigation system after the US and Russia. With an operational navigation system of its own, China will not have to depend on the US to provide these services––a vulnerability that China has been keen to avoid. Beijing feels that during a crisis, the US could deny the services provided by its Global Positioning System (GPS). An article in the China Daily said, “There have long been concerns that the US might take its dominant GPS offline in certain international emergencies.”

Satellite Launches and Launch Vehicles
China's satellite series today conduct a variety of functions including earth observation, communication, and broadcasting, as well as navigation and positioning. China's communication and broadcasting satellites have become successful in space-based data relays, tracking, telemetry and command (TT&C). These satellites today have substantially improved China's radio, television, data and voice communications. China's family of observation satellites consists of Fengyun (Wind and Cloud), Haiyang (Ocean), Ziyuan (Resources), Yaogan (Remote-Sensing) and Tianhui (Space Mapping) satellites. These are capable of providing global, three-dimensional and multispectral quantitative observation. The image
resolution and coverage capacity of these satellites has also improved significantly over the years.

As far as China's satellite launch vehicles are concerned, the 'Long March' rocket series forms the backbone of the launching technology. From 2006 to 2011, the Long March rockets conducted 67 launches and sent 79 spacecrafts into space. In 2011, China conducted 20 rocket launches successfully which in itself is commendable; the country is developing an entire series––L5, L6, and L7––in the coming years. The payload capability of these launch vehicles has progressed to an extent that for the first time China was able to launch two navigational satellites on one rocket on April 30, 2012. China's recent advances suggest that they may be in a position to have launch vehicles capable of carrying up to four satellites on one rocket. Additionally, they plan to conduct up to 100 satellite launches between 2010 and
2015, or an average of 20 launches per year.

Commercial Launching
While China entered the international satellite launch market in 1985, it has gone far ahead in the last three decades. Today, China is launching satellites for countries in Latin America, Africa, as well as Pakistan. Experts believe that given China's increasing expertise in commercial launching, it will most likely acquire a
large share of the commercial satellite launch market in the future. It is reported that Beijing seeksto gain 10 per cent of the world's commercial satellite market and 15 per cent of commercial launch business by 2015.

Space-based Solar Power
Given its growing economy and the rising hunger for energy resources, China has plans to develop clean energy options in space such as utilising space-based solar power (SBSP). By August 2011, China had completed the initial study for the project which aims to begin commercial use of the solar space station by 2040. China's plan, drawn by one of its space pioneers Wang Xiji, aims to look at various aspects of spacebased solar power applications, designs and key technologies that would make the option economically feasible in the first instance and sustainable by 2020. Highlighting the importance of exploring the spacebased solar power options, Wang said, “whoever takes the lead in the development and utilization of clean and renewable energy and the space aviation industry will be the world leader.” While India and the US have been talking about SBSP, China has actually made the pioneering moves. While utilisation of space assets for energy purposes should be seen as environment friendly and therefore a positive step, the spin-off benefits of technological development and their utility in the military domain cannot be overlooked.

Chinese Lunar Exploration Project
Since 2007, China has been engaged in moon missions probing the lunar surface for scientific data. In 2007, the Chang'e-1 lunar probe mapped the entire surface of the moon. The Chang'e-2 launched in October 2010 provided high-resolution maps of the moon's surface. China claims that these pictures are the highest resolution images of the moon captured so far. Meanwhile, the Chang'e-3 lunar probe is undergoing preparations and is scheduled for launch in 2013. The device is designed to conduct land surveys, living conditions assessment and space observations over the moon for three months and will be equipped with advanced recognition and navigation systems. Additionally, China plans to do a moon walk some time between 2020 and 2030.
China's interest in the lunar mission is also related to exploration of natural resources. It plans to bring back soil and rock samples from the moon. Apart from other potential use, including exploration of the known mineral reserves such as iron, China has done considerable research on exploration of Helium-3, a source for nuclear fusion. Ouyang Ziyuan, head of the first phase of lunar exploration, has said: “There are altogether 15 tons of helium-3 on Earth, while on the Moon, the total amount of helium-3 can reach one to five million tons … If we human beings can finally use such energy material to generate electricity, then China might need 10 tons of helium-3 every year.” Meanwhile, China also has plans for a Mars mission. It had originally planned for a mission in collaboration with Russia. However, after the failure of the first mission that was also carrying the Russian Mars Orbiter, China has decided to go solo on the next mission, possibly in 2013.

China's Space Diplomacy
China is party to several international agreements on outer space, including: the Outer Space Treaty; Convention on the Registration of Objects Launched in Outer Space (Launched Registration Convention); Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space (Rescue Agreement); Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects (Liability Convention); Agreement Relating to the International Telecommunications Satellite Organisations (ITSU); and International Telecommunications Constitution and Convention (ITU). Additionally, China is a member of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) since 1981. Being a space-faring nation, China has been active in the international debate on issues concerning space. In one of Beijing's recent official statements, Chinese Ambassador Cheng Jingye, at the Legal Subcommittee of COPUOS, reiterated China's policy of using outer space for peaceful purposes and against weaponisation. The latest space White Paper has also emphasised on the “peaceful development and peaceful exploration, exploitation and use of outer space.” Cheng reiterated that the Chinese government opposes “weaponization and arms race in outer space and dedicates itself actively to the effort of maintaining peace and security in outer space. China continues to believe that elaborating relevant international legal instruments through negotiation is still the best option to preserve long lasting peace and security in outer space.”

