In the last decade there has been a tremendous growth in commercial activity in space. As a result, some scholars see a future for space cooperation driven by shared commercial interests. In this scenario, commercial companies act as intermediaries between states, uniting them behind specific commercial projects in space.
However, commercial companies are unlikely to dictate future international cooperation in space. Under applicable international space law, any company doing business in space acts as an extension of – and under the jurisdiction of – the government of its home country.
The dominance of states over companies in space matters was clearly illustrated by the Ukraine crisis. As a result of government-imposed sanctions, many commercial space companies have stopped working with Russia.
Given the current legal framework, it seems most likely that states – and not commercial corporations – will continue to dictate the rules in space.
Space blocks for collaboration or conflict
I believe that state formations – like space blocs – will in the future be the primary vehicle through which states advance their national interests in space and on the ground. There are many benefits when nations come together and form space blocs. Space is tight, so it makes sense to pool resources, manpower and expertise. However, such a system also harbors dangers.
History offers many examples that show that the more rigid alliances become, the more likely conflict becomes. The increasing rigidity of two alliances – the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance – at the end of the 19th century is often cited as the main trigger of the First World War.
A key lesson from this is that as long as existing space blocs remain flexible and open to all, cooperation will thrive and the world can avoid open conflict in space. Maintaining a focus on scientific goals and exchanges between and within space blocs – while avoiding political rivalries – will help secure the future of international cooperation in space.
Svetla Ben-Itzhak, Assistant Professor of Space and International Relations, Air University
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