Space Force One: The Complex Laws of Space Warfare

72 Pages Posted: 27 Sep 2020

See all articles by Eytan Tepper

Eytan Tepper

McGill University - Institute of Air and Space Law; China University of Political Science and Law; New York University School of Law

Date Written: May 13, 2020


The year 2020 saw the US launching a 'space force' and Russia successfully testing a killer satellite capable of destroying spacecrafts. China and India have demonstrated capabilities to destroy satellites in orbit by a missile launched from Earth. NATO declared space as a new operational domain. Space-based infrastructure, critical to most aspects of modern lives, is a prime target and might be the first to get hit by counter-space weapons. But while the space arms race accelerates and space becomes another warfare arena, the laws of space warfare lag behind. The under-supply of rules meets a multilateral system almost incapable of adopting new legally binding rules. Moreover, multilateralism in general is increasingly contested and two existing arms control regimes collapsed in the past year. Is space underway to become a lawless war arena? This paper suggests otherwise. It suggests that decentralized governance is more feasible and efficient than a centralized multilateral system. The paper presents the myriad of regimes applicable to space warfare and the various attempts to introduce new regimes. While each single regime may be weak or extremely lacking, in the aggregate they incrementally develop a more comprehensive system of rules for space warfare. In terms of policy recommendations, the paper suggests that instead of trying to fix the multilateral system, policymakers should embrace and facilitate a decentralized governance system and divert governance-building efforts to be invested in various small-scale initiatives. Since the 18th Century, only two new US military service branches were established - the Air Force in 1947 and the Space Force as of 2020. It is time for an interim account on the legal regime for space warfare and draw its future trajectory.

Keywords: space warfare, military uses of space, global space governance, global governance, regime complex, polycentric governance, fragmentation, institutional innovation

Suggested Citation

Tepper, Eytan, Space Force One: The Complex Laws of Space Warfare (May 13, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Eytan Tepper (Contact Author)

McGill University - Institute of Air and Space Law ( email )

3644 Peel Street
Montreal H3A 1W9, Quebec

China University of Political Science and Law

25 Xitucheng Rd
Haidian District

New York University School of Law ( email )

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