While in certain international fora, China officially maintains a policy of peaceful use of outer space, it has sent an entirely different message in other quarters. For instance, as the European Union began bilateral dialogues with different countries on universalising a space code, China made it clear that space debris cannot be a major item in any normative exercise. Such a posturing on the part of China results in wariness among its neighbours as well as other global space powers.

While China has articulated a policy of non-weaponisation, it is a fact that there are military spin-off benefits from the advancements it has made in space because of the dual-use nature of the technology, as well as the fact that its space programme is almost entirely run by the PLA. While non-weaponisation is a point of emphasis in the Russia-China co-sponsored “Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of
Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects” (PPWT) at the Conference on Disarmament, there exists a huge lacunae given that the treaty mentions only the placement of weapons in outer space. Not mentioning the use of ground-based weapons for operations in space is significant, potentially suggesting that China wants to keep open the option of using ASAT weapons.

While China has been active on space debris mitigation efforts within the UN COPUOS and the Conference on Disarmament, it has been resistant to making debris a major issue even in a non-legally binding code of conduct on space. For instance, Ambassador Tang Guoqiang at the 46th session of COPUOS said: “As a responsible space-faring country, China supports the SDMG [Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines] recently adopted by the STSC [Scientific and Technical Subcommittee] and stands ready to continue exploring and promoting ways and means of sustainable development in the peaceful uses of OS (Outer Space).” Four years later and after the missile defence test in January 2010, China has continued to argue on similar lines. For instance, Wang Qun, the Chinese Ambassador for disarmament affairs said at the First Committee of the UN General Assembly: “The outer space is a common wealth of
mankind as the global public space. The permanent peace of outer space is correlated to all nations' security, development and prosperity. Safeguarding the peaceful use of outer space and preventing the weaponisation of and an arms race in outer space are common interests and obligations of all countries.”

However, activities of the PLA have gone on undeterred and recent advances are a reflection of this. The stated official policy continues to be one that supports the space debris mitigation guidelines and peaceful uses of outer space; however, Chinese opposition to space debris which comes out in unofficial parleys such as the EU negotiations on the Code, as mentioned earlier, reflects a different reality.

Implications for India
Technologically, China may be far behind the US and Russia; the fact is, however, that Beijing has been making steady progress in recent years. The development of the indigenous satellite navigation system, space lab module, and the manned space docking experiments, are only some examples that highlight Beijing's continued progress in this area. These developments also highlight the growing gap between
India and China, with Beijing moving closer to becoming a top-tier space power. This could have a significant impact on the balance of power between the two Asian giants.

China's growing capabilities have military and security implications for India. For instance, the Beidou navigation system is being used by the PLA to conduct operations such as border and coastal control, wherein Beidou data is being used by the troops. This could further transform into becoming the backbone of Chinese military operations at a future date. The Beidou will be in a position to provide detailed coordinates and other data of troops on the ground, significantly improving operational efficiency. India should also be mindful of China's advancements in the field of satellite imagery that may be able to provide better, real-time data on Indian military installations and positioning. India should also consider that China may provide such data to Pakistan, which might prove particularly relevant during
times of conflict.

China's advancement in commercial satellite launching capability is something that India should be concerned about and take corrective steps. China's ability to conduct nearly 20 launches per year, as against India's low number of four, requires focussed attention. Cost is an additional factor in which China has clear advantage.
While SBSP has remained a dream project for several countries including India and the US, China has made fast progress with plans to establish the first commercial solar power station by 2040. This will ensure China not only secure and reliable sources of energy but also technological spin-offs which would be significant. China's initiatives in this regard should be a wakeup call for many countries, including India. India should also take note of the geostrategic implications of China's space programme.

While Pakistan's space capabilities are nowhere comparable to that of India's, the fact that the former is receiving assistance from China is of immediate consequence. A repeat of what China did in the nuclear arena, providing Pakistan with assistance in nuclear design and technology, cannot be ignored.

As evident in several statements by Chinese leaders and the development plans announced periodically, China is likely to invest more resources to develop capabilities in outer space, both civilian and military. The increasing militarisation of political issues would provide Beijing a justification for its growing military space programme. An arms control measure that would bring about restraint on China, in the form of a code or a legally binding mechanism, will be in the interest of India. India as an established space power should take the lead in Asia and abroad in developing a consensus on this issue.

While India has many programmes similar to those of China, including military communications and manned space flights, its programmes continue to be subcritical in nature and the resources are spread too thin to be effective. Instead of adopting a knee-jerk reaction to developments on the Chinese side and attempting to catch up with China, India needs to prioritise and develop capabilities from a commercial
and national security perspective. As noted recently by former President and former scientific advisor to the Prime Minister, Dr. A.P.J. Adbul Kalam, India has to shed the “fifth nation” syndrome and aim for the number one slot in selective fields including space.

