Pakistan wants peace in space but weaponry is inevitable

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At a time when other nuclear states like the United States of America, Russia, China and India establish or enhance designated pre-existing space forces and resources, it may seem odd that another nuclear state like Pakistan is championing the cause of peaceful space exploration. Pakistan has always maintained that it is against the exploitation of space for military purposes in any form and that it considers space as a “common heritage of humanity. The idea, however, has its merits as the realities on the ground support the position taken by Pakistan, but given the geopolitical realities and its own geography which has proven to be more of a bane, Pakistan may eventually have to take the course .

First, it is important to assess the merits of Pakistan’s approach to a space of peace. Being a small country that has faced an existential threat from its much larger eastern neighbor, India, since independence, Pakistan realizes that the economic cost of national security is simply too high. Since it became a matter of life and death, Pakistan had to go the nuclear weapons route after the Indian nuclear tests. National resolve has resulted in the establishment of deterrent stability in South Asia. However, the country faced economic and diplomatic repercussions for detonating the nuclear devices in response to Indian tests in 1998.

Read more: Beg, Borrow and Repeat: A History of Pakistan’s Obsession with the IMF

Space exploration is an expensive business

The cost per launch has fallen over the past few decades thanks to innovation in the space industry, but the the average cost per launch is around $62 million. It costs $1,200 per pound of payload a rocket carries, despite the enormous costs associated with researching and developing the payload worthy of being sent into space. And to put things in perspective, Pakistan the entire budget allocated to its space research agency, SUPARCO, amount to nearly $38 million or PKR 8.7 billion for the fiscal year 2022-23. The cost itself would not have been an issue if the country’s economy had been booming.

But the truth is that the situation is as bad as it could be and has never been in a state where substantial resources could be allocated to the space program, whether civilian or military. So it stands to reason that Pakistan would want to prevent the militarization of outer space because if the precedent of the nuclear race is any indicator, once it becomes an existential issue, every country will opt for weapons instead bread. This puts the country on a path where ordinary people suffer the most, as scarce resources are redirected to defense. Therefore, Pakistan is prioritizing the use of the limited resources it has to explore the space for much-needed socio-economic development.

Unfortunately for Pakistan, its geography does not complement the planned approach to space. It borders India and China, the revisionist states regionally and globally respectively. It is apparent from the technological accumulation that these two states contemplate the control of space. Revisionist China conducted an anti-satellite test (ASAT) in 2007 to show its ability to target any space-based critical infrastructure if necessary. In response, India conducted its own ASAT test in 2019, which many experts had been anticipating since the Chinese ASAT test.

Pakistan is apparently the final link in the strategic chain in which the United States and China influence each other’s strategic behavior, India follows suit, and ultimately Pakistan has to react reluctantly. Anything India tests for a threat from China might not be used exclusively against China only. Furthermore, India has continuously improved its space-based ISR capabilities. It has long-term strategic implications for Pakistan in terms of nuclear deterrence.

Read more: The power game and the future of Pakistan

In 2011, the National Command Authority (NCA) endorsed Pakistan Space Vision 2047. In his speech, the Chairman of SUPARCO underscored the mission statement as: “space as a strategic sector, exploit all aspects of space science and technology and their application for national welfare and national security The rapid transition of space technologies for military purposes in South Asia could eventually lead Pakistan to follow suit neighbors and follow the path required for its national security needs.

The author works as a research officer at the Strategic Vision Institute in Islamabad. His work focuses on “developments and militarization in outer space”. The opinions expressed by the authors do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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