Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C42) of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) lifting off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) SHAR, Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh on September 16, 2018.

Part 1 | Mission Shakti: ASAT Test & National Security

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]N March 27, 2019, India became the fourth nation – after USA, Soviet Union and China – to carry out an anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon test. Through a much-hyped live nation-wide televised address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi disclosed that India had successfully tested an anti-satellite weapon system by destroying an Indian satellite, which was orbiting in Low Earth Orbit some 300 kms above the Bay of Bengal. However, in an attempt to justify his decision to conduct the test, which has been dubbed “Mission Shakti”, Modi has made several contradictory claims, some of which are as follows:

  • “…India has accomplished an unprecedented achievement.  India has today established itself as a Space Superpower…”
  • “For every Indian there cannot be a greater moment of pride.”…
  • “Today’s Anti-Satellite (A-SAT) missile will give new strength to the country in terms of India’s security and India’s development journey. I want to assure the world community today that this new capability we have achieved is not against anybody. It is a defensive initiative of India moving forward at a fast pace.”
  • “India has always been against arms race in space and there has been no change in this policy. This test of today does not violate any kind of international law or treaty agreements. We want to use modern technology for the protection and welfare of 1300 million citizens of the country.”
  • “It is necessary to have a strong India to create an environment of peace and security in this region. Our strategic objective is to maintain peace and not create an atmosphere of war.”


Contradictory Claims


From Modi’s pronouncements it is evident that he was trying to address two different audiences: one domestic and the other international. In attempting to do so, Modi was actually indulging in doublespeak: he is desperate to prove to his domestic audience that he is a hawk while at the same time pretending before the rest of the world that he is a dove. To his domestic audiences, he loudly proclaims that India has turned into a space superpower by catapulting into the star-wars club and accordingly tries to instill in Indians the belief that India’s new self-ordained status as a hawkish nation is a matter of national pride. To his international audiences, he wishes to project India as a conciliatory and peace-loving nation and tries to assure the world at large that India’s new weapon is not targeted at anyone. Similarly,  Modi wishes to project the ASAT weapon system as a weapon of defense, whereas the truth is that the ASAT system is an entirely offensive weapon system that is intended only to destroy its target. It is incapable of providing protection to anyone or anything because of its inherent nature as a weapon that is launched from Earth to destroy a predetermined target in space. ASAT weapons can destroy satellites of one’s adversaries or one’s own; they cannot shield a single Indian satellite from being a target of attack. The assertion that deployment of ASAT weapons can protect Indian satellites and other assets in space is, thus, a completely false and misleading claim. Under the circumstances, how could the ASAT weapon system, which is incapable of safeguarding a single Indian satellite in outer space, provide protection to 1300 million Indians? Such absurd claims are only intended to hoodwink Indians in order to elicit their support for the mindless attempt of Modi’s government at weaponisation of outer space.

As part of his international posturing, Modi has been forced to state that “India has always been against arms race in space and there has been no change in this policy.” Unfortunately, the second half of that statement is again a false assertion. By launching a weapon into outer space, India is guilty of joining the three other star-war warriors in weaponising and accelerating the arms race in space. Modi’s claim that “This test of today does not violate any kind of international law or treaty agreements” is merely half truth. This is evident from the letter and spirit of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which unequivocally states that:

“The States Parties to this Treaty…. Recognising the common interest of all [hu]mankind in the progress of the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes [Preamble] …. Have agreed on the following: …. ‘States Parties to the Treaty shall carry on activities in the exploration and use of outer space… in the interest of maintaining international peace and security and promoting international co-operation and understanding.’ [Article III] …. ‘The establishment of military bases, installations and fortifications, the testing of any type of weapons and the conduct of military manoeuvres on celestial bodies shall be forbidden’. [Article IV]” [Emphasis added]

India is a party to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and the Treaty clearly states in its preamble that the State Parties to the Treaty recognised that it was in the common interest of all humanity to ensure the “use of outer space for peaceful purposes”. As per Article III, the State Parties to the Treaty had also agreed to carry on activities in outer space “in the interest of maintaining international peace and security”. Moreover, Article IV unambiguously states that: “the testing of any type of weapons and the conduct of military manoeuvres on celestial bodies shall be forbidden”. It can of course be argued that the Treaty had not specifically banned testing or use of weapons other than weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in outer space. Does it mean that the absence of such a clause in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 was an open invitation to the State Parties to the Treaty to militarise and test all kinds of weapons in outer space other than WMDs? Was it “in the interest of maintaining international peace and security” that attempts are being made to militarise and test weapons other than WMDs in outer space? If there were loopholes in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, was it not incumbent on all concerned State Parties to the Treaty to take prompt action to plug those loopholes when there was a specific provision in the form of Article XV in the Treaty to do so? By violating the spirit of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and exploiting the loopholes in the Treaty, in what way are the said star-war warriors promoting the “common interest of all humanity”? The truth is that all those who have violated the spirit of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 have completely sidelined the goal of promoting the common interest of all humanity.