India also needs to be mindful of the benefits of issuing a white paper on space outlining its long-term aims and objectives, in both commercial and military space domains. This would bring about the much-needed clarity and prioritization in the space domain and additionally open up avenues for international cooperation.

Lastly, while India's space programme has come a long way in terms of its technological prowess, with its utilities applicable including in the military domain, the priorities and directions have been so far set forth largely by the scientific bureaucracy. Neither the UPA nor its predecessor, the NDA government, had lent political leadership to India's space programme. This approach needs to change if India has to develop a vibrant programme that best secures its national interests in the backdrop of newer challenges.

Endnotes:
1. Chinese Government's Official Web Portal, “Full Text: China's Space Activities in 2011,” available at http://www.gov.cn/english/official/2011-
12/29/content_2033200_2.htm.
2. China National Space Administration, “China's Space Activities (White Paper),” December 15, 2003, available at
http://www.cnsa.gov.cn/n615709/n620681/n771967/69198.html.
3. “Over 10 Billion Yuan to be Invested in 211 Project,” People's Daily Online, March 26, 2008, available at
http://english.people.com.cn/90001/6381319.html
4. Brian Spegele, “Chinese Hit New Space Heights,” The Wall Street Journal, June 18, 2012, available at
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303703004577473850707372174.html.
5. Ibid.
6. “Beidou Satellite Navigation System Launched,” China.org website, December 28, 2011, available at http://www.china.org.cn/china/2011-
12/28/content_24266178.htm.
7. In comparison, India and other major space faring countries do two to three launches per year.
8. Xin Dingding, “China to Build Satellite for Belarus,” China Daily, September 20, 2011, available at http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2011-
09/20/content_13737510.htm.
9. “China Unveils Plan for Solar Power Station in Space,” Want China Times, September 02, 2011, available at http://www.wantchinatimes.com/newssubclass-cnt.aspx?id=20110902000023&cid=1105.
10. “China Launches Second Moon Mission: Is Mining Rare Helium 3 an Ultimate Goal?” The Daily Galaxy, October 03, 2010, available at
http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2010/10/china-launches-second-moon-mission-is-mining-helium-3-an-ultimate-goal.html.
11. “General Statement by Ambassador CHENG Jingye, Head of the Chinese delegation to the 51st Session of the Legal Subcommittee of COPUOS,”
March 19, 2012, available at http://www.chinesemission-vienna.at/eng/dbtyw/hplywk/t915383.htm.
12. “Statement by Ambassador Tang Guoqiang at 46th Session of COPUOS LSC Under the Item of General Exchange of Views,” April 04, 2007, available
at http://www.chinesemission-vienna.at/eng/xw/t308746.htm.
13. “Statement by H. E. Mr. Wang Qun, Ambassador for Disarmament Affairs of China, at the Thematic Debate on Outer Space at the First Committee of
the UNGA,” October 17, 2011, available at http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/wjdt/zyjh/t869579.htm.
14. JiTianxiang and LuoWenyi, “Frontier Defense Regiment's Information-Based New Equipment Aids, Border and Coastal Control,” People's Daily Online,
June 26, 2012, available at http://english.people.com.cn/90786/7856116.html

Monday, September 24, 2012

Decoding the International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, collection of short essays on the debate ...

Recently, IDSA put together a collection of short essays on the international code of conduct on space debate, wherein I had provided one from an Indian perspective. The chapter looked at some of the broad Indian positions including on a code of conduct on space to some of the specific concerns on the EU-initiated code of conduct.



The idea of establishing a set of rules on space that will guide the behaviour
of states has been gaining momentum in recent years. This has gained
particular relevance in the backdrop of the European Union (EU) making
last-minute efforts to muster support for the code of conduct on space initiated
by it. The EU decision of 29 May 2012 to sign the document officially and
strengthen bilateral and multilateral negotiations will bring pressure on India
and other space-faring nations to sign it also.

For the chapter, click here.



In this regard, the EU has set out three specific initiatives: outreach
activities in order to promote the proposal for an international code of
conduct; holding up to three multilateral experts meetings to discuss the
proposal; and the coordination of a consortium of non-governmental experts.
Technical implementation of the three initiatives will be undertaken by the
United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR).
The EU’s decision to bring UNIDIR into the picture seeks to give the
EU initiative a larger support base beyond Europe. This does not, however,
yet ensure support from a majority of the space-faring powers, who have
already raised serious objections, particularly about the code-formulating
procedure.

India is all for institutionalizing a set of norms on space. But it also has
interests in being acknowledged as one of the major space-faring powers, with
an important voice in their formation. India has a particular interest in this
normative exercise if it will put certain restraints on China’s otherwise
unrestrained space activities. India’s interests have also to do with the fact
that it has made significant investment in a predominantly civilian space
programme that now seems to be under threat due to issues such as space
debris and potential weaponisation in space. Given the expanding nature of
space utilities, India’s interests would also be to curb some of the potential
norms that may become counterproductive to its objectives in exploiting
Outer Space.

