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Space: Speech by High Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell at the 14th European Conference

25.01.2022
Brussels

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Good afternoon, thank you very much for inviting me. 

It is again a pleasure for me to be here at this Space Conference. I have been here in previous years and this is the 14th Space Conference. I would like to talk about space, the changes taking place in space and what space means for security and defence. 

I used to say that outer space is one of the new battlefields. Cyberspace, outer space and the high seas are the new battlefields of our time. I wish they were not a battlefield, but space is clearly an issue for EU security and defence.

First of all, space is about technology. Data and services have become indispensable in our daily life. We rely on them when using almost everything: mobile phones, navigation in our cars, or withdrawing money. Satellites are there. They provide information in real time, also when disasters strike us: earthquakes, forest fires, floods. They enable us to frame a better response. So space is part of the peaceful life of all of us. 

But space is also increasingly important for geopolitics and for our security and defence. Our freedom of action depends on a safe, secure and autonomous access to space.  

The space industry is growing very quickly. The global space economy is growing at about 10% a year. Today it is estimated at about €340 billion. And the space sector is going through its own industrial revolution because the cost of launching satellites and developing smaller satellites is decreasing rapidly. 

I remember when I was a young Minister of Transportation and Telecommunications in Spain in 1992, it means 30 years ago, when I went to Guyana to launch the first Spanish satellite, Hispasat, with an Ariane rocket. And I was strongly criticised by the opposition, saying “what a waste of money. Why do we need a satellite? It will be turning around the earth empty without being used for anything". Today, we have more than 12,000 satellites, of which almost 5,000 are currently operational. 

And it is becoming a kind of a toy and billionaires like Mr. [Elon] Musk [who] invest in space triggering a new kind of space race. And the trend is increasing. It is estimated that more than 20,000 additional satellite will be launched in the next 10 years. So, the ones who were criticising me for launching one satellite 30 years ago, they did not have a strong prophetic capacity. 

As a consequence of the increase on the number of satellites, space is getting more and more crowded. With more satellites in orbit, space traffic management is becoming more and more complex and risky, increasing the volumes of debris and the risk of collision. You, who are professionals of the satellite industry, know very well the problem that this represents for the security of the satellites.  

I am going to give some figures. Today there are more than 130 million pieces of debris, which are smaller than one centimetre orbiting around the Earth, and approximately 900,000 pieces between one and 10 centimetres. These are very dangerous because already a screw of one centimetre can seriously damage a satellite and degrade its performance. 

So, we have a stronger global challenge to ensure physical security in a crowded space and that is why we will present soon, together with the Commission, a joint communication to promote an European Union approach to space traffic management. 

[First] space is getting more crowded, but second it is also getting more contested. We are seeing more and more examples of an irresponsible and hostile behaviour, and the weaponisation of space. Nowadays everything is being weaponised: migration, every aspect of human activity can become a weapon, and space [is] also being weaponised. 

Let me give an example. Last November, the Russian Federation conducted an anti-satellite weapon against one of its own satellites. This generated a large amount of space debris, posing a long-lasting risk for space activities, including for the safety of astronauts on the International Space Station. This was an irresponsible act that I have strongly condemned on behalf of European Union. 

Third, space is increasingly important for our security and defence. Our operations and our overall activity and defence awareness rely on a set of capabilities that are delivered from space: encrypted communication, location, navigation services, reconnaissance, and intelligence support. And we have a good example of that with our European Union Satellite Centre, our SatCen in Madrid, which plays a fundamental role, for example by providing today geopolitical intelligence analysis and allowing us to monitor what is happening in the Ukrainian border, and by supporting our CSDP missions and operations around the world.  

So, space is becoming increasingly central to European security and the truth is that our current policy framework – what we call the European Union Space Strategy - is from 2016, 6 years ago. And, at that time,it was written focusing mainly on civilian aspects, because 6 years ago the idea of space being a battlefield was not as clear as it is today. The 2016 strategy barely touched on the security and defence dimensions of the outer space.  

But, with the increasing weaponisation of space, we need a change of paradigm: we have to think less in terms of industrial competition and more in terms of resilience and security.  

In our Strategic Compass, we reflect this paradigm change. The Compass puts forward a clear and concrete proposal to complement our current Space Strategy with a dimension of security and defence. And it is very positive that we have here the full backing of the Member States, who are very much aware of what I am talking about.  

Just a couple of weeks ago, in Brest, the European Union Defence Ministers - I know that Florence Parly [French Minister for Defence] has been here with you some moments ago – called for a new European Union Space Strategy for security and defence. Work has already started, together with the Commission, with my colleague and friend Thierry Breton [Commissioner for Internal Market], and we hope to finalise it by the end of next year.  

Let me mention some elements of this new strategy.  

First, it should further develop our space domain awareness and our capacity to respond rapidly to space security incidents.  

Second, it should improve the resilience of our space infrastructures to make them more resistant and better able to detect and prevent security threats in space.  

And third, it should improve our space capabilities, reinforcing the defence dimension of existing infrastructures and developing dual-use infrastructures, notably regarding secure connectivity. It has to develop also synergies between the Space programme, PESCO, the European Defence Fund and other relevant instruments of the European Union – and we have many -, such as Horizon Europe, InvestEU or the European Innovation Council.  

At the same time, we continue to work to strengthen our resilience. We have to further validate the Galileo Threat Response mechanism. As High Representative [of the European Union] for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, I am in charge of the security of Galileo. And we have to be sure that the expansion to other components of the EU Space Programme can be absolutely proved against any kind of threat.  

For that, we will carry out exercises to test our reaction to threats and incidents and the work of our solidarity mechanisms. At the end of March, we will carry out the fourth European Union space threat response exercise focussing on Galileo. It is us, the European External Action Service, who will do it. But before that, together with the French Presidency – and I suppose that Florence [Parly, French Minister for Defence] has been saying something about that – it will be done back-to-back with the French AsterX-2022 exercise, showing the close cooperation within the European Union on the operational side of space.  

This new EU Space Strategy for Security and Defence will get us up to speed with fast-changing developments in outer space and provide us with the instruments we need to defend our citizens and our interests from external threats.  

But these threats are not just threats for us, for the European Union alone. They are global problems and global problems require global solutions. That is why we will put forward proposals to promote global rules on responsible behaviour in outer space: coordinating our positions with the United Nations, reinforcing space security dialogues with third states and developing cooperation with NATO. This is our working programme for the next couple of years, because we are very much aware of how important space has become as part of the tools that we need to have, master and control in order to ensure our collective security.  

I am sorry to talk about the satellites as if they were weapons, but it seems that from the beginning, mankind has been dreaming about space. And I think that it was Virgil, the poet, who said that people look at “paths that would bring them to the stars”. To the stars today, to other continents some hundreds of years ago. Every time that humankind has been looking for new paths to go somewhere else, unhappily it has become a scenario for war. Let us hope that it will not happen in discovering the path to the stars. 

 

Thank you. 

 

Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-217427 

Nabila Massrali
Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
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Xavier Cifre Quatresols
Press Officer for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
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