Study raises prospect of space conflict if U.S. and Russia abandon nuclear arms control treaty

WASHINGTON — The military and intelligence community’s space agencies may have to cope with growing instability in outer space if the United States and Russia don’t renew the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) that is set to expire on February 5, 2021, experts warn in a new report.

A study released Jan. 15 by the Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Space Policy and Strategy notes that abandoning the New START Treaty could not only reignite a nuclear arms race but also destabilize outer space.

If U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin allow the treaty to expire, limits on U.S. and Russian nuclear arms will cease as well as prohibitions on interference with space-based “national technical means” that are used to verify treaty compliance, the Aerospace report says. Space-based national technical means include satellites operated by the National Reconnaissance Office and the Defense Department.

Michael Gleason, senior strategic space analyst at Aerospace and co-author of the paper, said the United States and Russia have for decades maintained a de facto ban on interfering with each others’ surveillance and military satellites but that could change in the absence of an arms control regime.

The United States might have to prepare for the possibility that Russia could try to interfere with both  U.S. government and commercial remote sensing assets, Gleason said Jan. 15 at an Aerospace Corp. news conference in Arlington, Virginia.

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