Whoever rules the Heartland, commands the World

Critical Astropolitics; The Geopolitics of Space Control and the Transformation of State Sovereignty

Explicitly invoking a “Space Pearl Harbor” as a potential disaster the United

States must strive to avoid, the 2001 Report of the Commission to Assess United States

National Security Space Management and Organization urged action on “five matters of

key importance”. First among those recommendations is the “demand that U.S. national

security space interests be recognized as a top national security priority”. In making this

call, the Commission was speaking in terms increasingly familiar to the national security

community, including Congress. Indeed, the mandate of the Commission established in

the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 20003 was similarly framed:

The commission shall, concerning changes to be implemented over the

near-term, medium term and long-term that would strengthen United

States national security, assess the following: The manner in which

military space assets may be exploited to provide support for United States

military operations.

These statements are far from unusual. More than political rhetoric is involved, however,

as substantial resources are being invested in research and development, indicating

clearly that Earth’s orbital space is currently an object of military-security planning. The

United States’ strategic imaginary now includes securitization of, through, and from

orbital space under such rubrics as missile defense, space control, and force application

from space. Space weapons, then, are no longer just a fantasy, an unrealizable fiction.

They are rapidly becoming a very real possibility.

This geopolitical vision, unlike those of previous eras, regards control of Earth’s

orbital space as strategically crucial. While it is surely true that efforts to bring grand

strategic visions into being often fall short, or even founder, it is also the case that pursuit

of them has the potential to have very significant consequences for the structure and

stability of the international system. The question that arises is: What are likely effects

on the future international system of the active pursuit, and perhaps the actualization, of

this new geopolitical vision of control over orbital space by the United States?

We approach the policy as expressive of a geopolitical strategic vision, and, accordingly,

turn initially to the analytical tools of geopolitical theory. The now largely neglected

discourse of geopolitics – which had its heyday during the late 19th and early 20th century

– attempted to ask a similar question to ours about the impact that new technologies,

particularly steamships, railways, and airplanes, would have on the course of world

politics (see for example Mahan 1890; Mackinder 1912). Recently some International

Relations scholars have attempted to revive principles of geopolitical theory and apply

them to the terrain of space (both Earth’s orbital space and the area beyond Earth’s gravity

well). Out of these ‘astropolitical’ theories two distinct models of the future of the

international system have emerged, one realist and the other liberal. The first, developed

by Everett Dolman, sees astropolitik (a realpolitik version of astropolitics) as the ability

of great powers to dominate the Earth through the competitive mastery of space. The

second, developed by Daniel Deudney, argues that the expansion of global politics into

orbital space has the potential to create a republican federation of states on Earth. After

briefly reviewing those arguments, we turn to insights in critical theory and critical

geopolitics (especially Ó Tuathail 1996) to challenge some of the core assumptions of

these liberal and realist strands of astropolitics, especially assumptions that permit an

effective ignoring of the basic principles of power and control recognized in the epigraph

from Dolman with which this chapter began. With an eye toward possible implications

of contemporary U.S. astropolitical strategy, which we summarize briefly, for the

structure and functioning of international relations, we then take a short digression into a

review of contemporary critical theories of sovereignty to theorize how space

weaponization will re-constitute global political order. We conclude with our own

critical astropolitical argument that U.S. geopolitical strategy of attempting control with

respect to orbital space has the strong potential to transform the constitution of

sovereignty of modern territorial states. In place of an anarchic system of sovereign

territorial states—capable either of great power competition or federation through

collaboration—we see the likely development of a new form of empire, administratively

deterritorialized, but centralized in locus of authority.

Astropolitics: Realist and Liberal Strands

Realism and Astropolitics

Everett C. Dolman uses Mackinder and Mahan’s theories as inspiration for his

development of a theory, which he titles Astropolitik. By the term, astropolitik, Dolman

means “the application of the prominent and refined realist vision of state competition

into outer space policy, particularly the development and evolution of a legal and political

regime for humanity’s entry into the cosmos” (Dolman 2002: 1). While Mahan focused

on the structure of the ocean to develop his theories, and Mackinder focused on the

topography of land, Dolman turns his attention towards the cartography of outer space.

Whereas, at first glance, space may appear to be a “featureless void,” Dolman argues that

it “is in fact a rich vista of gravitational mountains and valleys, oceans and rivers of

resources and energy alternately dispersed and concentrated, broadly strewn danger zones

of deadly radiation, and precisely placed peculiarities of astrodynamics” (Dolman 2002:

61). In a manner similar to Mahan’s focus on natural sea lanes and “choke points” and

Mackinder’s emphasis of geographic regions, Dolman studies orbits, regions of space,

and launch points as geopolitically vital assets over which states can be expected

competitively and strategically to struggle for control.

