Universal Appeal: The Astronomical Need for Modern Space Diplomacy

The 2022 Meridian Diplomacy Forum explored international relations and the shifting global order in the three areas of limited sovereignty: the Ocean, the Arctic, and Space. The following session centered around space diplomacy.

Sustained international cooperation and harmony in space has led to scientific and technological breakthroughs, strengthened natural disaster response, and now may support efforts to combat climate change. Today, space activity is greatly accelerating by both nation-states and private enterprises for commercial, security and scientific purposes. The potential for future conflict is skyrocketing as nation-states develop an array of counterspace weapons, while increased traffic may lead to collision with satellites and harmful space debris. The global governance system remains limited and antiquated, with many calling for modernization of the Outer Space Treaty. Diplomacy is needed to establish international regulations and norms of responsible behavior commensurate with today’s opportunities and challenges. This segment addressed the call for U.S. leadership to work with other nations to modernize the global governance system to maintain peace and comradery in space, while fostering an environment supportive of commercialization and private sector innovation.      

Featured Speaker: His Excellency Ashok Mirpuri, Ambassador of Singapore to the United States

Panelist: Jim Taiclet, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Lockheed Martin Corporation

Panelist: Audrey Schaffer, Director for Space Policy, National Security Council

Panelist: Benjamin L. Schmitt, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Project Development Scientist, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; Rethinking Diplomacy Program Fellow, Duke University

Panelist: Ezinne Uzo-Okoro, Ph.D., Assistant Director for Space Policy, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Moderator: The Honorable Charles F. Bolden Jr., Major General, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired) 12th NASA Administrator; Founder & CEO Emeritus, The Charles F. Bolden Group

Here are the top takeaways from the session: 


In the last few years, space has exploded in the private sector. Companies like Lockheed Martin, SpaceX, and others are advancing creative solutions to some of space’s most pressing issues. “Opening up space to competition and non-state actors will only promote better answers and more freedom” remarked, Lockheed CEO Jim Taiclet. While rules and regulations must be followed, a private sector that feels empowered will only accelerate their space technology, space applications, and space-enabled services furthering the overall goals and vision of the United States. The introduction of commercial companies into space has created a burgeoning industry which promises to create more American jobs and strengthen critical U.S. electric, telecommunications, and transportation infrastructure.   


Space presents a massive opportunity for the United States. The U.S space priorities framework, released by the Vice President in December 2021 outlined the innumerable benefits of harnessing everything space has to offer. Audrey Schaffer highlighted the two most important facets of the document: “How the United States benefits from space activities” & “What are our space policy priorities?” The document’s overarching theme is the preservation and use of space for current and future generations. This would include measures such as mitigating orbital debris, creating a system of space traffic coordination, and avoiding biological contamination of aircraft on their return to Earth’s atmosphere.  


For space to remain a tranquil and conflict-free arena, the U.S. needs to demonstrate its global leadership and continue to strengthen ties with allies. The Artemis Accords present a fantastic opportunity to do so, with more and more nations signing on. Singapore became the 18th and latest nation to do so in late March. Ambassador Ashok Mirpuri remarked that the Accords “Lead us into the world of space diplomacy,” and “build out rules and norms to promote the peaceful use of space.” Continuing to work with additional countries committed to a safe and prosperous future in space will only add new energy and capabilities to ensure the world can benefit from its bounty. 


At the Forum kickoff breakfast, Maj. Gen Bolden noted the friendships and partnerships he had built with American and Russian scientists and astronauts. Scientists collaborate and create international partnerships regardless of geopolitical tensions given their pursuit for a common vision. They must be involved in the space policymaking process. Scientists and technologists can take large scale security threats and describe the deliberate physical effects they may have on geopolitical issues. This diversity of academic viewpoints will only serve to strengthen the understanding of policy makers and geopolitical analysts. Diplomats and scientists can both properly utilize each other’s skills to continue to create an arena filled with cooperation and innovation. 


While space exploration and technological advances are accelerating, international space law finds itself at a standstill.  The 1967 Outer Space treaty provided a framework for how nations could interact in space but was limited due to there only being two main space faring nations at that time. Now with the barrier to entry decreasing, the number of private sector companies and nations of all sizes are increasing the traffic in lower Earth Orbit.  The newly established Duke Space Diplomacy Lab is advancing “Anticipatory diplomacy” to bring countries together to build out regulatory norms in an attempt to avoid possible conflicts. Dr. Schmitt who co-founded the lab, called on the U.S. to convene a summit for space security, similar to President Biden’s Summit for Democracy, to bring nations to the table to further outline and formulate a comprehensive framework for space governance.

Project summary

Universal Appeal: The Astronomical Need for Modern Space Diplomacy | April 2022
Regions: East Asia and Pacific
Impact Areas: Energy and the Environment, Foreign Policy, Public Diplomacy, Science and Technology
Program Areas: Diplomatic Engagement