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  • Writer's pictureThe Gender Security Project

A Feminist Security Paradigm for Outer Space Exploration

By Kirthi Jayakumar

During the Space Race – the informal competition between Cold War rivals US and (then) USSR – the emergence of pioneering efforts was largely because of the pivotal contributions women made. The contributions of women in making these space programs possible remained forgotten, erased, even. Today, the space race continues in the form of a “great power competition” where the US, Russia, India, Japan, the EU, and China are pursuing campaigns of weaponizing space aggressively. The role of feminist security approaches can play a significant role in changing the course of what currently seems like a militarized future with adverse consequences.

If militarization and the adverse impacts of war-mongering policies have taught us anything, it is that war comes with a heavy price. Traditional approaches to security in outer space are likely to produce patterns similar to traditional approaches to security: patriarchal, militarized systems that do not prioritize peace. Militarizing outer space is a pursuit of military superiority that is not synonymous with security. It may inspire deterrence – but “deterrence is a strategy for reducing attacks, not accidents; it discourages malevolence, not inadvertence.”

The immediate challenges this race for militarizing outer space poses are self-evident: the very act of militarizing what is res communis (common heritage of humankind) and the mounting concerns that the presence of space debris poses, among other things. Any challenge presented by action in outer space, by the very nature of the space in itself, would need state cooperation rather than competition, to handle. However, despite the mounting concerns and the overwhelming logic in favour of state cooperation, discussions around space security have reached an impasse. Instead, proliferation continues, placing immense power in the hands of those who normalize of military power in the name of security.

As Cynda Collins Arsenault asks, “With the growing complexity of challenges such as artificial intelligence, new technologies, and the emerging space economy, what norms and behaviour changes do we need to make for the protection and security of humankind?” The fundamental behavioural shift we so desperately need is our way of doing security. That outer space is res communis and the security challenges space security poses essentially requires cooperation is stating the obvious. Inherently, outer space needs a feminist security policy. A policy that dispenses with structural violence, that establishes a level playing field without appropriating and occupying space and resources, and that operates with cooperation than competition is vital if space exploration must proceed with due care for security.

Drawing from the values of feminist foreign policy and the WPS Agenda, dismantling structural violence and patriarchal forms of international engagement is vital in approaching outer space. This is more than just including women at the negotiating table. It includes rethinking structural violence that has normalized militarization and patriarchal, violent approaches to security. It includes identifying those that are marginalized and excluded from the policymaking machinery but face the adverse impacts of the policies so made, and centring their agency in shaping the future of security. If space exploration is intended at benefiting all of humanity – as the res communis value asserts – then it must include all of humanity in determining the approaches and directions toward exploring, utilizing, and securitizing it. A feminist security paradigm would dispense with the hegemonic masculinity in militarizing security, understand the individual and social impacts of security measures, and establish approaches that do not retain hierarchical and hegemonic patterns of oppression and discrimination.

If the COVID-19 crisis held up a mirror to show us everything that is wrong with structural violence world over, not waking up to this reality would be a very, very poor decision with tremendous consequences. As the future seems to be a playground for the elevated use of technology and space exploration, importing the failed structures and systems into outer space would do nothing to serve our future.

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