On June 29, 2021, The Institute of World Politics hosted a webinar entitled “A Space Vision to Guide America’s Strategic Competition with China,” led by Dr. Mir Sadat. This lecture was a part of IWP’s China Series. Dr. Sadat’s presentation focused on many topics that came together to explain the importance of the United States’ role in space innovation and how it impacts economics and national security in great power competition.
About the Speaker
Dr. Mir Sadat has more than 25 years of experience in private industry and government. Dr. Sadat is a former policy director at the U.S. National Security Council, where he led interagency coordination on defense and space policy issues. In this role, Dr. Sadat supported the establishment of both the U.S. Space Force and U.S. Space Command and reviewed national security decisions involving civil space (NASA) and the U.S. commercial space sector. Dr. Sadat is also a naval officer with intelligence and space qualifications and in his preceding two naval assignments, he served as a space policy strategist with Chief of Naval Operations and as a space operations officer with U.S. Tenth Fleet. He has a Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University and has taught at various universities in California and Washington, D.C.
Dr. Sadat began his presentation by addressing the rise of China and how the nation has become more of a U.S. adversary in the last five years. He then discussed the current administration and the question it is focused on answering when it comes to China, which is how to compel the Chinese government to be a responsible world power. Dr. Sadat also compared the space interests of China versus those of the United States. China is solely focused on its acceleration, while the United States, with its entrepreneurial spirit, is examining how to make the rest of the world a beneficiary of space exploration.
Great Power Competition
The innovation of space technology has not been a U.S. priority for many years. Dr. Sadat pointed out that the war on terror and other non-existential military endeavors took precedence over space, which has ultimately hindered U.S. space development. Dr. Sadat mentioned the various domains over which the U.S., China, and Russia are claiming dominion: economic, intelligence/military, and political/informational. Furthermore, he mentioned the national instruments of power (diplomacy, information, military, economics, finance, legal/law enforcement) and how China is projecting those instruments into space.
A Vision for U.S. Space Exploration
If the United States is going to set the tone for space exploration, Dr. Sadat claimed that it needs to invest all forms of its national instruments of power into space. Unlike China, the U.S. undergoes election cycles, often bringing in a new administration and members of Congress, making it difficult to set long-term goals. Many are calling for a multi-administration space vision to advance U.S. presence in the international space race. Another setback for the U.S. is the division of commerce and national security. For China, the government brings the two together, allowing them to invest simultaneously in both areas to promote the same goal. Nonetheless, through government agencies and the private sector, the United States needs to be more specific about its vision for space.
Why it Matters and Conclusion
This space race is very different than that of the Cold War. While the space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was a symbolic race of superior ideology, this new space race is about much more than ideology. With the U.S. ahead in space technology, we can work to advance the security and interests of others, not just our own. For example, it is because of U.S. technology and satellites that meaningful research has been done on wildlife, climate change, and human migration. Additionally, satellite imagery was used to discover the encampments of Uyghur Muslims in China. Look-down operations are becoming a more crucial component of national security. The United States’ promotion of security and economic growth would be exemplified through further space advancements.
Dr. Sadat concluded his remarks with a Q&A, in which he further explained the status and position of the United States in comparison to other nations in the field of STEM. He also answered questions regarding Japan and India’s space advancements, noting them as potential allies against China. While it may lack in the area of deterrence, the United States continues to have the competitive edge in space exploration and defense mechanisms.