India has been debating this issue at Track II levels with several objectives.
Such engagement can generate an internal debate on these issues, both about
the utility of a code and to help identify the principles that should guide the
new rules. India could then become a full partner rather than coming to the
international negotiations with reactive positions to others’ proposals. India
clearly does not want to free-ride on its major-space-faring-nation status
without taking on the additional responsibilities that come along with the
status. The internal debates and the objections raised in this debate to others’
proposals should not be seen as a spoiler but of an engaged nation that wants
to frame rules that are comprehensive, inclusive and durable. As India’s
geopolitical weight increases and its reach goes beyond Asia, it cannot afford
to be simply a naysayer. It wants to play the role of a constructive actor in
the international norm creation exercises.

Having discussed the Indian interests in a code, it is also important to
understand the importance of the politics of international norm creation.
India sees a huge geopolitical mileage in this exercise. While a code goes
through several stages, including technical, legal and political clearances before
it gets institutionalized, the political exercise is critical for several reasons.
An ideal instrument should be as broad-based as possible to include issues
of concern to multiple parties and stakeholders, including space debris, arms
race in space and space weaponisation. The political support that such an
instrument musters will have a huge impact on the longevity and effectiveness
of the instrument.

As in other arenas such as nuclear, the biggest challenge in the space
domain is the crisis of decision-making among the major powers. Even while
they understand and acknowledge, to some extent, the current and potential
challenges, the failure to reach a consensus is a big handicap. Therefore, it is
of utmost importance for the EU to adopt a more flexible and inclusive
approach if it seeks a universally acceptable code. In the absence of such an
approach, one could potentially see a repeat of the H-COC experience, which
has 128 countries as signatories, but these do not include some of the critical
players in Asia such as China, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea. It is not only
important to have numerous countries as signatories, but equally important
to have the critical actors on board. In sum, the new instrument should look
for both “critical mass and critical actors”.

If India were to formulate a code of conduct, it may not be significantly
different in its content from the EU initiative. But India attaches importance
to laying out concrete action plans, including a verification mechanism and
legal obligations. While the current EU code is voluntary, states that become
party to it are expected to institute certain measures at the domestic level,
which in a sense binds them to the global rules. In other words, under the
EU code, one is talking about a loose set of rules at the global level with
stringent legislation at the country level. This approach may run into
problems, given that there exists no mechanism to verify adherence to the
rules laid out in the code. Lack of clarity as to who would administer these
rules creates both ambiguity and wariness. The question whether Europe has
the ability to push such measures, given the new geopolitical realities, also
needs to be considered. However, if the EU were to institute consultative
mechanisms in the coming months, particularly with the major space-faring
countries, it might be in a position to fix some of the gaps that exist in its
current approach.

In conclusion, the EU should address some of these issues, including the
need for an inclusive approach and the need for a legally binding verification
mechanism. It might also be important for the EU to consider a grouping
of major space-faring countries similar to the P5 nuclear weapon countries,
such as that recognised by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as
nuclear weapon states. Such a group of countries may actually be keen on
addressing these issues and pushing for an actionable agenda, given the
vulnerabilities that they face. Lastly, if space traffic management is a critical
issue, one could consider newer initiatives and organisations along the lines
of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). Also, establishing
a panel of experts on the model of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change), given that space debris and arms race in space are problems
that are global in nature, might be worth the effort.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Space Conduct Code Seen by Some as Western Ploy ... story in the Space News

Here's a story on the international code of conduct on space and how it is seen by some as a western arms control ploy in the Space News.



I was recently in Brussels for the annual space conference organised by Ifri and Secure World Foundation-Brussels. The conference brought together a good mix of officials (Europeans by and large), policy analysts and strategic community members, including media from Europe, US, Japan and India. While I was not presenting an absolute Government of India (GoI) perspective, it did raise some of the concerns that one has learnt of through official and other channels.

The proposed International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities is viewed by many nations as cover for a Western attempt to corral developing countries’ space ambitions, an Indian think tank has concluded.

For the full story, continue reading or click here.



That perception, plus the squabbling between the United States and Europe over the code’s content, could scuttle attempts to promote common standards for space operations, according to Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in New Dehli.

Originally drafted by the European Union (EU), the code, currently undergoing revision, is designed to include all spacefaring nations. But the lack of formal consultations on its contents has undermined its credibility, Rajagopalan said Sept. 13 during a space policy conference in Brussels, organized by the Secure World Foundation of the United States and France’s IFRI Space Policy Program.

“A sizable number of nations believe the EU code is a Western ploy to limit the activities of other spacefaring countries, including India,” Rajagopalan said, adding that established space powers’ judgment about space conduct violations “has not been credible.”

The European Union and the United States have been discussing the proposed code for more than two years. U.S. State and Defense department officials have issued occasionally contradictory statements about the U.S. willingness to adopt the nonbinding code.

The State Department earlier this year said the U.S. position is favorable to such a code so long as it does not impinge on U.S. space activities related to national security.

Rajagopalan said India has some $2.3 billion in assets already in orbit, a figure that rises to some $37 billion when related ground infrastructure and value-added services are included. Protection of these assets is “a major challenge” that should push India toward supporting the code.

