The threat from space

Is spatial expansion, which many are intoxicated with without critical perspective, really desirable?? D. Deudney maintains that it creates new threats rather than responding to them, by measuring their discursive, geopolitical and economic realities.

Space is more talked about than ever. Space projects of all kinds are accumulating in our media space, relayed by the words of private and public actors who see them as a road map towards the infinite progress of humanity. Is spatial expansion really desirable? As the pro-spatial expansionist discourse becomes dominant, David Deudney asks this simple, but essential question through his work Dark Skies: Space Expansionism, Planetary Geopolitics, and the Ends of Humanity.

The book, the first to undertake a critical assessment of spatial expansionism from a social science perspective, provides an unequivocal answer. Space expansion creates rather than responds to new existential threats to the survival of humanity. The author names von Braunien program the program of militaris space expansionism implemented by the great powers. This name is supposedly inspired by the work of the German Wernher von Braun, a Nazi scientist known as the designer of the Saturn V rocket that made possible the American moon landing in 1969. Deudney argues that establishing a new paradigm of reasonable space expansion, called Clarke-Sagan programis just as essential as limiting the current diffusion of the von Braunien program.

From the Age of Heaven to Space Expansionism

After having undergone the globalization of machine civilization confined to the space of planet Earth, we are now in a network of intense interactions and vulnerable interdependencies. While wars, tyrannies, plagues or ecological destruction were once disasters for isolated groups and places, their scope is now universal. Technological expansion on Earth has produced the closure of historical human experience on our planet: the only outside possible has therefore become that of beyond the Earth, in cosmic space.

According to Dudney, human expansion into space would be the most disastrous of our times. promthens enlargements (p. 20). Indeed, the cyclical space sector could be on the verge of experiencing another boom. The one we are heading towards from 2020 differs from the space conquest of the 1970s by the intersection of two factors: the renewal of geopolitical rivalries, and the significant financial support of the private sector. The first factor in terms of importance, the resurgence of geopolitical rivalries between the United States, China and Russia is leading to new activities. Nourished by the emergence of entrepreneurs with substantial funds and ambitious visions, e-entrepreneurs extol the virtues of the rapid disruption of new technology companies in the space sector. Among them, Elon Musk (Spacex), Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin), Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic) deliver to the masses dreams of space expansion via the language of American libertarianism, without us knowing whether these dreams are viable or beneficial.

Will our additional steps on the scale of space weaponry really improve national and global security?? Are the traditionalist and realist versions of geopolitics a healthy guide for state construction with planetary consequences?? Critical evaluation of these projects and their defenders is both necessary and urgent according to David Dudney.

Space defenders, a multifaceted group

Space Advocates view expansion into space as an important and consistently positive endeavor. This group of individuals constitutes the majority of professionals, investors and influential communicators in the space sector. The author paints a detailed portrait of their credo, spatial expansionism, this fascinating and complex ideology which extrapolates and amplifies the Promthenian view of the world and technological modernism on projects of literally spatial scale (p. 6).

The most prominent space advocates are visionaries, what W. Patrick McCray defines as those who operate in the blurred boundary between scientific fact, technological possibility, and optimistic speculation (p. 9). The essential components of their program are promises to realize human aspirations towards security against violence, a richer and more spacious habitat and an expansion of freedoms. Among the projects of the space expansionists already carried out, we include the development of rockets, basic space technology, the placement of long-range bombing equipment, satellites including manned ones in orbit, some human visits to the Moon, and many small robot satellites. The longer list of projects begins with launching more sophisticated equipment around Earth, then colonizing and industrializing Earth's moons, asteroids, and Mars.

By putting forward their solutions to Earth's major problems, space expansionists confront the externalities resulting from the globalization of machine civilization. The problem of nuclear vulnerability comes to the fore, along with ecological degradation, resource and energy scarcity, overpopulation and climate change. Seeing Earth's problems as both inherent and severe (Earth being a limited space with many growth limitations and entropic disturbances), space advocates justify their programs as both beneficial and inevitable. They show little tolerance towards those who doubt the urgency and their ambitions.

Their projects are gaining all the more ground as they are part of a narrative about humanity, the Earth, the Cosmos, and the epic history that connects the past, the present and the future. Space expansion combines Great History and Great Futurism. Since it tells the story of the past and the present before extrapolating them towards imaginary spatial futures, they make the present the decisive and culminating inflection point of millennia of history. The human movement towards space becomes a vital step for humanity and creates a new vocation with cosmic significance towards the apothosis of our species.

