Andrew Erickson, an associate professor at the U.S. Naval War College, is known for his views on Chinese aerospace and naval capabilities. His latest edited volume is entitled: Chinese Aerospace Power: Evolving Maritime Roles.
Erickson holds a distinct viewpoint concerning tensions between the U.S. and China in space. In this exclusive interview with The Diplomat, he argues for a more conservative approach – one that takes into account the unique vulnerabilities of space systems.
You seem wary of policymakers viewing space as a “panacea” for the U.S. military as it tries to balance China. How should policymakers view space?
Since the 1980s, the U.S. military has progressively increased its reliance on unrestricted access to the space commons. This dependence is a double-edged sword. The conflicts the U.S. has waged thus have all been against adversaries that were unable to challenge this critical linchpin. China is a great power with a very different level of capability. In developing jamming, anti-satellite (ASAT), and directed-energy weapons, China is accruing capabilities to compromise and harm U.S. space assets to a degree not seen since the Soviet Union confronted the U.S. in the Cold War.
One of a wide variety of reasons that U.S.-China conflict should be avoided if at all possible is that it would be extremely detrimental to both parties and the rest of the world given the two nations’ ability to harm both each other and the fragile environment of space. At the same time, the U.S. must protect its interests, allies, and friends, as well as global norms. This will be a difficult balancing act, particularly as China (like Russia) seeks to limit the U.S. military’s exploitation of space by promoting “anti-weaponization” policies in the U.N. and other fora, while at the same time pursuing ground-based systems designed precisely to achieve some of the very effects in space that it decries. This Janus-faced effort should not go unquestioned, and the U.S. must prepare deterrent and defensive measures accordingly.