But the fact that the code is nonbinding and has no enforcement mechanism, she said, undermines its effectiveness, as does its request that nations provide information on their military activities.

As debate about the code continues, a series of efforts heading in the same general direction are moving forward. Major commercial satellite fleet operators have created a Space Data Association that pools information in the interest of preventing unintentional signal interference or physical collisions between telecommunications satellites.

Nations active in launching satellites, including India, have joined together to create the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee to limit the amount of debris that remains in popular orbits for long periods.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

International Relations in Space: the European Approach

The French Institute for International Relations (Ifri) and Secure World Foundation (SWF-Brussels) partnered again this year to hold their annual space conference. The conference was held in Brussels, on September 13, 2012. The conference explore the way Europe conducts international relations in the area of space. Programs, geographic priorities and European actors were addressed in three different panels and debates.



I had a presentation at the conference looking at Europe as a partner in space. While identifying areas for potential cooperation, I also took the opportunity to air some of the Indian concerns with regard to the EU-initiated code of conduct on space.

My presentation is available here.



Type rest of the post here

Liang's India visit: What does it mean for bilateral ties?

Here's an article on the recent visit of Chinese defence minister Liang to India.


The three-nation visit of a high-powered Chinese defence delegation led by Defence Minister Liang Guanglie is significant for a variety of reasons. Liang was on a visit to Sri Lanka, India and Laos. Obviously, the India leg was the most critical one because Sino-Indian political and military ties have not kept pace with the increasing trade relationship between the two countries. But Liang's first stop-over in Sri Lanka was also important.



The delegation was in Sri Lanka for five days and its conduct of business in the backdrop of the strengthening bilateral ties merit closer attention. Sri Lanka's Army chief Jagath Jayasuriya was in Beijing only two months ago. Recently, Sri Lanka has partnered with China's state-owned China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC) to design, manufacture and launch a satellite-a feat to be accomplished in 2015. The fact that this was the first time that a Chinese defence minister was in Sri Lanka and the timing of the visit against the backdrop of the changing regional security dynamics are also important and New Delhi should be paying greater attention.

Both the Sri Lankans and the Chinese are being cautious about the relationship, mindful of India's concerns, but the growing warmth is undeniable and understandable, given New Delhi's propensity to pay greater attention to domestic politics rater than neighbourhood sensitivities in framing these relationships. At a lecture at the Sapugaskanda Defence Staff Collee, Liang pointedly referred to "how [the two countries had] withstood the test of international vicissitude"-obviously referring to the negative international human rights attention on both countries, a point that would have many takers in both Sri Lanka and China. He was careful to say that closer China-Sri Lanka military relations were not focused at any third country, but the elephant was obviously in the room. China is also believed to be extending a $ 100 million package to the army-run reconstruction efforts in the north and the east in addition to a grant of $ 1.5 million for the upgradation of the Defense Services College in Colombo for children of security forces and police personnel.

Liang arrived in India on Sunday for a three-day visit, after a gap of nearly a decade. While these visits are not meant to solve some of the major irritants in the bilateral relationship, such high level interactions could help ease the tension and reduce some of the trust deficit issues that characterise India-China relations-something that should be encouraged in that context. The visit also assumed relevance given that Liang was accompanied by top military officials of the important military commands, including Guangzhou, Tibet, Lanzhou and the political commissar of the South China Sea fleet of the PLA Navy.

The composition of the Chinese team indicated a broad agenda, possibly including both bilateral and multilateral issues. The border issue was obviously discussed with both sides stating that efforts to promote peace and tranquility on the border areas will be pursued. It is also fair to assume that other issues such as India's oil exploration in Vietnam and the South China Sea troubles were also discussed. A third issue was the re-starting of the stalled joint military exercises between India and China.

India and China have so far held two rounds of military exercises, in 2007 in Kunming and in 2008 Belgaum, Karnataka. India called off the third "Hand-in-Hand" series exercises in August 2010 when Beijing refused permission to a senior army officer from Jammu and Kashmir to be part of the delegation. There have been attempts since 2011 by both sides to re-start the exercises although both have been looking at face-saving options to do the same. Thereafter, India sent a multi-command military delegation in June 2011 that included the military officer who was earlier denied permission. A return visit from the Chinese side took place in November 2011. Both sides appeared keen on restarting these exercises. Meanwhile, the India-China annual defence dialogue has also progressed, with the fourth one held in Beijing in December 2011.

These visits and interactions are mainly meant for improving the atmospherics of the relationship. In that context, it is also important that both India and China find newer areas for cooperation and move beyond collaboration on soft issues such as economic or climate change issues. Both countries have to look for newer avenues in the security domain if they are serious in addressing the trust gap that exits currently. There are several issues including the Asian framework issue that could mar progress in this bilateral relationship unless the two sides identify new areas for cooperation in the security and strategic realm because improvement in economic relations has its own limits and need not necessarily result in better bilateral relations.

