The threat of space war is already here

What will happen when war comes to the heavens? Orbit, the most immediately useful part of space, is already a military domain, housing constellations of satellites that relay communications, observing the earth below, and creating useful data on the whole of the world. These military satellites are joined by commercial and scientific satellites, connecting the world and offering a host of useful services to people and companies on the planet below.

Multiple nations have successfully destroyed their own de-orbiting satellites with missiles fired from earth, and the possibility persists that a nation may attack the satellites of another during wartime.

As Dr. Joanna Rozpedowski, senior non resident fellow at CIP, writes for the Geopolitical Monitor:

Every terrestrial war is now simultaneously a space and cyber war requiring identification and active monitoring of threats from space assets and threats to space assets from rival states. In the US Department of Defense assessment, China and Russia in particular pose significant risks to space assets through various means such as cyber warfare, electronic attacks, and ground-to-orbit missiles capable of destroying satellites and space-to-space orbital engagement systems, thus disrupting civilian infrastructure on earth. This has prompted the United States to allocate substantial resources to bolster its Space Forces, with budgetary allocations to the space domain doubling from $15.4 billion to $30.3 billion between 2021 and 2024.

Orbit is shared by commercial satellites alongside military ones, and many commercial satellite products, like images of earth from above, can be purchased by private individuals and organizations.Commercial satellites can, in a pinch, end up providing data used to military ends, as forces risk communication over a commercial network, or make plans based on satellite imagery bought for reconnaissance.

Continues Rozpedowski:

Private actors must thus increasingly reckon with the unintended consequences of detailed satellite ad hoc data sharing in active conflict zones in high-demand data environments. Navigating these complexities will require international cooperation, technological innovation, and a careful consideration of ethical and political implications as well as the provision of legal guardrails to avoid the appearance of bias and undue politicization.

The existing international treaties governing space date to the middle of last century, in effect but out of date regarding present realities. Read more from Rozpedowski about the challenges of potential armed conflict in orbit.

Exiled Iranian monarchists align with Israel’s hardliners

When Iranians drove out the Shah in 1979, a revolution that ultimately ended with the Islamic Republic, supporters of monarchy were driven into exile or underground. In the decades since, these monarchists waiting for a restoration of the Pahlavi throne have found themselves part of the opposition to the present government of Iran, but sitting uncomfortably alongside other opposition movements, especially ones that dream and fight for a democratic Iran. This tension is reflected not just in how the separate opposition movements protest in the country, but in how they position the role of Iran in the world. Notably, Reza Pahlavi, claimant to the overthrown throne, has aligned Iranian monarchists with Israel, leading monarchists to wave the pre-revolution flag at rallies in support of Israel’s war on Gaza.

As Sina Toosi, senior non-resident fellow at CIP, writes for Al-Jazeera:

“…since the outbreak of the Gaza war, the Iranian monarchist movement has shown strong support for Israel online and at pro-Israel rallies in Europe and the United States. Their often-aggressive tactics have concerned many pro-Palestinian activists, with pro-Pahlavi lobbying groups in Washington, DC, such as the National Union for Democracy in Iran (NUFDI), seeking to intimidate pro-Palestinians activists who have been critical of Iranian-American supporters of Israel, labelling them “supporters of Palestinian terrorist groups”.”

This hard-line is a break from the last Shah’s actual foreign policy, which balanced US alignment, security cooperation with Israel, and vocal support for Palestine. Out of power and in exile, Iranian monarchists have not had to make concessions required even of autocrats. Instead, they’ve aligned with the hard right in the US and in Israel, supporting intervention, sanctions, and confrontation with the Islamic Republic.

This, Toosi writes, is in sharp contrast to the human rights-aligned pro-democracy movement within Iran:

“Other government critics and activists believe the Iranian monarchists’ support from Israel and its right-wing allies in the US – evident in their close ties with pro-Israel lobbies in Washington and their reliance on media support from Israeli-government-aligned outlets and influencers – is not a benefit, but baggage. It has exposed their lack of legitimacy and credibility, and their disregard for the Iranian people’s democratic aspirations.”

While hardliners may have found common cause with monarchists longing for a restoration of past glories, these are forces aligned in a cynical disregard for the democratic aspirations of people in their own countries, and abroad. Read Toosi’s full piece here.

