Deterrence in Space—Integrated or Entangled? A Wargaming Approach to Multidomain Strategy
Principal Investigator: Mariel Borowitz, Georgia Institute of Technology
Co-Investigators: Jon Lindsay, Georgia Institute of Technology, Jacquelyn Schneider, The Hoover Institute at Stanford University, and Brian Stewart, U.S. Air Force Academy
Years of Award: 2023-2026
Managing Service Agency: Air Force Office of Scientific Research
Space systems are vital for military and economic activity–a key part of integrated deterrence. But when does useful integration turn into dangerous entanglement, and how might the connection of space to other domains, civilian life, and allied relationships impact both deterrence and strategic stability? This is an important question because, despite widespread agreement that space deterrence is important, there is significant uncertainty about how (or if) it works. One school of thought sees space as inherently stabilizing because satellites improve transparency and provide information. Another sees space as inherently destabilizing because space systems are vital and vulnerable. Both sides agree that space is entangled with other domains, but they disagree about its implications for strategic stability. This disagreement reflects a larger debate in international relations about the conditions under which interdependence can either discourage or promote conflict. We conjecture that deterrence in space likewise depends on different kinds of entanglement: multipolar entanglement across allies and other actors, multidomain entanglement of conventional and nuclear forces, and multisector entanglement of military and civilian applications of space. This project will generate new contributions to deterrence theory by examining these complex dynamics in the ultimate multi-domain domain.
Testing theories of space deterrence empirically is hard because militarized crises between space-capable powers are rare. Therefore, we propose to run a series of wargaming scenarios featuring space security experts, national security elites, undergraduate and graduate university students, military academy cadets, and international partners. Wargames in Europe and Asia enable us to expand beyond the U.S.-centric approach that dominates thinking on space deterrence and increases the generalizability of our findings. Experimental wargames have become a popular research method for political scientists and international relations scholars, particularly for topics that are difficult or impossible to observe in the real world or through historical cases. (Ketzer and Renshon, 2022) More specifically, “scholar-generated wargames are best used to answer questions about human decision-making, either regarding rare events, or topics where real-world data are difficult to obtain.” (Lin-Greenberg et al. 2022) Complex problems with limited history are well-suited to wargaming.
The 2022 U.S. National Defense Strategy identifies integrated deterrence as one of the essential elements for advancing U.S. national security priorities. The strategy notes that Russia and China have increased their counterspace capabilities and that these technologies are “complicating escalation dynamics and creating new challenges for strategic stability.” The lack of clear theory underlying space deterrence, as well as the absence of empirical data on conflict and escalation in and through space, poses a risk, as the theoretical foundation of this approach is not well understood. Developing and systematically testing theories of space deterrence and its role in integrated deterrence is critical for ensuring the success of this approach.