ANU Law scholar analyses risk of space-based conflict in new book

Dr Cassandra Steer, ANU space law expert
ANU senior lecturer Dr Cassandra Steer has co-edited a new book, ‘War and Peace in Outer Space: Law, Policy, Ethics’.

A conflict in space would be catastrophic for us all, even more so than wars in other physical domains like land, sea and air.

Dr Cassandra Steer, a mission specialist with The Australian National University (ANU) Institute of Space (InSpace) and senior lecturer at the ANU College of Law specialising in space law, has co-edited a book with Associate Professor Matthew Hersch (Harvard University).

Published by Oxford University Press, War and Peace in Outer Space: Law, Policy, and Ethics analyses the legal and ethical concerns over the increased weaponisation of outer space and the potential for space-based conflict in the near future, emphasising the ethical conduct and legal standards applicable to military uses of outer space.

“At a time when the creation of US Space Force has brought the notion of military activities in space to public attention, and when we have returned to a multipolar world in which the traditional great powers are once again competing, the weaponisation of space and the potential for a space-based conflict is very real.

“Added to these political factors is the commercialisation of space – there are more commercially owned satellites than government-owned ones in space today – and the enormous problem of space debris which threatens the safety of space operations, upon which we are all dependent for our daily 21st century lives. A conflict in space would be catastrophic for us all, even more so than wars in other physical domains like land, sea and air. This book discusses all of these issues, and looks to possible solutions in space law, space diplomacy, and international cooperation,” said Dr Steer.

With an expert author team from Africa, Australia, China, Europe and North America, the volume brings together leading interdisciplinary scholars, military lawyers, military space operators, aerospace industry representatives, diplomats, and national security and policy experts. The book is the result of an international expert roundtable organised and led by Dr Steer in 2018 on “The Weaponisation of Outer Space”, hosted by the Center for Ethics and Rule of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Essays included in this book explore the moral and legal issues of space security in four sections: Part I provides a general legal framework for the law of war and peace in space, in which Dr Steer has also written a chapter; Part II tackles ethical issues; Part III looks at specific threats to space security; and Part IV proposes possible legal and diplomatic solutions.

“No other existing publication takes this perspective, nor includes such a range of interdisciplinary expertise,” said Dr Steer.

Dr Steer’s interest in space law began with how technology is changing the way conflicts are fought, and how to prevent mass atrocities from taking place.

“The vast majority of my earlier research in space law is focused on space security, and I still maintain a great focus on these issues, through my consulting work with the Canadian and US departments of defence, and my educational delivery to the Australian Defence College. In past years, I also taught some sessions of the McGill Strategic Space Governance course, aimed at military personnel and students of space law,” said Dr Steer.

Furthering her research in space law, Dr Steer has taken part in an international study of space governance led by Project Ploughshares and Spectrum Consulting in Canada, and is often invited to speak as a space security and space law expert on international panels. She has also lodged a research grant application together with colleagues at the ANU National Security College, proposing a series of national dialogues on strategic space governance (to be determined in early 2021).

In 2021, Dr Steer will teach a new course offered to ANU Bachelor of Laws (Hons) and Master of Laws students: Space Law and Governance (LAWS8340). The course will cover both the civil and military aspects of our activities in space, the environmental and technical challenges, and different models of governance for space. A micro-credential course will also be offered to the general public, covering a small portion of these issues.

Interested in learning more? Listen to Dr Steer’s Space Law podcast and discover her publications here.

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Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  College General Manager, ANU College of Law/Page Contact:  Law Marketing Team