In addition to bilateral military-to-military ties, India and China should explore cooperating on maritime security, UN Peace Keeping Operations, and reconstruction and rehabilitation in the aftermath of natural disasters, all of which are common challenges to both the countries and which are probably easier to cooperate on. Working on areas which are not suffused with political sensitivities would not only be easier but could instill a habit of cooperation and trust that could pay dividends in the larger bilateral ties.

Pune Blasts and India's Policing Woes

Here's an OpEd on the recent Pune blast and the policing woes published in Pioneer on August 11, 2012.


When will India have a police force worth the name? A recent study, shelved as usual, exposes the glaring lapses which were exploited by the planners of the Pune blasts last week.

Following the Pune blasts, India’s Home Minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, gave the usual assurance about the “serious” nature of the incident and how the Government of India has launched “investigations.” One is used to hearing such statements after terror attacks but what do they mean? More pertinent is the question, what is the government doing about some of the institutional reforms so badly needed to stop such attacks.

For the full article, click here.



Various reports have brought out the inadequacy of the police forces, including that of the paramilitary, in terms of both quantity and quality of men and officers. The training capacity is woefully inadequate too. A study done in 2010 by Observer Research Foundation for the Integrated Defence Staff, Government of India, Navigating Near: Non Traditional Security Threats to India, 2022, highlighted the huge deficiency that India faces as also made recommendations to address some of the gaps.

India’s low police-population ration — a major indicator of law and order infrastructure — is low at 130 policemen for 100,000 as against a global average of 270:100,000. Mexico has 491.8, Saudi Arabia at 386.5 and Belgium at 357.5 per 100,000 persons, these countries fare better than India even if we do not compare with the world’s best.

While the quality of policing is critical, not having enough personnel is far worse. India’s sanctioned police strength has remained at pretty much the same for decades. In Gujarat, for example, the sanctioned strength has not been upgraded since 1960; the shortage has been dealt with through ad hoc appointments.

Constables recruited in Gujarat in recent years have been taken on as “lokrakshak” and are paid a meagre salary of `3,500. The Government cannot expect very much with such an approach.

The situation remains the same in many other States. As of 2008, the sanctioned strength of police personnel in India was 17,46,215 whereas only 14,78, 888 have been recruited, leaving a critical gap of 267,000. The then Home Minister, P Chidambaram, stated that India faced a shortage of 400,000 policemen and promised to remedy the situation by 2012.

Training and capacity building represent similar depressing scenarios. For a 2.8 million-strong police-paramilitary force, India has only 62 training institutions for central police forces and 170 for state police forces. And India has a total of 9,589 instructors in states, central police and paramilitary organisations; 4,989 for indoor training and instructions and 4,600 for outdoor activities. This would correspond to not more than 50,000 policemen who can be trained per year, meaning that the recruitment needs of 2012 cannot be met for almost a decade.

The reality is also that Indian policemen do not go through any training during their whole career. The basic instructions they get at the time of joining service is about all the training they get in their entire careers. The basic training programme does not last more than three months, including weapons training, dealing with law and order problems, rioting, terrorism, radiological accidents, cyber-crimes, financial scams, illegal money transfers, disaster management besides learning how to write FIRs, investigate cases, prepare court documents and brief public prosecutors, and dealing with the media. Worse, the trainers at the state training institutions are the most demotivated lot who normally treat training assignments as punishment postings.

A status check on police commando forces is equally pertinent. The National Policy on Police Training demands that every state is tasked to train a minimum of 8.5 per cent of the total force as Quick Response Teams (QRT) and Commando units. QRT are meant to be vital given that they are the first respondent to any terror attacks. The Mumbai Police now plans to have “Response Ten” units — three to four commandos armed with bullet-proof vests and assault rifles — at each police station in the city. The Response Ten units are essentially culled out of the existing QRTs and commando units and with India having barely 4,300 such personnel, this is going to be a tough call. India’s capacity to impart training in this regard is also limited with only four training centres available run by the paramilitary forces.

Shortage of force is not a new phenomenon although the government has handled the issue in an ad hoc fashion. In terms of strengthening the quantity aspect, the central government has been sanctioning and creating new battalions of central paramilitary forces. Additional companies and battalions offer no real solution. This is because local police forces are familiar with local surroundings and the people are more efficient than the CPMFs. Hence, strengthening of police force, both in quantity and quality, is the need of the hour.

Another issue particularly relevant in India’s fight against terrorism is intelligence. While the state intelligence agencies are not adequately equipped in terms of training and therefore not suitable, there is also the issue of lack of technical support and resource availability that affect the intelligence-gathering capability of the state intelligence agencies. The value of human intelligence cannot be overemphasized, but technical intelligence is beginning to assume a particularly important role in the backdrop of advancing technologies which the terrorists are using today. The central government has no shortage of resources although this cannot be said for the state agencies.

In addition, there are problems with communication, connectivity and information sharing, which was once again a glaring weakness exposed through the Pune blast. One, there is the absence of an information grid linking up state and federal police forces with police stations as the lowest common denominator. While NATGRID serves to address some of these issues, the formation of a Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System is long overdue. While giving the IB Endowment lecture in 2009, then Home Minister Chidambaram brought out some of these issues saying “there is no system of data storage, data sharing and accessing data. There is no system under which one police station can talk to another directly. There is no record of crimes or criminals that can be accessed by a Station House Officer, except the manual records relating to that police station.”

