Nikita Chiu Presents on "War & Peace and Space"

On October 12 2018 at St. John's College in Oxford, Dr. Nikita Chiu presented on the topic of "War & Peace and Space" at a lecture jointly convened by Oxford Network for Peace Studies, The Changing Character of War Centre, and The Centre for Technology and Global Affairs.

Dr. Chiu commenced by highlighting society's reliance on space technologies and satellite infrastructure. From timestamping in the financial market, to satellite-enabled communications and connectivity in remote and rural areas, space technologies play an integral part of our daily socio-economic activities. Space technologies also contribute to enhancing international regimes by offering operational competence. Citing the example of the UNSCOM inspection regime, Dr. Chiu explained how the interpretation of satellite imagery is central to the inspection team's efforts in identifying sites suspected to be linked to the storage and/or production of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Additionally, the monitoring mechanism maintained by the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBTO) relies on a network of satellites to transmit data collected across the globe. Dr. Chiu further asserted that data collected for nuclear disarmament purpose by the CTBTO actually has huge relevance in contributing to emergency preparedness and disaster management. In particular, seismic and radionuclide data collected by the CTBTO have been used for the early warning and detection of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and for forward simulation of deposition mapping in nuclear disaster scenarios. Based on research which she presented at the International Astronautical Congress earlier this year, Dr. Chiu argued that there is insufficient awareness of the role that space technologies play in disarmament efforts and in contributing to global peace and security. She further asserted that the Outer Space Treaty was concluded in the 1960s - an era when the international community witnessed successive nuclear disarmament treaties being introduced, including the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In view of recent political developments which put pressure on existing multilateral mechanisms, Dr. Chiu reiterated the key principles of the Outer Space Treaty: no nuclear weapons or other WMDs can be placed in orbit or be stationed in outer space; and the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used for peaceful purposes only. In her published work on space sustainability and space debris mitigation, Dr. Chiu proposed a universal standard of docking and rendezvous mechanism which would enable future satellites to become serviceable. Given the principle of redundancy and the risk-averse nature of the space industry, a truly global cooperation in standardization can not only avoid the emergence of competing standards to which the space market would find difficult to adapt, but can also help to ensure the sustainable use of outer space resources. No single state can adequately tackle the global challenges posed by the accumulation of space debris and Dr. Chiu asserted that international cooperation is essential if a sustainable future in space is desired.

Finally, in response to the recent call for a £92m feasibility study on establishing a British Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), Dr. Chiu offered her analysis of potentials and limitations associated with such an initiative. Understanding that the demand partly stems from the need to ensure the United Kingdom's military capability, considerable financial and manufacturing challenges remain in realizing a project similar in scale to Galileo or GPS in a cost-effective manner. If the project is to be introduced in near future, the limited time available to observe the operations of Galileo means that it could be challenging to innovate and to improve on limits identified in the previous system. In the longer term, there is also considerable uncertainty as to how operational costs of running such a system after installation could be met.

“Dr Chiu gave a very comprehensive state of the current international consensus related to space area, and foremost on challenges inherent to space activities and issues. We could really appreciate the importance that the industry is gaining and how international consensus on regulation can bring diplomatic stability. One of the meaningful examples that can be named would be the relevance of the satellite infrastructure in contributing to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, yet to enter into force. With space technologies becoming more affordable and accessible, international instruments must now be put in place, for the better."  - Dr. Ludovic Drouin, Science and Technology Officer, French Embassy in the United Kingdom.