abstract thesis proposal


In this study will be analyzed whether the European Union (EU) stated ambition of being able to manage autonomous military operations is realistic unless it develops satellite networks that can operate independently from America’s space assets and, in turn, whether it is realistically conceivable to create a common European military presence in the space given US antagonist strategic perspectives and given national interests and commitments to the NATO. A major issue-area, where the distribution of economic leverage, technological capabilities, military power and political influence can be investigated, is, in fact, national space policy. Through the analysis of EU private, national and supranational initiatives –with a specific focus on the relations between EU’s defense industry and the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) –, I will investigate whether the redistribution of military space capabilities and perceived security needs, following the collapse of the bipolar world order, is favoring the emergence of a European space actorness complementary to NATO structures.
I shall then assess whether this ambition is (or can be) enshrined in a wise legal framework designed to avoid an escalating offence-defense spiral, as space security is pre-eminently an issue of global security. The understanding of the evolution of the national, regional and international legal framework in response to these ‘geopolitical’ dynamics is thus crucially important. A strong and unified political Europe with a technologically advanced and comprehensive defense and intelligence assets, enshrined in a wise legal overarching framework, could open the door to an innovative and autonomous foreign policy.


My understanding of the history of space security and how states have pursued it is rooted in specific starting assumptions on the nature of the international system, the main aim of states, the most effective currencies of power, the role of technology and of non-state actors. Even though since the end of the Cold War, US supremacy in the global distribution of economic, technological and military assets has remained unchallenged, international actors such as China, Russia and Japan, along with the EU member states, are redefining their relative position within the post-1989 world politics hierarchy. The American hegemony is not declining, thus, but a redistribution of capabilities is occurring at the lower levels of the world politics hierarchy. Furthermore, non-state actors—particularly in the defense industry—begin to emerge as major players and complicate traditional patterns of great power dominance in space. I will thus take into account both state and non-state actors in the analysis of the past two decades evolutions of the planetary distribution of military space capabilities. Evidence will be brought from official documents – national, supranational and private sector’s initiatives since 1991 –, existing literature, author’s interviews, and an internship in the European Defense Agency and/or in the Aerospace Defense Industries Association of Europe.


Since the end of the Cold War, a number of major trends have led to the restructuration of Europe’s defense market. Reduced defense budgets; spiraling costs; technological and industrial trends that are blurring the distinction between defense and other industries, such as electronics and information technology making it increasingly difficult to define “defense industries” strictu sensu; a wave of mergers and acquisitions in the United States that produced aerospace and defense giants with turnovers several times greater than those of national champions in Europe. The defense companies’ strategies in facing these new trends have been characterized by concentration and internationalization. It seems that the future of EU defense industry will be defined by an increasingly complex tapestry of national and supranational political initiatives and transnational firms and joint ventures. The evolution of EU supranational initiatives in the security realm and the common market-driven dynamics mean that space assets are assuming an unprecedented supra- and trans-national role in Europe. The most striking aspect of this new European-wide industrial landscape is what could be defined as a “reversal of roles”: in this twin movement towards greater Europeanisation of defense matters it is no longer governments that are steering European cooperation on armaments but industry itself that is moving ahead of political constraints and adapting them, precipitating change and now acting as a driving force in the implementation of a common defense. This study will thus investigate the risks associated to this increasingly strong and influent military-industrial complex for a transparent and democratic decision-making.

If the redistribution of power that is taking place since the end of the bipolar system has allowed some room for maneuver for an increased European weight in world politics, then this opportunity has to be managed wisely and in a forward-looking perspective. A powerful Europe without such an overarching legal framework would simply translate state’s thirst for relative gains onto a super-state level and raise international relations’ distrust and insecurity. On the contrary, a weak Europe wouldn’t even be in the position to propose such legal arrangements, as traditional power politics would crush national initiatives. Without a balance of power and without a sustained and stable understanding between major powers on their conduct of mutual relations, then the ‘softer’ elements of international order (international law, international organizations…) will be as so many castles in air. Balance of power can be seen as a means of constraining and restraining the most powerful and would-be hegemonic; as an inducement to moderation and restraint in foreign policy; and, finally, as an essential background condition for the operation of international law and institutions. Rebalancing the planetary distribution of power together with the proposition of cooperative legal frameworks aimed at preserving global security may be a historically important contribution toward a paradigm shift in international relations.

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