Why the European Parliament Should Expand its Space Program in the Czech Republic

  • Nicole Ely
  • 20.3.2019 10:14

As Russia and China are increasingly looking to outer space as the next stage for international conflict, the European Parliament is considering expanding its Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency in Prague. However, many believe this will lead to duplication of capabilities.

The European Parliament will vote in April on expanding the European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency (GSA), which acts as the European Union’s alternative to GPS. Located in the Czech Republic, the GSA’s expansion could mean an increased role for the V4 country in EU space policy. However, some question if the expansion is necessary.

 

The expansion comes at a critical time as Russia and China are both working to strengthen their grasp on the realm of outer space.

 

One of the EU’s goals when it comes to outer space is to construct a system that is autonomous and complementary to that of the United States, the primary superpower in outer space. Although the majority of the EU and the Europe Space Agency’s assets are located in France and Germany, the GSA has been based in Prague since 2012 and the country has seen a boost in the aerospace industry as a result. The expansion would not only mean tripling the current size of the GSA but also increased influence for the Czech Republic on an ever-growing stage of state actors.

The expansion comes at a critical time as Russia and China are both working to strengthen their grasp on the realm of outer space, which has become deeply enmeshed not only in civilian life but also the military since technology allows for easy integration between land, air and sea forces. Sensitive to U.S. capabilities and without the means to compete, Russia has long considered outer space as an integral part of its prestige as a superpower and has used it as an edge over its Western competitor. When the U.S. withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missiles Treaty in 2002, Russia saw this as paving the way for the development of intercept missiles, which would operate in space. With increasing tensions between the U.S., NATO and Russia in the past years, Putin has announced the deployment of 300 new strategic weapons and is developing anti-satellite abilities.

 

China regards outer space as a crucial element of U.S. vulnerability.

 

 

China also has goals to be an aerospace superpower. Like Russia, the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty signalled to China that the US would be targeting its missiles and satellites. In addition to this, China regards outer space as a crucial element of U.S. vulnerability, which has led it to the development of many “trump card” weapons. All these will have an enormous impact on European powers since its space systems are hugely dependent on the U.S.’s capabilities.

Despite the current political climate when it comes to space security, the GSA’s expansion is not guaranteed. Some MEPs view the program as an unnecessary overlap with the existing European Space Agency in Paris. Although redundancy should be avoided, it is important to note the demand for additional space assets in order to have some level of autonomy. Most national systems are not interoperable. So although Europe might not want to duplicate certain assets, sharing or pooling of individual member state’s civilian and military assets is not easy. Expanding the GSA is crucial if Europe wants to pursue a path of strategic autonomy, and the European Parliament should vote in its favor.

About author: Nicole Ely

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