Orbital paths are important because stable orbits require virtually no fuel expenditure for

satellites, whereas unstable orbits make it impossible for satellites to remain in space for

a long time. Furthermore, different types of orbits pass over different parts of the earth at

different frequencies. As such, the mission of a spacecraft determines in large part which

orbit is most useful for it. There are essentially four types of orbits: low-altitude

(between 150 km and 800km above the Earth’s surface); medium-altitude (ranging from

800km-35,000km); high-altitude (above 35 000km); and highly elliptical (with a perigee

of 250km and an apogee of 700,000km) (Dolman 2002: 65-7). In addition to pointing to

the division of space into orbital planes, Dolman also identifies four key regions of space:

1) Terra, which includes the Earth and its atmosphere up until “just below the lowest

altitude capable of supporting unpowered orbit” (Dolman 2002: 69); 2) Earth Space,

which covers the region from the lowest possible orbit through to geo-stationary orbit; 3)

Lunar Space, which extends from geo-stationary orbit to the Moon’s orbit; and 4) Solar

Space, which “consists of everything in the solar system . . . beyond the orbit of the

moon” (Dolman 2002: 70). For Dolman, Earth Space is the astropolitical equivalent of

Mackinder’s Outer Crescent, because controlling it will permit a state to limit strategic

opportunities of potential rivals and at the same time allow the projection of force for

indirect control (i.e. without occupation) of extensive territory of vital strategic

importance, in this case (unlike Mackinder’s) potentially the entire Earth. “Control of

Earth Space not only guarantees long-term control of the outer reaches of space, it

provides a near-term advantage on the terrestrial battlefield” (Dolman 1999: 93).

On the basis of these principles, Dolman develops an “Astropolitik policy for the United

States” (Dolman 1999: 156). This strategy calls on the U.S. government to control Earth

Space. In the current historical-political juncture, no state controls this region. However,

rather than leave it as a neutral zone or global commons, Dolman calls for the U.S. to

seize control of Earth Space. According to Dolman’s reasoning, the neutrality of Earth

Space is as much a threat to U.S. security as the neutrality of Melos was to Athenian

hegemony. To leave space a neutral sanctuary could be interpreted as a sign of weakness

that potential rivals might exploit. As such, it is better for the U.S. to occupy Earth Space


Dolman’s astropolitik policy has three steps. The first involves the U.S. withdrawing

from the current space regime on the grounds that its prohibitions on commercial and

military exploitation of outer space prevent the full exploitation of space resources. In

place of the global commons approach that informs that regime, Dolman calls for the

establishment of “a principle of free-market sovereignty in space” (Dolman 2002: 157),

whereby states could establish territorial claims over areas they wish to exploit for

commercial purposes. This space rush should be coupled with “propaganda touting the

prospects of a new golden age of space exploration” (Dolman 2002: 157). Step two calls

for the U.S. to seize control of low-Earth orbit, where “space-based laser or kinetic

energy weapons could prevent any other state from deploying assets there, and could

most effectively engage and destroy terrestrial enemy ASAT facilities” (Dolman 2002:

157). Other states would be permitted “to enter space freely for the purpose of engaging

in commerce” (Dolman 2002: 157). The final step would be the establishment of “a

national space coordination agency . . . to define, separate and coordinate the efforts of

commercial, civilian and military space projects” (Dolman 2002: 157).

Within Dolman’s theory of astropolitik is a will-to-space-based hegemony fuelled by a

series of assumptions, of which we would point to three as especially important. First, it

rests on a strong preference for competition over collaboration in both the economic and

military spheres. Dolman, like a good realist, is suspicious of the possibilities for

sustained political and economic cooperation, and assumes instead that competition for

power is the law of international political-economic life. He believes, though, that

through a fully implemented astropolitical policy “states will employ competition

productively, harnessing natural incentives for self-interested gain to a mutually

beneficial future, a competition based on the fair and legal commercial exploitation of

space” (Dolman 2002: 4). Thus, underpinning his preference for competition is both a

liberal assumption that competitive markets are efficient at producing mutual gain

through innovative technologies, and the realist assumption that inter-state competition

for power is inescapable in world politics. As we will note more fully below, this

conjunction of liberal and realist assumptions is a hallmark of the logic of empire as

distinct from the logic of a system of sovereign states.

The second and most explicit of Dolman’s key assumptions is the belief that the U.S.

should pursue control of orbital space because its hegemony would be largely benign.

The presumed benevolence of the U.S. rests, for Dolman, on its responsiveness to its


If any one state should dominate space it ought to be one with a

constitutive political principle that government should be responsible and

responsive to its people, tolerant and accepting of their views, and willing

to extend legal and political equality to all. In other words, the United

States should seize control of outer space and become the shepherd (or

perhaps watchdog) for all who would venture there, for if any one state

must do so, it is the most likely to establish a benign hegemony (Dolman

2002: 157).