Three years later, the situation is not significantly different.

Lastly, political interference, lack of autonomy of the police and utter absence of police accountability are serious hindrances to developing a professional force. The current police functioning under the grip of state government has led to gross abuses, resulting in erosion of the rule of law and loss of credibility as a professional organisation.

For instance arbitrary transfers and suspensions have affected the function of intelligence gathering. Meanwhile, the police should be made more accountable to the rule of law and the people through State Assemblies and the Parliament and not to the ruling political party. In an effort to insulate police from the political masters, the National Police Commission recommended that similar state-level bodies be set up. This is yet to be implemented given the strong resistance from political parties.

Unless the new Home Minister becomes live to some of these issues, India’s preparedness to deal with internal security would continue to be weak.

Pune Blasts and India's CBR Security Challenges

Here's an article of mine on CBR security challenges in India published by The Diplomat on August 28, 2012.


The use of ammonium nitrate in the recent Pune blast signifies yet again India’s vulnerabilities in the Chemical-Biological-Radiological (CBR) security domain. Trafficking and trading of chemicals such as ammonium nitrate, which are used in explosives, have become common among terrorist groups and criminal gangs.

For full article, click here.



Amending India’s Explosives Act is long overdue. The law must take into account the changing circumstances and the more challenging ways in which state and non-state actors are aiding and abetting terrorism. One of the major shortcomings of the act is its sole focus on the safety of these materials in terms of managing the handling and storage. The security of such materials is often overlooked.

India’s small- and medium-scale industries have continued to argue that any theft of chemicals is done only for pecuniary reasons, which would mean that the security of these materials – the material falling into the wrong hands – is often overlooked. Pilferage is often rubbished as stolen material for commercial purposes; simply put, to earn some extra money. But they do pose serious security threats to India’s internal security, as was evident in the Pune blast. India has now witnessed several recent incidents of such security breaches, including the July 2011 Mumbai attacks.

In an effort to arrest criminal use and to control the easy and unrestricted availability of the chemical, the government in 2011 categorized ammonium nitrate as an “explosive.” However, the catch was that ammonium nitrate is in large-scale use in the agricultural sector and therefore, the government loosened the regulation to say that “its possession and use would invoke penal action only if the composition had 45% or more ammonium nitrate content.” Terrorists and criminal groups have been able to exploit this loophole effectively, which has allowed them to repeatedly use it in major and minor terrorist incidents in India.

Recently, a committee set up by the central government to look into the distribution and handling of explosives suggested that the Home Ministry may be better suited to regulate the flow and trading of these chemicals instead of the Department of Industries, Policy and Planning, as is the case currently. However, the Home Ministry’s already much too overstretched to be assigned additional tasks. Regardless, one agency must be invested with the sole responsibility to lead on this issue.

A separate internal security ministry with a department focused on CBR security with adequate manpower is truly needed. With India’s expansive and expanding network of educational institutions and associated labs as well as private industrial units, the use of ammonium nitrate and other chemicals is likely to grow manifold.

Consequentially, India should be monitoring and addressing the weaknesses in the current approach of controlling the material technical know-how of the product. The need for an integrated approach cannot be overstated.

India’s ancient rules are another set of issues that need urgent attention. The Explosives Act of 1884, which was last amended in 2002 need to be overhauled again in the face of new challenges.

A recent study by ORF and RUSI on the subject, India & Non-State Actors: Chemical, Biological & Radiological Threats, which was largely based on primary research, highlighted some of these loopholes while also suggesting ways to remedy some of the gaps.

While the central government-appointed committee is looking into some of these recommendations, it appears to be focusing a great deal on coordination between different departments handling these chemicals. This is by no means unimportant; indeed, as noted above, a whole-of-government approach is needed to properly address the threat. Nonetheless, a host of other issues also require greater attention.

For example, transportation remains a significant weakness. Additionally, industry rarely considers the dangers of these materials from falling into the hands of terrorists, criminals, and third parties who may sell the materials to terrorist groups.

The huge variation between the large, medium and small-scale industries in their approach to security of these dangerous materials is significant. The government has to devise innovative measures to control and streamline the production and distribution of such materials. The wide-scale disparity in the training and security provisions and the lack of standardization of private security agencies puts India at serious risk. An accreditation and audit mechanism, with periodic security audits and a reporting structure for audit findings to be signed off by a designated regulator, should become standard practice in industries. Industries also have to be alert to insider threats that go undetected by and large because of inadequate background threats.

A related issue is the lack of threat communication and training at the grassroots level among ordinary security agencies. While senior-level officers may be aware of CBR threats, the forces that form most of the front-line security layers are not adequately aware of the dangerous materials they deal with. In cases where they are alert, moreover, they are not adequately equipped with in-house security forces and certainly cannot afford to pay for a Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) contingent. Also small, profit-driven units are not as concerned about the security of these materials. Addressing this effectively could be done by encouraging greater resource-pooling among smaller units to employ good security outfits as a way to reduce costs while strengthening the impact of security spending.

