Becoming the fourth country in the world to shoot down a satellite in space with an anti-satellite missile, New Delhi Wednesday put itself in a position of advantage when it comes to framing global rules in the
future on the prevention of an arms race in outer space.
“We should remember tomorrow’s wars will not be the same as yesterday’s wars. Conventional army, navy, cyber, space… we have to prepare for all these. We are in such a geopolitical situation in the world, where our preparedness is our deterrent and… our biggest security,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told reporters at the party’s headquarters.
“It’s in the nation’s interest that we are prepared for it,” he said at a press conference that was also attended by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
“India is a space power, now we have the power to destroy also. But India is a peaceful and peace-loving country, so it’s not for attacking, it’s for our security and a deterrent for our security,” Jaitley said, while drawing a comparison with the “no-first-use-credible-nuclear-deterrence”.
Sources, meanwhile, told The Indian Express that unlike India’s nuclear programme, which was “shackled” by the NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons), it will be part of the global high table of space powers when it comes to framing a global regime.
“This shows that we have learnt from our past experience of not being part of the exclusive club,” sources said. In the nuclear programme, all the countries that tested a nuclear device before January 1, 1967 — the US, Russia, the UK, France, and China — were at an advantage. India conducted its first nuclear tests in 1974.
Explained: The ABC of ASAT
Since the second round of its nuclear tests in 1998, India has been lobbying for inclusion in the elite nuclear club, but membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) remains elusive with China blocking the move.
“India expects to play a role in the future in the drafting of international law on prevention of an arms race in outer space including… on the prevention of placement of weapons in outer space in its capacity as a major space faring-nation with proven space technology,” the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said.
The MEA pointed out that the principal international treaty on space is the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, to which India is a signatory. It prohibits weapons of mass destruction in outer space. “India is not in violation of any international law or treaty to which it is a party or any national obligation,” it said.
With the successful test, India has technically achieved the capability to attack enemy satellites — blinding them or disrupting communications — as well as a technology base for intercepting ballistic missiles.
While there was no response from the US or Russia, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said: “We have noticed reports and hope that each country will uphold peace and tranquillity in outer space.”
China conducted such a test in January 2007 when its anti-satellite missile destroyed an old weather satellite. But that test triggered criticism for creating the largest orbital debris cloud in history.
Pakistan, which has several satellites in orbit that were launched using Chinese and Russian rockets, said it was against militarisation of outer space. “Space is the common heritage of mankind and every nation has the responsibility to avoid actions which can lead to the militarisation of this arena,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesperson Mohammad Faisal said.
He said that Pakistan was a “strong proponent of the United Nations resolution on Prevention of Arms Race in Outer Space” and, taking a dig at India, said that “boasting of such capabilities is reminiscent of Don Quixote’s tilting against windmills”.
In Delhi, the MEA was clear that the “test is not directed against any country”. “India’s space capabilities do not threaten any country and nor are they directed against anyone. At the same time, the government is committed to ensuring the country’s national security interests and is alert to threats from emerging technologies,” it said.
Chaitanya Giri, Fellow, Space and Ocean Studies, Gateway House, a Mumbai-based thinktank, said: “India has been using its satellites in military operations, most recently in Balakot. The time was right for an anti-satellite demonstration. Mission Shakti is therefore a milestone and dramatically strengthens India’s defence preparedness for space-based warfare. It also puts our space deterrence on a par with our nuclear deterrence — especially significant given that satellite technology is now indispensable to the nation’s future.”