However, even if the U.S. government is popularly responsive in its foreign policy—a

debatable proposition—the implication of Dolman’s astropolitik is that the U.S. would

exercise benign control over orbital space, and, from that position, potentially all territory

on Earth and hence all people, by being responsible only to the 300 million Americans.

As such, this benign hegemony would in effect be an apartheid regime where 95% of the

world would be excluded from participating in the decision-making of the hegemonic

power that controls conditions of their existence. This, too, is a hallmark of empire, not of

a competitive system of sovereign states.

Third, Dolman’s astropolitik treats space as a resource to be mastered and exploited by

humans, a Terra Nulius, or empty territory, to be colonized and reinterpreted for the

interests of the colonizer. This way of looking at space is similar to the totalizing gaze of

earlier geopolitical theorists who viewed the whole world as an object to be dominated

and controlled by European powers, who understood themselves to be beneficently, or, at

worst, benignly, civilizing in their control of territories and populations (Ó Tuathail 1996:

24-35). This assumption, like the first two, thus also implicates a hallmark of the logic of

empire, namely what Ó Tuathail (1996) calls the ‘geopolitical gaze’ (about which we

have more to say below), which works comfortably in tandem with a self-understanding

of benign hegemony.

When these three assumptions are examined in conjunction, Dolman’s astropolitik

reveals itself to be a blueprint for a U.S. empire that uses the capacities of space-based

weapons to exercise hegemony over the Earth and to grant access to the economic

resources of space only to U.S. (capitalist) interests and their allies. This version of

astropolitics, which is precisely the strategic vision underlying the policy

pronouncements of President Bush with which we began this chapter, is a kind of spatial,

or geopolitical, power within the context of U.S. imperial relations of planetary scope.

Its ostensive realist foundations are muted, except as a rather extreme form of offensive

realism, because the vision is not one of great power competition and strategic balancing,

but rather one of imperial control through hegemony. As such, it brings into question the

constitution of sovereignty, since empire and sovereignty are fundamentally opposed

constitutive principles of the structure of the international system—the subjects of empire

are not sovereign. Thus, if astropolitics is to be in the form of Dolman’s astropolitik (and

current U.S. policy aspirations), the future of sovereignty is in question, despite his

efforts to position the theory as an expression of the realist assumption of great power

competition. In later sections of this chapter, we attempt to show what this bringing

sovereignty into question is likely to mean, conceptually and in practice. Before turning

to that principal concern, however, we consider an alternative geopolitical theory of


Liberal Astropolitics

Over the past twenty years, in a series of articles and recently a major book, Daniel

Deudney has attempted to rework the tenets of geopolitics and apply them to the

contemporary challenges raised by new weapons technologies – particularly nuclear and

space weapons (Deudney 1983, 1985, 1995, 2000, 2002, 2007). While Deudney finds

geopolitical theory of the late 19th century and early 20th century theoretically

unsophisticated and reductionist, he believes that geopolitical attention to material

conditions, spatiality, change and political processes could form the basis of a

theoretically sophisticated historical security materialist theory of world politics.

Deudney starts from a premise about space weaponization similar to the core of

Dolman’s astropolitik, namely that if any state were able to achieve military control of

space, it would hold potential mastery over the entire Earth.

One preliminary conclusion, however, seems sound: effective control of

space by one state would lead to planet-wide hegemony. Because space is

at once so proximate and the planet’s high ground, one country able to

control space and prevent the passage of other countries’ vehicles through

it could effectively rule the planet. Even more than a monopoly of air or

sea power, a monopoly of effective space power would be irresistible

(Deudney 1983: 17).

Rather than developing the implications of this as a strategic opportunity for any one state

(e.g. the U.S.), however, Deudney sees it as a collective problem to be kept in check

through collaboration; his project is to avoid space-based hegemony through cooperation

among states. In a series of articles on global security written in the 1980s – while Cold

War tensions between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. continued to frame much theoretical

discussion in International Relations – Deudney saw the space age as a double-edged

sword in superpower relations. On the one side, space weaponization posed a risk that

the superpowers would extend their conflict extra-terrestrially and devise new, deadlier

technologies that would enhance the risk of exterminating all of humanity; on the other,

according to Deudney, the space age had found productive opportunities for the

superpowers to deal with their rivalries in stabilizing collaboration. He notes that the

Sputnik mission, while in the popular understanding only an escalation of the Cold War,

initially was the result of an internationally organized research program – the

International Geophysical Year (Deudney 1985; though see Dolman 2002: 106-7 for an

alternate interpretation of these events as cold war competition). Another example was

President Eisenhower’s proposed “Atoms for Peace” project, which involved the great

powers sharing nuclear technology with developing nations for energy purposes. Most

famous was the collaboration between the Soviet Union and the U.S. during the 1970s on

the rendezvous between an Apollo capsule and the Soyuz space station. Similar

multinational collaborations continue to this day, with the most notable example being

the International Space Station. In addition to promoting collaboration, according to

Deudney, the space age has also enhanced the ability of space powers to monitor each

other – through spy satellites – thereby increasing the likelihood that they abide by arms

control treaties.

