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Gregory Kulacki, at the Union of Concerned Scientists, agrees: “The people we know in China who are experts on debris in space had no clue it was coming; they weren’t consulted and they’re all very upset about it. One possibility is that whoever briefed the political leadership may not have known about the debris problem or may have withheld the information.” Nevertheless, Kulacki is impatient with speculation. “The problem with all this supposition is that it’s just that and does more harm than good when some assumption gets locked in as the conventional wisdom. We don’t really know who made this decision, who was responsible for the technology development, why they decided to go ahead, or what supervision the Chinese political establishment had. There are arguments about the Chinese forcing us back to the negotiating table on a treaty to ban assets in space and so forth. Yet we really don’t have the information to make judgments about what their intentions are. We should learn more about Chinese institutions and Chinese individuals, rather than guessing from afar.”

Are the Chinese–and especially the PLA–willing to engage? Kulacki, who works in China four to five months of every year, answers emphatically: “I’ve asked people in the PLA, at the Chinese war colleges, if they want to talk, and they definitely say they do.” Regarding a space-weapons ban, Kulacki is pragmatic about the military realities. “Difficult questions exist that many people in the arms-control community haven’t thought through. Suppose there’s a conflict, and the other side has access to satellite imaging that puts your forces in the field at risk. Do you blind or jam or confuse the signals? Is that a violation of a ban on attacking a satellite? The danger is that these things call for quick decisions, and there’s the risk of large-scale, quick escalation into accidental wars that neither side intended to get into.” The remedy, Kulacki insists, is, again, more engagement. “You would think, or hope, that both the U.S. and China realize that they can’t get into a war. They need to make sure that they don’t get into one by accident.”

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Credit: Dr. Thomas Kelso at CSSI (Center for Space Standards and Innovation)

Tagged: Computing, NASA, China, military, satellite

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