How Would NATO Respond To An Attack In Space?

NATO has agreed to extend its 'attack on one is an attack on all' policy to cover space attacks.

On 12 June, NATO leaders agreed to respond to threats from space, stating "attacks to, from, or within space present a clear challenge to the security of the alliance".

But what would NATO's reaction to an attack in space look like?

The alliance outlined that any attack in space could lead to Article 5 being used in response.

As part of NATO's founding treaty, Article 5 outlines "an armed attack against one or more" NATO ally is "considered an attack against them all".

Having only been activated once, in response to the 9/11 terror attacks in New York and Washington, Article 5 allows NATO to act in a way it deems necessary – allowing Armed Forces to restore and maintain the North Atlantic area.

Professor Jamie Shea, former NATO and University of Exeter, told Forces News he sees the expansion of NATO's 'attack on one is an attack on all' to cover space as a "wholly logical move".

Watch: What are the main threats in space warfare?

"Once you declare that space is an operational domain, what you're saying is that you have vital assets in space on which your collective defence relies," he said.

"And that means that space can now be a showstopper in terms of the success or failure of military operations."

Such an attack in space could come in a number of forms, and Prof Shea said the list of potential threats is "almost infinite".

But he also stated NATO needs to work out what its threshold is for space warfare, and what sort of attack would warrant activating Article 5.

"Would Russia or China have to destroy a NATO satellite, blow it up before you would declare Article 5 collective defence?" Prof Shea asked.

"Would it be sufficient just to disrupt the activity of that satellite through, for example, spoofing or electronic jamming techniques or through a cyber attack, for instance?"

"How bad does it have to be, what extent of damage does there have to be, and so in a way this gives NATO a mandate to say to its military authorities: 'Guys, give us some answers.'"

Russia and China are big concerns when it comes to space.

Watch: Are Russia and China really 'militarising the moon' with new base plans?

In December last year, the head of US Space Command accused Russia of continuing to "weaponise space" after the country launched an anti-satellite missile.

The UK also accused Russia of launching a "projectile with the characteristics of a weapon" during a satellite test, while Prof Shea added that China has also experimented with anti-satellite weapons.

"We badly need to pay attention to the arms control aspect, the confidence-building aspect of space activity, as well, as we go forward," he said.

"India has now experimented with an anti-satellite system, Iran has been developing one, so it's not just Russia and China."

While NATO has outlined the potential use of Article 5 in response to future space attacks, Prof Shea said the alliance must also be proactive in space operations.

"NATO... clearly mustn't only react to what's happened already, it wouldn't be a good alliance if it did only that," he said.

"It also has to kind of anticipate where we are going to be in terms of the vulnerability of space systems to these new technologies."

Prof Shea added that as well as being able to physically defend space assets, there has to be a clear stance on the repercussions of such an attack.

"You also have to tell your adversary that if he believes that he can attack your space assets with impunity because they happen to be up there, rather than down on earth then, of course, he's making a great miscalculation."

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