Deudney believes that these types of collaboration and increased surveillance could be

strengthened and deepened so that great powers could be persuaded over time to “forge

missiles into spaceships” (Deudney 1985: 271). In the 1980s this led Deudney to

develop a set of specific proposals for a peaceful space policy, including collaboration

between space powers on manned missions to the moon, asteroids and Mars. The

development of an International Satellite Monitoring Agency would make “space-based

surveillance technology accessible to an international community” for monitoring cease-

fires, crises, compliance with international arms control treaties and the Earth’s

environment (Deudney 1985: 291). These proposals are aimed at promoting

collaboration on projects of great scientific and military significance for the individual

states. Deudney’s hope is that such cooperation would mitigate security dilemmas and

promote greater ties between states that would co-bind their security without sacrificing

their sovereignty.

While Deudney has not been explicit about how his astropolitics of collaboration would

alter world order, in his more theoretical writings he has elaborated the logic of a liberal-

republican international system. In a 2002 article on geopolitics and international theory,

he developed a historical security materialist theory of geopolitics:

[I]n which changing forces of destruction (constituted by geography and

technology) condition the viability of different modes of protection

(understood as clusters of security practices) and their attendant

‘superstructures’ of political authority structures (anarchical, hierarchical,

and federal-republican) (Deudney 2002: 80).

Deudney identified four different eras in which distinct modes of destruction were

predominant: Pre-modern; Early Modern; Global Industrial; and Planetary-Nuclear. In

addition to these different historical stages, Deudney considered two modes of protection:

real-statism, which is based on an internal monopoly of violence and external anarchy;

and federal-republicanism, which is based on an internal division of powers and an

external symmetrical binding of actors through institutions that reduces their autonomy in

relation to one another. According to Deudney, in the Planetary-Nuclear age the federal-

republican mode of protection is more viable because states “are able to more fully and

systematically restrain violence” than under the power balancing practices of real-statist

modes of protection (Deudney 2002: 97).

Although Deudney did not extend his historical security materialist approach into

theorizing the space age, his proposals during the Cold War to foster institutional

collaboration between space powers as a way of promoting peace is a form of the co-

binding practices that he associates with the federal-republican mode of protection. In

addition, one of the general conclusions that Deudney reaches about historical security

materialism is that the more a security context is rich in the potential for violence, the

better suited a federal-republican mode of protection is to avoid systemic breakdown.

Therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude that within Deudney’s work is a nascent

theory of how a federal-republican international system could limit conflict between

space powers by binding them together in collaborative uses of space for exploratory and

security uses. In this sense, Deudney can be read as the liberal astropolitical counterpart

to Everett Dolman.

While Deudney’s astropolitical theorizations hold out the promise of a terrestrial

pacification through space exploration it is interesting to note a significant aporia in his

theory–empire as a possible mode of protection. While real-statist modes of protection

have an internal hierarchical authority structure, they are based on assumptions of

external-anarchy, which is to say a system of sovereign states. Conversely, the federal-

republican model is based on a symmetrical binding of units, in a way that no single unit

can come to dominate others and accordingly in which they preserve their sovereignty

(Deudney 2000, 2002, 2007). In a third mode, which Deudney does not explicitly

consider, the case of empire, the hegemony of a single unit is such that other units are

bound to it in an asymmetrical pattern that locates sovereignty only in the hegemon, or

imperial center. Successful empires, including the Roman, British and American, permit

local autonomy in areas that are not of the imperial power’s direct concern while

demanding absolute obedience in areas that are of vital concern to it, particularly when it

comes to issues of security. Deudney’s implicit astropolitical theory thus ignores

structurally asymmetric relations—in effect he ignores power. It is as if in wanting to

have the world avoid the possibility of a planetary hegemony at the heart of the premise

with which he and Dolman began their respective analyses, he simply wishes it away by

refusing to acknowledge the profound asymmetries of aspirations and technological-

financial-military capacities among states for control of orbital space.

