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[REVIEW] War in Space: Strategy, Spacepower, Geopolitics

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Book Review

War in Space: Strategy, Spacepower, Geopolitics by Bleddyn E. Bowen

Review by John Sislin *
Published in Quest Volume: 28 #3 (2021)

Until now, wars have been fought on land, at sea, and in the air. In the future, war may be fought in space or between space and these other domains. What would that look like? Applying lessons from classical texts on grand strategy, in particular theories regarding sea power, a new book by Dr. Bleddyn Bowen offers a possible answer.

Dr. Bowen reasons that such a book is needed because spacepower is lacking in a sufficient foundation of theory; as he comments in the Introduction: “Like seapower and airpower before it, spacepower needs theories that help individuals grapple with the ‘grey areas’ of how they influence the conduct of strategy” [5]. Dr. Bowen’s chief goal is educational; he seeks to advance the development of this foundational theory. He summarizes his aim as follows: “This book not only explains the qualities and characteristics of spacepower in Earth orbit, but also advocates a way of thinking about the use of spacepower in contemporary strategy that adheres to the timeless insights of classical military philosophers who strove to educate their readers and students about the practice, study and scrutiny of war” [2]. From the Introduction, then, we have two assertions to consider: first, spacepower is similar to sea power or airpower; and second, theory is needed to better understand it. These two assertions are highlighted here as they underlie a challenge in tackling this book that will be addressed shortly.

First, Dr. Bowen certainly brings the credentials to this topic. Currently a lecturer in international relations at the University of Leicester, he writes and lectures on such topics as space warfare, space policy, and international relations in outer space, as well as strategic theory. The book, as noted in the Acknowledgments, is the product of several years of research. Finally, the book is well organized around seven, core propositions:

  1. Space warfare is waged for the command of space.
  2. Spacepower is uniquely infrastructural and connected to Earth.
  3. The command of space does not equate to the command of Earth.
  4. The command of space manipulates celestial lines of communication.
  5. Earth orbit is a cosmic coastline suited for strategic manoeuvres.
  6. Spacepower exists within a geocentric mindset.
  7. Spacepower is dispersed and imposes dispersion on Earth [5].

The book is divided into three parts, each consisting of two chapters, and is overall prefaced by an Introduction that does a solid job of explaining the rationale and purpose of the book as well as introducing the seven propositions. The book’s Conclusion highlights the importance of space in thinking about international relations and war today.

Briefly, Part 1 focuses on theory and on the first four propositions. Chapter 1 defines spacepower, the nature of the propositions in sum and of the spacepower theory developed here. Chapter 2 explores the first four propositions outlined above, which focus on the command of space and what effect this might have on war on Earth. Importantly in this chapter, Dr. Bowen posits that drawing an analogy to blue-water seapower, where space is akin to an ocean, is not the most appropriate model for theorizing about spacepower.

Part 2 focuses on lesser-known themes about seapower that may be relevant to understanding spacepower. Chapter 3, building on the important point set forth in Chapter 2, examines proposition V, and suggests we would do better to treat space like a littoral environment. Earth orbit becomes a coastline to be attacked or defended. This discussion is a key contribution of the book. Chapter 4, which expands on proposition VI, places the notion of spacepower within the context of geocentrism; that is, strategic planners will focus on terrain war first and that focus will shape how strategists approach spacepower.

Part 3 looks at the effect of spacepower on warfare, via proposition VII in Chapter 5, and particularly on how spacepower might allow a force to concentrate and disperse its adversaries. Chapter 6 offers a case study of how Taiwan might be attacked or defended by China and the U.S. For China, the author suggests two strategies: “a ‘Space Pearl Harbor’ attack, where Beijing engages in a massive surprise attack against American space and terrestrial assets at the outset of any physical hostilities,” while the second strategy is that all actors may hold counterspace operations in reserve to first see how the terrestrial fighting is proceeding, which would allow for a more flexible response, or what Dr. Bowen calls a “Counterspace-in-Being strategy” [229]. Chapter 6 is an engaging scenario that is also a major contribution of the book.

This book will be challenging for many readers. It would be extremely helpful for the reader to be familiar with grand strategy (this reviewer wishes the author, who clearly is well-versed in that subject, had included an overview of the key ideas and their proponents early in the book); and to a lesser extent, other works on war and space. In addition, the book spends very few pages describing space capabilities and related infrastructure—such as different types of satellites, ground stations, launch sites, and vehicles, and ASATs—nor does it cover outer space law or norms. Again, this would have made the subject more tangible to readers who are not familiar with the various technologies.  As such, the book might be of most benefit to a subset of academics who study modern war, strategic studies, or international relations and who possess some knowledge in those areas.

The benefits outweigh the challenges but will take varying amounts of dedication by those with more or less grounding in classical works on grand strategy to fully take advantage of the contributions of the book. Readers are encouraged to make this effort, as Dr. Bowen has added a number of interesting and provocative statements on the nature of spacepower that are worthy of continued debate and discussion.

* The views expressed in this book review are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Intelligence University, the Department of Defense, or the United States government.

About the Book

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Title: War in Space: Strategy, Spacepower, Geopolitics
Author: Bleddyn E. Bowen
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Year: 2020
ISBN: 9781474450508
Pages: 288

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More Information

  • Archive ID # G301206
  • Format: Document (PDF)
  • Author/Creator:
  • Publication Year: 2021
  • Publisher: Quest
  • Copyright Status: Copyrighted
  • Copyright Holder: SPACE 3.0
  • Language: English
  • Number of Pages: 2
  • Type: Book/Movie Review
  • Subject:
  • Collection: Quest
  • Availability: Digital Download

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