August 14, 2020

Russia and China Playing Musical Chairs in Zero Gravity

By Jeffrey Edmonds

As SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket hurled the Dragon capsule and its two astronauts into orbit, marking the first human spaceflight from U.S. soil since 2011 and the first ever for a commercial company, Russia saw its monopoly on putting humans in space fade rapidly into the background. Coupled with the return of human spaceflight to the United States, China continues its march toward its own sustained human spaceflight with its Long March 5B heavy-lift rocket and new spacecraft initiative. Russia, who is unique in having close ties to both U.S. and Chinese space programs, stands at a crossroads. Russia can seek greater cooperation in space with China and risk losing technology, or risk losing any benefit it could gain from greater cooperation and still watch China pull ahead. Regardless of the trajectory the Sino-Russian relationship takes, there are significant implications for U.S. national security.

American defense planners need to not overinflate the threat of Russian-Chinese cooperation, but still understand and plan for those areas where their combined efforts might lead to new capabilities.

Russia and China currently cooperate in space for material benefit, broader strategic foreign policy goals, and potential military benefits. However, their space cooperation, just like defense cooperation, is constrained by a level of mistrust, the need to protect defense-related technologies, and disparities in economic strength and priorities.

Read the full article in War on the Rocks.

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