In the next two sections we respond to Deudney’s call for historical security materialism

by focusing on the premise that he skirts but that Dolman emphasizes, that military

control of space means (at least the possibility of) mastery of the Earth. Specifically we

examine how a new mode of destruction – space weapons – is the ideal basis for the third

mode of protection – empire – through its potential for substantial asymmetry. We argue

that the power asymmetries of space weapons have very significant constitutive effects

on sovereignty and international systemic anarchy, and underlie the constitution of a new,

historically unprecedented, form of empire. Before turning to that central thesis,

however, we will first sketch the general contours of a critical astropolitics, which builds

on the foundational premise of Dolman and Deudney, but modifies their theories in light

of the significant insights of critical theory, particularly with respect to constitutive

power. We ask: What consequences of astropolitics can a critical approach illuminate

that may be concealed by an astropolitics informed by either liberal or realist

assumptions? How can insights offered by the revival of geopolitics in the writings of

Deudney and Dolman – particularly their call for a new historical security materialist

mode of analysis – be used to supplement and refine critical International Relations


Critical Astropolitics

In the broad intellectual tradition of geopolitics, three leading advocates of a critical

perspective – Ó Tuathail, John Agnew and Simon Dalby — have challenged mainstream

geopolitical theory for assuming and validating power relations implicit in the production

of geopolitical knowledge, and for a tendency to be a reifying and totalizing discourse

that erases difference and political contestation from processes of representing space

(Agnew 2003, 2005; Dalby 1991; Dalby and Ó Tuathail 1998; Ó Tuathail 1996; ). While

our approach to critical astropolitics shares the political commitments and many of the

theoretical foundations of their critique, our interest is more in the study of the

constitutive as opposed to the representational consequences of astropolitics.

Ó Tuathail has criticized earlier forms of geopolitics for their ocular-centrism and what

he terms the ‘geopolitical gaze’. Drawing on the work of Michel Foucault, he reads

geopolitical discourse as power/knowledge, such that knowledge of spaces produces

subjects empowered for expansive control. Geopolitical representations – what Ó

Tuathail terms geo-power – are in a mutually supportive relation with the imperial

institutions in which they are produced (Ó Tuathail 1996: 6-20). Empires cannot function

without clear representations that explore, chart, and bring under control cartographic

spaces. The spatial imaginary of the ‘geopolitical gaze’, then, is immanent to empire. In

a related vein, Simon Dalby, too, has studied the role that geographical representations

play. He has examined official policy documents and academic analyses of U.S. strategic

thinking in both Cold War strategies and in the Bush Doctrine to determine how

geographical representations of the earth shape U.S. imperial strategy (Dalby 2007).

Additionally, John Agnew’s work examines how a particular geopolitical imagining – a

global order constituted by sovereign states – “arose from European-American

experience but was then projected on to the rest of the world and in to the future in the

theory and practice of world politics” (Agnew 2003: 2).

The scholarly work of critical geopolitics makes two crucial contributions. First it draws

on the interpretive strategies of various theorists such as Foucault and Derrida to critique

the assumptions of mainstream geopolitical analysis. Second it moves toward a

reformulation of geopolitics in a form that is more conscious of how power operates in

the theory and practice of world politics. In the first two parts of this chapter we have

drawn on the first of those contributions for our critical reading of liberal and realist

astropolitics. Just as Mackinder’s geopolitics re-presented how the world operated in a

way that could be understood and controlled by British imperialists, it can be argued,

following Agnew’s, Ó Tuathail’s and Dalby’s lead, that the kinds of representations of

space proffered by Dolman (as orbits, regions, and launching points of strategic value)

make the exercise of control over space intelligible from an American imperialist

perspective. The ‘astropolitical gaze’ and its cartographic representations are mutually

productive with the current U.S. policy of attempting to secure control over orbital space.

As we saw, realist astropolitics celebrates the ways in which extending U.S. military

hegemony into space could amplify America’s imperial power. Yet, Dolman’s realist

astropolitik leaves under-theorized the normative implication of space-based imperialism.

Instead, Dolman merely asserts that America would be a benevolent Emperor without

explaining what checks on U.S. power might exist to prevent it from using the “ultimate

high ground” to dominate all the residents of the Earth. Conversely, Deudney focuses on

the potential for inter-state collaboration to produce a federal-republican global political

order. However, Deudney leaves under-theorized the very real possibility that a unilateral

entry into space by the U.S. could create an entirely new mode of protection and security.

In the remainder of this chapter we draw on the second contribution of critical geopolitics

– the reformulation of geopolitical theory through concepts of critical theoretical analysis

– to address the normative and theoretical aporias we have identified in the astropolitical

writings of Dolman and Deudney. First, we will draw on the critical theories of

sovereignty offered in writings of Foucault, Agamben, and Hardt and Negri to theorize

the form that the missing mode of protection/security from Deudney’s historical-

materialist analysis – empire – would take. Second, we conclude by arguing that such a

mode of protection/security would lack any effective counterbalances to its ability to

project force, and as such it is unlikely that it would be the benevolent imperial power

that Dolman claims it would be.

