Behind the scenes: Space Security Index

Jessica West Featured, Space Security

In early May, Project Ploughshares, in cooperation with the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University and our partners on the Space Security Index (SSI) project, hosted the 14th annual Space Security Working Group (SSWG) meeting in Montreal.

SSI aims to serve as a source of accurate information and current analysis on human activities in outer space. We hope that publishing our research findings each year will enable capacity building and support trust, transparency, and dialogue among global policymakers as they work to enhance the safe, sustainable, and secure use of outer space for all users. The annual Space Security Index volume, available in hard and electronic versions, distills and organizes open-access information on how global actors are using space, the effects of these activities on the space environment, the development of new technologies, and governance efforts to maintain outer space as a peaceful domain. This is important work that no one else is doing.

Published in The Ploughshares Monitor Volume 38 Issue 2 Summer 2017 by Jessica West

But the product of the research is not the only significant outcome of this annual process, in which Project Ploughshares has been engaged for a dozen years. The process itself is also impactful. And the Space Security Working Group meeting is at its heart.

Seasoned experts meet budding scholars

The draft SSI report is researched and written by university students operating out of three centres: the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University, the Space Policy Institute at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and the Research Unit for Military Law and Ethics at The University of Adelaide in Australia. During the winter term, they have toiled away on various sections of the report and submitted their work to Jessica West at Project Ploughshares, the SSI’s operating hub. Here the draft sections are checked, analyzed, edited, and organized, in preparation for the May meeting.

The primary function of the SSWG is to bring together some of the student researchers with space experts from around the world, who review the work to date and guide revisions. This year, about 30 participants assembled in Montreal. We were honoured to work with David Kendall, the current Canadian Chair of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS); Jonathan McDowell from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; Sanat Kaul from the International Foundation for Aviation, Aerospace, and Development in India; Steven Freeland from Western Sydney University in Australia; and Karl Doetsch from Athena Global. Key civil society experts included Laura Grego from the Union of Concerned Scientists, Brian Weeden from Secure World Foundation, and Jana Robinson from the Prague Security Studies Institute.

The review process is critical to the production of a useful, accurate publication that will appear in a few months’ time. But there are other significant outcomes from the two-day event. The conversations that take place build the kind of relationships that are critical to peace and security in the global environment that is outer space. Experts dialogue with others from different fields of expertise and different countries and agree on a set of facts to describe key developments in outer space.

The meeting is held under the Chatham House Rule, which means that comments can be used to improve the information provided in the annual report, but cannot be attributed to any person or institution. This rule creates a safe environment to discuss issues openly. Conversations around the table also provide an opportunity to collectively reflect on the nature of changes taking place in the use of outer space, and to enter into debates on what some of the most pressing governance challenges are and how they might be addressed.

Our student researchers could be among the next generation of leaders who work to preserve the secure and sustainable use of space. This project helps them to develop research, analytical, and writing skills. It lets them see the importance of the safety, security, and sustainability of outer space to their own lives and the lives of everyone on Earth. And, for those who were able to attend the May meeting, it puts them in close communication with global leaders and experts.

Public engagement

This year, as in several past years, we also hosted a public event. Sponsored by the Institute of Air and Space Law, this year’s panel focused on the 50th anniversary of the Outer Space Treaty and the future of space governance. On the panel were Canada’s former Ambassador to the UN Conference on Disarmament Paul Meyer, Melissa de Zwart of The University of Adelaide, Laura Grego, and David Kendall. In a field in which reality increasingly resembles science fiction, conversations with the audience touched on a range of challenges from arms control in outer space to the future of space mining regulations and visions for human settlements in outer space.

The research team is now equipped with new facts, sources, and insights that will be used to create a more accurate and useful publication. All participants also came away with a greater sense of the urgency of our efforts, the importance of open and transparent dialogue, and an appreciation of the many people around the world who are committed to maintaining outer space as a peaceful, global commons for the benefit of all humanity.

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