The political and social postulates on which the defenders of space are based, however, are not analyzed by either historical science or the social sciences. The expansion of humanity into space temporarily silences the great ecological and social debates around the habitability of the earth, like a decisive joker capable of blurring the lines of discussion and shaping their conclusions (p. 35). The author maintains that space defenders benefit from “spatial exceptionalism” in their speeches and in the lack of critical evaluation made of them, and therefore proposes to remedy this situation.

A dangerous expansion

According to David Dudney, the geopolitical reality contradicts the assumptions made by the defenders of the Space Age. through a multitude of scientific and technical considerations, it supports hypotheses that go against the grain of expansionist discourse.

Spread over several chapters, these demonstrations emphasize ten aspects of spatial expansion before assessing the potential consequences. The author criticizes the mentality of expansion towards an exploitative civilization, which is based on the collective belief in the virtues of clash of borders (p. 181), where exploratory, innovative and anti-traditionalist civilizations are rewarded in contrast to those that turn inward. This movement is according to space defenders the natural continuation of human evolution, out of the oceans towards the land. Out of Africa towards the north. Out of Earth and into space (p. 181).

But the very governance of the ships, universally technocratic and authoritarian, prohibits any dissension (even democratic) in the name of the final and supreme objective: the governability of the machine ship. Would the future astropolis that is imagined by the defenders of space not then be city-ships where governability takes precedence over passenger rights, rather than ship-cities capable of maintaining the democratic consensus within them?? Space expansion is the intersection of the paradigm of perpetual human expansion and technocratic elitism, and actively threatens the preservation of civil liberties.

The militarization of space also calls into question its beneficial role in security paradigms. Current treaties, including the Limited Test Ban Treaty (1969), the Outer Space Treaty (1967), and the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties (SALT I and II), do not limit nuclear weapons, but only their vehicles, which are ballistic missiles. Force multiplier satellites are not subject to any government control, and are difficult to distinguish from civilian targets. However, two security scenarios present the possibility of catastrophic consequences. A situation of crash risks occurring when, despite a high level of potential mutual violence due to weapons of mass destruction, centralized governance is not put in place to avoid inter-state collisions. A situation of crush it risks occurring when highly asymmetrical geopolitical hierarchies increase the risk of the international community being enslaved by a small number of states. Libertarian and inegalitarian spatial expansion poses great risks in these two aspects.

The effective distance between the earth and the most distant space activities being of little consequence, the multiplication of space activities, far from opening a new frontier, multiplies the closure of the planet on itself. The already visible clutter of space waste highlights the limits of the atmosphere. Geopolitical arguments about the perils of acceleration suggest that the next step on Von Braun's ladder, the deployment of anti-satellite weapons, further increases the dangers produced by the early stages of expansion.

The Clarke-Sagan program

However, space is an environment naturally conducive to measured cooperation. The fact that the space around the Earth has integral tendencies making partition difficult makes the provisions of the Space Treaty (guarantee of free passage and prohibition of sovereign appropriation) particularly conducive to the objectives of all states rather than just one. Space is small in effective size and easily damaged by space debris, prompting states to avoid weapons tests and establish anti-degradation rules. The environment is therefore particularly favorable for governance regimes facilitating its fair and equitable employment.

The author proposes a reasoned philosophy of space exploitation, analogous to Whole Earth Security Program. Derived from the ideas of Arthur C. Clarke, a British science fiction writer and futurist, and Carl Sagan, an American scientist and astronomer, this underrepresented paradigm is called Clarke-Sagan program (p. 227). Recognizing geopolitical circumstances and environmental problems as fundamental, this movement advocates the restriction of super technologies and the selective use of orbital space. The doctrine is based on the expansion of Enlightenment philosophies and modern liberal republicanism into space. For the astroliberal and astrorepublican project, domestication and pacification become vital responses to the disproportionate powers generated by Promthena modernity. In contrast to the state-centric perspective of von Braun's militarization program, this paradigm explicitly serves the interests of humanity as a unified actor, in the absence of its common voice. This paradigm, by considering each individual as a space actor, proposes to unite the scientific, civil and political community towards reasoned spatial exploitation.

Rich and detailed, David Dudney's work offers a critical evaluation of spatial expansion in the light of the social sciences. This uncompromising look becomes essential to recall the discursive, geopolitical and economic realities of spatial expansion. The undertaking is all the more urgent as the acceleration of pro-expansionist discourse reduces the chances of considering a paradigm of reasoned and beneficial expansion such as the author develops.