Critical Theories of Sovereignty

There has been a recent explosion of critical theoretic reflection on modern sovereignty.

Quite often, when there is a turn towards thinking about a concept it is because the

practices to which the concept is related are undergoing a dramatic shift, stimulating the

effort to comprehend that which is disappearing into the past. Hegel noted this most

famously in his statement that “The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the

falling of the dusk” (Hegel 1967: 13). One does not have to be a philosopher of history,

however, to recognize that current global political realities, such as the coming out of the

closet of U.S. empire, the demonstration of the insecurity of all territorial spaces, the

triumph of a neo-liberal global economic order, and the creation of a “global village”

through information technology, have at the very least called into question the

sovereignty of the modern territorial state. There is no need to rehash well-worn

empirical and theoretical debates about such transformative processes here. What we are

interested in, instead, is using this renewed theoretical interest in the concept of

sovereignty to think through how the mode of destruction of space weapons constitutes a

new mode of protection/security – space-based empire.

Affecting much of the recent theorization of sovereignty is Michel Foucault’s argument

about the misplaced attention to it. Throughout his later work, from Discipline and

Punish (1977), through the first volume of History of Sexuality (1978), to his work on

governmentality (2000), Foucault argued that sovereignty—which he identifies with a

juridical conceptualization of power—was in a mutually constitutive relationship with the

forms of knowledge dominant in early modern European political thought. Foucault

argued that this juridical form of power was composed of three distinct features: “of

forming a unitary regime, of identifying its will with the law, and of acting through

mechanisms of interdiction and sanction” (Foucault 1978: 87). This juridical conception

of sovereignty has held captive the imagination of political theorists, thereby blinding

them to other aspects of power, such as the bio-political. As an alternative to the juridical

conception of sovereign power, Foucault introduced the term bio-power, which operates

at two poles. First, there is the disciplinary form of power, whereby micro-rituals within

social institutions constitute individual subjects. Second, at the macro-level, power is

exercised through the management of entire populations (Foucault 1978). Together,

these macro and micro practices of power constitute a regime of rule that Foucault

labeled “governmentality,” which refers to “the conduct of conduct” for “the right

disposition of things so as to lead to a convenient end” (Foucault, 2000: 208). The

implication of Foucault’s analysis is that understanding rule in modern political society is

best approached by not focusing on sovereign power, but instead through turning one’s

attention away from—theoretically “cutting off the head” of—the sovereign. This means

putting behind us the seventeenth century European, juridical conception (from Hobbes

and others) of the state as all-powerful unitary center, whose will is the law and who sits

as maker of final decisions about taking life or letting live—that is to say, as political

subject above (the chaos of) other subjectivities (Agnew 2005; Havercroft 2006).

This means that focusing on how new technologies will alter the balance of power

between sovereign states is precisely the wrong way to theorize the astropolitical impact

of space weapons. Instead we should focus on the bio-political aspects of space

weaponization along two axes: the management of populations and the

disciplining/subjection of individuals. On the population axis of bio-politics, the ability to

project force to any point on Earth constitutes all the Earth’s inhabitants as a single

population to be governed through surveillance and management. The possessor of space

weapons, through its ability to potentially project force at all of the Earth’s inhabitants, in

effect gains a monopoly on the means of violence over all of the earth. This leads to a

dramatic re-ordering of the mode of protection that governs the international system. As

opposed to the internal monopoly of violence and external anarchy of real-statism and

the internal division of powers and external symmetrical binding of federal-

republicanism, space-based empire has an external monopoly on violence that

asymmetrically binds all people and institutions, including states, together under the

hegemony of the imperial center. We, however, follow Foucault in arguing that the most

significant effect of this imperial center’s power is not its juridical capacity of

interdiction and sanction. Instead, we believe that the most pernicious effects of this

asymmetrical power relationship will be the ability of the imperial center to govern its

subaltern subjects by altering their interests and re-constituting their identities. The

imperial center will only need to use its space weapons as a last resort. Simply by

possessing this monopoly on violence, the imperial center will be able to conduct the

conduct of its subjects, including client states, in a manner that is amenable to the

interests of the empire.

On the individual axis, space weapons represent a powerful disciplinary capacity in the

ability to target individuals with great precision. Many of the proposed weapons systems

– most notably space-based lasers – are designed to project lethal force at very precise

targets, even individuals. Presumably then a primary use of such weapons would be to

destroy specific enemies of the imperial center. This ability to project force precisely to

any point on Earth would have two political effects. First, it will strip all states that do not

possess them of their ability to protect themselves from intervention by the space-based

empire, and thereby vitiate their claims to sovereignty. Second, the sole possessor of

space-based weapons will be able to govern the conduct of individuals. This bio-political

power over individual lives would be far more significant than the ability to merely

punish and kill dissidents to imperial power. The possession of the power to target any

individual, anywhere on Earth, on very short notice would give the possessor of these

weapons unprecedented power to discipline these individual’s interests and identities so

that their actions comply with the will of the imperial center.