Earlier, in response to the Chinese ASAT test of January 11, 2007, a backgrounder titled “China’s Anti Satellite Test” that was published on 22 Feb, 2007 in Foreign Affairs (the journal of one of the foremost U.S. think tanks on international affairs, the Council on Foreign Relations), had commented that: “By the 1980s, both the United States and the Soviet Union had performed anti-satellite missile tests—all of them arguably in technical violation of a 1967 UN treaty banning such activities.” In other words, it is a recognised fact that all the four nations, which have conducted ASAT tests in space, have violated the spirit of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.  Therefore, India’s contention that it is not guilty of such violation is not true.

Another argument of Modi is that: “It is necessary to have a strong India to create an environment of peace and security in this region.” In other words, in Modi’s view, to create an environment of peace and security, every effort should be made to ensure that India remains armed to the teeth. That is, by piling up more and more deadly weapons, India would be creating an environment of peace and security. In addition, Modi says: “Our strategic objective is to maintain peace and not create an atmosphere of war.” Indeed, if maintenance of peace is the real objective, finding ways and means to encourage confidence building measures (CBMs), followed globally by arms control and disarmament initiatives, should have been the top priority. On the contrary, confidence negating measures (CNMs) by nations (such as acquisition of new weapon systems, etc.), only fuel suspicions and aggravate tensions between nations that result in creating an atmosphere of war.


Devious Propaganda


In addition to PM Modi’s statement, India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had issued an official press release on “Mission Shakti”. Like Modi, the MEA too has made contradictory claims. It seeks to justify the test by claiming that: “The test was done to verify that India has the capability to safeguard our space assets.” (Para VI, 3) As has already been pointed out above, India’s ASAT weapon system cannot protect a single Indian satellite deployed in outer space. The assertion that it can is merely intended to hoodwink the domestic audience. Of course, there is absolutely no doubt, as the MEA”s statement has asserted, that: “It is the Government of India’s responsibility to defend the country’s interests in outer space.” (Para VI, 3) In that case, the question is, how should India carry out that responsibility: through militarisation or demilitarisation of outer space? In this regard, the MEA in its statement appears to take a very laudable position, which is that:


“India has no intention of entering into an arms race in outer space. We have always maintained that space must be used only for peaceful purposes. We are against the weaponisation of Outer Space and support international efforts to reinforce the safety and security of space based assets. India believes that Outer space is the common heritage of humankind and it is the responsibility of all space-faring nations to preserve and promote the benefits flowing from advances made in space technology and its applications for all.” (Para VIII, 1 & 2).

The MEA has further asserted that: “India is a party to all the major international treaties relating to Outer Space…. India has been participating in all sessions of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space…. India supports the substantive consideration of the issue of Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) in the Conference on Disarmament where it has been on the agenda since 1982.” (Para VIII, 3 & 5) This reassertion of India’s position on PAROS is a very welcome stand. Unfortunately, this progressive position regarding PAROS appears to be merely intended to assuage the concerns of the international audience. This is evident from MEA’s subsequent submission.

After highlighting the virtues of PAROS, MEA did a quick u-turn: it came out defending the ASAT test by claiming that: “The test is not directed against any country. India’s space capabilities do not threaten any country and nor are they directed against anyone.” (Para X, 1) Unfortunately, this assertion by the MEA that the test was not intended to “threaten any country and nor are they directed against anyone” was immediately negated by India’s Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, who blurted out that there was indeed an ultimate motive behind the test. Jaitley, who addressed a press conference soon after the ASAT test, had no compunctions in loudly proclaiming that: “We must remember that tomorrow’s wars will not be the same as yesterday’s wars…. This country should remain prepared for cyber and space wars.” Therefore, wholly contrary to the MEA’s claim, Jaitley made no bones about the fact that the ASAT weapon system was to be inducted as part of India’s armoury for “tomorrow’s wars” – specifically for “space wars” – and targeted at other nations and peoples. Thus, the MEA’s attempt to cover up the truth about the purpose of the ASAT test was of no avail.

In conclusion, the MEA statement again tried to justify the test with the explanation that: “The capability achieved through the Anti-Satellite missile test provides credible deterrence against threats to our growing space-based assets from long range missiles, and proliferation in the types and numbers of missiles.” (Para X, 2) Jaitley too tried to offer the same explanation by stating that: “Just like our nuclear capability, this too is a deterrent capability.” However, the untenability of the concept of deterrence was laid bare way back in 1981 by none other than Dr.K.Subrahmanyam, India’s best known strategic affairs analyst, when he called deterrence a myth (“The Myth of Deterrence” in K. Subrahmanyam, ed., Nuclear Myths and Realities: India’s Dilemma, ABC Publishing House, New Delhi,1981). In fact, Dr.Subrahmanyam had very emphatically commented that: “The way to hell is paved with good intentions, and it is carpeted with the doctrine of deterrence.” (“Fighting the Nuclear Cult”, in K.Subrahmanyam, Ed., “Nuclear Proliferation and International Security”, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, 1985) Nobody could have explained the duplicity of the concept of deterrence any better!

(To be continued)


[N.D.Jayaprakash ([email protected]) is Joint Secretary, Delhi Science Forum (DSF), & Member, National Coordination Committee, Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament & Peace (CNDP). The views expressed are personal.]

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