Military competition and conflict in outer space can be divided into three stages: militarization, weaponization and the space battlefield.
Space militarization has become a thing of the past. Now, many countries are researching more advanced space weaponry technology, which means space weaponization is becoming a growing reality. The process of space competition is astonishingly similar to the process of nuclear competition among big countries. The peaceful use of nuclear energy and peaceful use of space also are comparable to the non-proliferation of space weapons and the prevention of weaponization in outer space.
On February 21, a U.S. Navy cruiser fired a Standard Missile-3 at a non-functioning National Reconnaissance Office spy satellite 247 km above the Earth and blew apart its tank of 450 kg of toxic fuel. The tank of intact hydrazine, a colorless corrosive used in fuels for rocket and jet engines, could have possibly endangered human populations if the out-of-control satellite had hit the ground.
By blowing up the satellite, the U.S. Navy carried out a test attack that could be viewed as a military rehearsal in deep space. This action will definitely lead to the research, creation and implementation of anti-attack weapons in outer space. Once the weaponization of space has been fulfilled, human beings will be only halfway to the day when the whole of space is turned to a battlefield. Then the strategy of establishing a non-satellite-launch zone would only be a problem of time and timing, because when space turns to a battlefield, all kinds of conflicts will begin.
At present, there are at least 50 countries and regions possessing space capabilities. Some other countries actually have equal or similar strength and opportunities to develop such capabilities. If the existing order was broken up, the countries that used to have a safe lead in space technology would lose their psychological equilibrium, which as a consequence, would trigger a collective panic in the world. Countries that have lost their advantages would make unfounded assumptions and undertake irrational activities to develop more advanced technologies.
Space weaponization first means that countries in the lead would deploy offensive weapons in space and that military competition would expand in space via new methods and advanced technologies. Then more countries would start studying, creating, and using anti-offensive weapons and join in the space military competition club. Due to the progress in developing military technology, countries that now are falling behind would start a new round of competition.
The best result of space competition would only be a new dynamic balance of defense in outer space. Therefore, the best way to avoid the consequences is taking efficient measures from the very beginning.
It must be clear that no country can have an absolute technical advantage in this game. Competition will only expand space weapons and bases into deeper outer space as more and more advanced weapons are deployed. The competition could possibly extend to the Earth-moon orbit, then the solar system.
Preventing the weaponization of outer space must be decided early on. It was in 1967 that the Outer Space Treaty was signed. During the Cold War, major superpowers conducted at least 20 tests, in which they destroyed satellites from space, thereby violating the treaty.
Every big country from now on should take responsibility. The world cannot wait until real damage happens with outer space weapons being produced, deployed and expanded. Taking preventive measures is the best way to preclude space weaponization. Otherwise, every country's right to peacefully use outer space and be assured of the safety of its property there would be greatly jeopardized.
The first step in preventing space weaponization is to hold anti-satellite weapon negotiations under the United Nations framework at an earlier date. Then, related international laws and treaties should be signed and efficiently carried out. It would be a good opportunity for countries, including the United States, Russia, China and the European Union, to jointly prevent possible space conflicts and work together so that human beings can enjoy harmony and peace in outer space.