These bio-political implications of astropolitics become clearer when we consider recent

reformulations of Foucault’s concept of bio-power in writings of Giorgio Agamben, and

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. They have taken it in distinctly different directions in

attempts to understand modern regimes of (sovereign) rule. In particular they have

reconnected the elements of the distinction between bio-power and sovereign power that

Foucault has emphasized, in order to recover the continued importance of the latter.

Today, most critical theorists seem to believe that sovereign power, as well as bio-power,

is central to modern rule and hence must be understood theoretically, but, following

Foucault, not as formal-legal, juridical, concept.

Agamben argues that there is a hidden point of intersection between the bio-political and

the sovereign regimes of power. He observes

that the two analyses cannot be separated and that the inclusion of bare life

in the political realm constitutes the original-if concealed-nucleus of

sovereign power. It can even be said that the production of a biopolitical

body is the original activity of sovereign power. In this sense, biopolitics

is at least as old as the sovereign exception (Agamben 1998: 6).

Agamben locates this intersection in the Ancient Roman figure of homo sacer, a person

with “a capacity to be killed and yet not sacrificed, outside both human and divine law”

(Agamben 1998: 73). The figure of homo sacer is a schism between one’s political and

biological lives. Homo sacer is “bare life,” the biological aspect of the individual that

exists outside the law and hence outside politics and the state. The paradox of homo

sacer is that the sovereign is the one who decides who homo sacer is, and as such the

sovereign power that excludes “bare life” from the realm of the political also constitutes

“bare life” as homo sacer. As such, the bio-political regime that Foucault distinguishes

from the sovereign regime of power is actually constituted by the sovereign’s capacity to

exclude “bare life” from the political. Agamben links the figure of homo sacer with the

production of social spaces in which individuals are stripped completely of their political

life. In this social space of “the camp,” “bare life” has no human rights at precisely the

moment that he or she needs them most. Through the weaponization of space a new

global regime of sovereignty emerges. One of the constitutive effects of space weapons

is their capacity to ban specific individuals from the global rule of law, thereby

constituting the targets of these weapons as fully “bare life.” So, one of the most

pernicious effects of space weaponization is the emergence of a global totalitarianism,

wherein the space-based empire has the capacity to kill, but not sacrifice, all who oppose

its objectives. While it does not necessarily follow that by possessing this capacity a

space-based empire would necessarily use it, the possibility that a space-based empire

would use such a power is significantly increased because of the lack of potential

counter-powers to protect the vulnerable human population and thereby to produce a

realm beyond “bare life”.

A final implication for state sovereignty of space weaponization can be found through an

engagement with the writings of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri on Empire. They

argue that the erosion of the sovereignty of the modern territorial state does not mean that

sovereignty as such has disappeared. Rather, they maintain that a new, globally diffuse

form of sovereignty has emerged that is “composed of a series of national and

supranational organisms united under a single logic of rule” (Hardt and Negri 2000: xii),

which they call Empire. There is no longer a single, centralized governing apparatus

located and bounded in the territorial state, or in a state’s (classical) imperial intervention

into and control over other political societies. Instead there are now a multitude of

governing apparatuses that rule over the different facets of political subjects’ existence.

As Hardt and Negri remind us “Modern sovereignty has generally been conceived in

terms of a (real or imagined) territory and the relation of that territory to its outside”

(2000: 187). Under Empire “this dialectic of sovereignty between the civil order and the

natural order has come to an end” (2000: 187). The sovereignty of Empire not only de-

territorializes power, it also eliminates the boundary-drawing aspect of modern

sovereignty that constitutes particular spaces politically as either inside or outside.

Simply put, according to Hardt and Negri, under conditions of Empire “There Is No More

Outside” (2000: 186).9 Space-weaponization is a material manifestation of Hardt and

Negri’s idea of imperial sovereignty as de-territorializing and boundary erasing. By

possessing the capacity to project force from orbital space to any point on Earth, this new

mode of destruction would make the two dominant modern modes of protection/security

– the sovereign real-state and the liberal-republican federation – irrelevant. Neither the

self-help of sovereign states nor the collective security of a pacific union could counteract

or even deter the ability to project force from outer space. Without the ability to protect

its territory and population from external threats, the sovereignty of the state would

effectively wither away. In its place would emerge a new mode of protection/security,

although calling it a mode of domination may be more appropriate (Agamben 1998).

