September 13, 2023

Elon Musk’s Control of Starlink Gives Him Unchecked Power over Elected Governments

Source: Business Insider

Journalist: Charles R. Davis

"This is one of the challenges of relying on a commercial service that has its own interest in ensuring that it remains out of the crosshairs," Stacie Pettyjohn, director of the defense program at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based think tank, told Insider. Musk, at a minimum, does not want his satellites shot down by the Russian government (although Starlink, used by Ukrainian soldiers to coordinate on the front lines, is arguably a legitimate military target already).

In June, the Defense Department signed another contract with SpaceX, specifically for Starlink, that reportedly gives US officials more say in where and when at least some of the service's tablet-like terminals can operate. The contract, the terms of which have not been disclosed, also highlights SpaceX's willingness — for compensation — to serve US and Ukrainian national security interests.

Washington does have some leverage, then. But it's also utterly dependent: no other company provides an equivalent service at the scale of SpaceX, providing the robust data needed to build a battlefield network where landlines and cellular services are non-existent. Even if it wanted to change Musk's mind, it is not clear that it can actually compel him to do anything when it comes to Ukrainian attacks on territory controlled by Russia.

"Rather," Pettyjohn said, "they have to convince him that this is hurting the Ukrainian war effort, not qualitatively different than other attacks going on, and not likely to precipitate retaliation against the company."

Read the full story and more from Insider.


  • Stacie Pettyjohn

    Senior Fellow and Director, Defense Program

    Stacie Pettyjohn is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Her areas of expertise include defense strategy, post...