Biden’s different rules for Ukraine and Israel

Biden’s divergent handling of Ukraine’s war against Russia and Israel’s war in Gaza define the bounds of the administration’s foreign policy, a staggering juxtaposition in effect. Biden’s team persuasively rallied international support to the side of an invaded Ukraine, under a vision of universal application of international law and solidarity between those victimized by aggressors. In Israel, Biden stood by the country following the horrific attack by Hamas on October 7, 2023, and continues to largely stand by the country months into Israel’s war of retaliation waged against the people of Gaza.

Matt Duss, executive vice president of the Center for International Policy, outlined this tension in a December piece for The New Republic:

The reality is that Russia is occupying Ukraine to end Ukrainian self-determination, and Israel is doing the same to Palestine. “They’re not a real people and the land is really ours by right” is the position of both the Russian and Israeli governments regarding Ukrainians and Palestinians.

When it came to America’s role in aiding Ukraine beset by an invading power, the Biden administration rallied diplomatic efforts and military aid, ensuring that the smaller country could not be bullied out of existence by its more numerous, nuclear-armed neighbor. The Russian invasion, at a large scale and aim, built on previous aggression, which had seen Ukraine in an intense but smaller-scale conflict since 2014.

While the spark of Israel’s assault on Gaza is retaliation for an attack on civilians, the conflict itself builds from decades of occupation and specific tensions, history well outlined by Duss. That the Biden administration’s response to Israel’s war was diplomatic and material backing, instead of urging its ally to address the enduring and destabilizing harms of occupation, was a profound missed opportunity.

Duss continues:

The United States has put a great deal of effort in appealing to the global south/nonaligned world on a range of issues, including support for Ukraine. That effort was mortally wounded when the whole global south saw the West’s blatant double standard. (“For my friends, everything; for my enemies, the International Criminal Court.”)

Read the rest of the piece at The New Republic.

Extend the Cease-Fire in Gaza—but Don’t Stop There

Recent days have seen the first good news out of Gaza in a long time. As part of a U.S.-brokered cease-fire that began last Friday and will expire tomorrow, Hamas has released dozens of the more than 200 people it took hostage during its October 7 attack on Israel; those released include many of the children whom the group took captive. For its part, Israel has released 150 Palestinian prisoners, paused its bombardment of Gaza, and allowed more humanitarian supplies into the territory, providing a brief respite to the millions of civilians there who have suffered immensely for weeks.

As CIP president and CEO Nancy Okail and executive vice president Matt Duss write in Foreign Affairs:

An extended cease-fire could facilitate the return of more Israeli hostages and reduce the risk of deepening the humanitarian catastrophe among Gaza’s civilians. It could also help calm tensions in the West Bank and reduce the risk that the war could escalate by drawing in outside actors, such as the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and its patron, Iran.

But extending the cease-fire should be just the first step in a larger process that would require intensive U.S.-backed regional diplomacy—and an overhaul of American policy. When Biden took office in 2021, he was determined not to spend his time and energy on fruitless efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the war in Gaza has shown that the issue cannot be ignored. To make good on Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s November 8 statement that there can be no return to a manifestly unsustainable status quo ante, the United States must change its overall approach and commit to a broad-based diplomatic process that can finally resolve the conflict and prioritize rights and dignity for people in the region.

Read Okail and Duss’s full piece here.

Q&A with Matt Duss: ‘We’ve Been Shaken Out of This Fantasy’: How the Left Sees the War in Israel

To understand how progressive foreign policy thinkers are processing these events, POLITICO Magazine spoke with Matt Duss, executive vice president of the Center for International Policy. A former top foreign policy aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Duss has been an outspoken critic of many traditional Democratic Party security policies, including those governing the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Duss tells POLITICO’s Alex Burns:

“On the progressive left, you have a recognition and a respect for the rights of all people to live in security and dignity. That includes Israelis and Palestinians. I think the statements you see from most U.S. officials, including from the White House, are overwhelmingly focused on one side. It is of course quite true that Israel has the right to defend itself. Its people have a right to live in peace and security. The Palestinians have that right as well. The Center for International Policy put out a statement responding to the events of the last few days, making this point — that what Hamas has done is awful. We condemn it unequivocally. We also note that Palestinians have continued to suffer under an occupation and blockade that is decades old. That is absolutely necessary context. That does not excuse what Hamas has done. There is no excuse for that. But there is an important context of understanding where this violence grows from.”

Read the full interview here.