This mode – space-based empire – would have a centralized authority constituted by

those who controlled the space-based military infrastructure. However, because its

capacity to govern would rest on its ability to project force to any point on Earth at a

moment’s notice, there would be no need for it to control territory. As such, this new

form of imperial sovereignty would have three features not encountered in previous

political forms. First, it would have a centralized locus of authority, while being de-

territorialized in terms of what it governed. Second, it would asymmetrically bind all

individuals and institutions, including nominal states, into a hierarchical relationship with

the imperial center at the top. Finally it would possess a monopoly on the external

violence between (then non-sovereign) states as well as the capacity to target any specific

individual within a state at any point in time. Effectively, this space-based empire would

possess sovereignty over the entire globe (Duvall and Havercroft 2008). i

Conclusion: Life Under the Empire of the Future

In his Astropolitik Dolman calls upon U.S. defence policy makers to weaponize orbital

space so as to enhance U.S. hegemony over the planet. He does not address the

astropolitical issues we have discussed here about what impact a space-based hegemony

would have on the structure of the international system. Dolman, however, is confident

that America would be responsible in using this awesome power to promote democracy

and global capitalism. Setting aside the very contentious issues of whether or not

9 As an aside, the Commissioners of the 9/11 Report came to a seemingly similar conclusion. They

criticized the U.S. for creating an artificial barrier within the government between domestic and foreign

affairs, and argued that the mantra for the U.S. government should now be that “the American Homeland is the planet” (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, 2004: 362). Implicit in this view, however, is the projection of U.S. state sovereignty globally, rather than the de-centered concept, which Hardt and Negri would have us see.

America should be involved in “promoting” democracy and capitalism and whether or

not current U.S. hegemony has been beneficial for the Earth’s population, the moral and

political implications of a space-based empire are not nearly as clear-cut as Dolman

makes them out to be.

One of the fundamental principles of classical geopolitics was that sea-based empires

(such as Athens, Britain, and America) tended to be more democratic than land-based

empires (such as Sparta, China, and Rome). The reason for this is that sea-based empires

needed to disperse their forces away from the imperial center to exert control, whereas

land-based empires exercised power through occupation. Military occupations made it

increasingly likely that the army would seize power whenever it came into conflict with

the government. Classical geopolitical theorist Otto Hintze argued that land powers

tended towards dictatorships (Hintze, 1975). Dolman builds upon these classical

geopolitical insights by arguing that because space-based empires would not be able to

occupy states, military coups would be less likely and democracy would be more likely

(Dolman, 2002: 29). There is, however, a significant difference between space power and

sea power. While neither is capable of occupying territory on its own, space power is

capable of controlling territory from above through surveillance and precise projection of

force – control without occupation. While space power may not result in the dictatorships

normally associated with land power, it would be a useful tool is establishing a

disciplinary society over all the Earth.

A second obstacle to the benevolent space-based empire that Dolman imagines is the lack

of counterbalancing powers. Under the two other modes of protection/security we have

considered here – the real-statist and the federal-republican – there are checks that

prevent even the most powerful states in the system from dominating all the other units.

In real-statism, the sovereignty of states means that any potential hegemon would have to

pay a significant cost in blood and treasure to conquer other states. While this cost may

not be enough to dissuade a superpower from conquering one or two states, the

cumulative cost of conquest and occupation makes total domination over the Earth

unlikely. In the federal-republican model, the collective security regime of the entire

system should act as a sufficient deterrent to prevent one state from dominating the

others. Conversely, in a space-based empire the entire world is placed under direct

surveillance from above. There is no point on Earth where the imperial center cannot

project force on very short notice. So long as the space-based empire can deny access to

space to rival powers through missile defence and anti-satellite technologies, there is no

possibility that other states can directly counteract this force. As such, the space-based

empire erases all boundaries and places the Earth under its control.

While the possibility to resist such an empire will exist, the dynamics of resistance will

be considerably altered. Traditional insurgencies rely on physical occupation of territory

by the conquering forces to provide targets of opportunity to the resistance. Because

space weapons would orbit several hundred to several thousands of miles above the

Earth, they would not be vulnerable to attack by anything except weapons systems

possessed by the most advanced space powers such as ballistic missiles and advanced

laser systems. Even such counter-measures, however, would only raise the financial cost

of space-based empire, not the cost in human lives that insurgencies rely upon to

diminish domestic support for imperial occupations. Consequently a space-based empire

would be freer to dominate the Earth from above than a traditional land-power

occupation would be. Without obvious counterpowers or effective means of resistance,

the space-based empire would be able to exercise complete bio-political control over the

entire planet, turning all of Earth’s inhabitants into bare life. Under such a political

arrangement the likelihood that the imperial center would be a benevolent one,

uncorrupted by its total domination of the Earth, would be very slim indeed.

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