Lastly, India’s mindset about having precedents before strengthening measures needs to undergo change. We have to become sensitive to threats as they evolve rather than wait for incidents to happen and react thereafter.

India in the world power ladder

Here's a short OpEd of mine on where India stands in the world power game, published by Bombay-based News Bharati on August 16, 2012.

India is an emerging great power but whether it will emerge successfully or not will depend on a range of challenges at the domestic and international levels. Of these, the domestic challenges are of far greater consequences. Internal challenges range from poor infrastructure to coalition politics and external challenges include managing great power relations and ensuring a stable South Asia.


Some of the serious economic challenges that India faces include its economic growth. India traditionally had the Hindu growth rate of 2-3 percent for decades where the economy was dominated by a strong state that remained closed to international interaction. It also had put serious restrictions on its private sector and the market-driven growth. Starting in the late 1980s, India did slowly liberalise its economy but it took the 1990s economic crisis for liberalization to pick up the pace. The liberalization process that followed led to much higher growth rate, reaching levels of 8-10 percent. In fact, over the last three years, this growth rate has begun to suffer. India did successfully deal with the global financial crisis but nevertheless its economic growth rate has begun to slow down, nevertheless high by global standards. However, India starting from a lower base, (even though its growth rate is higher than most other countries)and if India has to catch up to the more developed economies, it has to sustain its 8-10 percent growth rate annually but domestic politics is coming in the way of faster growth.

One of the factors for slow growth rate is India’s poor infrastructure. The recent double blackout is only one indicator of that. India’s power sector suffers from both lack of capacity and poor distribution. The US-India nuclear deal was supposed to help India in this regard by increasing the nuclear component in the energy basket but the nuclear liability bill is preventing progress in the nuclear energy sector. Additionally, the Fukushima nuclear disaster has led to greater concern in India about the nuclear safety, leading to further slow down.

Situation is not much better in another area of infrastructure – highways and transportation links. Land acquisition troubles, inadequate attention preventing highway and other transportation hub developments at a fast-enough pace are big enough issues but the more serious problem is politics!! Coalition governments and differences between the centre and state governments are preventing the much-needed market reforms as a number of international agencies have already pointed out. There is also increasing objection to faster economic growth because of the assumption that faster economic growth leads to greater economic inequality. While income inequalities are a problem, the assumption that GDP growth rates will lead to inequality is wrong. The GDP-led growth needs to lead to better distribution but the government has to push for greater economic growth as well. These are not mutually incompatible.

Maoist violence is another serious domestic issue. While India has always faced domestic rebellion, the Maoist violence is a qualitatively different problem. Lack of coordination between state and central forces, inadequate trained personnel available for combatting the violence has meant serious blows to India.

Yet another issue is corruption. Corruption is not only a political issue but also an economic issue. Unfortunately, none of the major political parties are paying any serious attention to it other than pointing fingers at each other. Corruption makes not only an incompetent economy but also makes it an unattractive option for foreign investors, affecting further India’s growth story.

A final domestic issue is the state of the intellectual infrastructure. India’s educational system, especially at the school level, is going from bad to worse. But since education at the school level is a responsibility of the state government rather than the central government, there are huge problems at that level. Some states do perform better than the other but the situation overall is quite abysmal. There is lot of tinkering going on at the higher education level, but unless the school education is taken seriously, reforming higher education is not going to matter much. The effect of the educational weakness can be seen already in the shortages in some sectors of the industry, in terms of quality manpower.

One of the major international challenges is managing the rise of China. While rise of China is a challenge to the whole world, India faces a particular challenge given the history of relations including the 1962 border war. In addition, China’s border infrastructure, its support to Pakistan in the military and non-military arena is of concern. For that matter, China’s South Asia relations areno different!

India has also problems with relationship with the United States. Although US-India relations have improved dramatically, India is afraid of being caught between the United States and China. Therefore, India has to play the complicated game of trying to balance its relations with these two powers.

Meanwhile, what affect us most are the developments in our neighbourhood and India’s position is nothing to envy about. We are faced with new challenges all around India, with many having serious issues of instability that has the potential to spill over. On our Western front, the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan are sliding from bad to worse. With the US plan to exit Afghanistan in 2014, it opens up new challenges and opportunities for India and the region.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is going through serious internal turmoil although the geopolitical importance of Pakistan will come handy for Islamabad with neither the US nor China letting it slide to become a “failed state.” This may be the only hope we have of preventing the worst from happening in Pakistan. While a stable Pakistan may be in the interest of India and the region, an unstable Pakistan with nuclear weapons is going to be a greater concern for the West, particularly the US. For India, the issue has not been really the growing size of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal or its safety (this is important by all means) but Islamabad’s sponsorship of cross-border terrorism.

Coming to Afghanistan, India has played a critical role in the development and reconstruction efforts despite the Pakistani effort to keep India out on a sustained basis. However, with the US exit plan being readied, India has to take the lead in formalizing a large coalition of nations including its immediate neighbours such as Pakistan, Iran, China, if Afghanistan is to witness any long-term peace and stability.

These are no easy challenges and how India manages all these will determine its position in Asia and the world.