Governments dominated the space age that emerged during the Cold War, primarily those of the United States (U.S.) and the Soviet Union. They largely treated the domain with military restraint given both the fragility of the space environment and the importance of satellites for reconnaissance and early warning of any long-range nuclear missiles.
However, the role of satellites evolved to enable conventional military operations, as was shown with U.S. military action in the 1991 Gulf War and in other operations thereafter. Space assets, therefore, came to be seen not only as a source of operational military advantage but also as a potential vulnerability. Other shifts that have taken place in recent decades include the growing number of states with capabilities and interests in space. There has also been a significant expansion of private-sector activity. Technology continues to improve and endeavours that had been prohibitively expensive are now within reach.
Over time, the number of objects and the amount of debris in orbit around Earth have increased exponentially. So has the risk of accidents, misinterpretation of intent or escalatory actions. Amid what is considered an increasingly congested, contested and competitive environment, states have struggled to build on agreements reached during the Cold War that kept space free from conflict. A diplomatic process has been initiated at the United Nations that is seeking some form of understanding in relation to responsible behaviour in space.
As is the case with its allies, space-based capabilities and space-enabled systems are key contributors to Canada’s national security and defence, and essential to its prosperity. That reliance, amplified by Canada’s vast geography, makes space a strategic concern for Canada, which informs activity in multiple domains. Canada is involved in diplomatic efforts to keep space cooperative, which ultimately involves identifying measures that could dampen strategic competition in space. At the same time, Canada’s defence posture recognizes that some states are developing capabilities that could limit access to, and the use of, the space domain.
Read the full text of the HillStudy: The Growing Complexity of Space: Implications for Security and Stability
By Allison Goody and Ariel Shapiro, Library of Parliament