Space technology is critical for progress, and space systems are strategic assets for a state. For more than half a century, this technology has been effectively used for socioeconomic development by its possessors. It still remains more of an exclusivist technology, and due to its dual-use nature, the possessor of this technology views it as a symbol of national power. The concept of power could have different connotations for different states depending on the circumstances. Quantification of national power and finding its correlation in regard to success achieved by that particular state in space arena could be a laborious but worthwhile exercise.
For the purpose of macro analysis, four commonly accepted instruments of national power: political, economic, informational and military, could be used. The political instrument of national power allows the execution of a nation’s foreign policy through diplomatic means. The economic instrument is the leveraging of a nation’s wealth to influence the behaviour of others. The informational tool provides the ability to disseminate (or withhold) information collected with the help of space assets. The military instrument essentially shows the capability of a state to influence the outcome of any war.
For states like Japan-China-India, these four instruments of national power have significance with varying shades of importance. In context of India, the economic instrument was not of major significance till recently, because its space industry is still in its formative years. However, current trends indicate that India is keen to develop the commercial aspects of its space programme and has started working towards it. Japan is found making investments both at commercial level as well as
at state level. Japan is in a position to influence the fate of major global projects like the international space station (ISS) because of their scientific and financial commitments to this project. China is found making significant commercial investments. Presently, there are found committing financial resources more to make friends than to earn profits. They expect the business to grow in long term.
For all these years, it was becoming difficult for India to attract customers because of the restrictions imposed on them as a response to its nuclear policies. Almost for two to three decades, India was a pariah state for any global engagement in the high-technology arena. Now, the successful culmination of the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2005 and participation of the states like the USA and Russia in India’s Moon mission clearly demonstrate the emergence of a strong international collaboration and cooperative component. Various subsidiaries of ISRO were put under export control ‘Entity List’ by the USA for long. Post-2005 Indo-US nuclear deal, in an attempt to expand high-technology trade and strategic cooperation with India, the USA has removed all restrictions on ISRO by Jan 2011. All this would help India to further develop the commercial aspects of its space programme.
The satellite services of these three states play an important role towards communications, broadcasting, tele-education and tele-medicine services and weather forecasting services. They are sharing this information with other states as well depending on their individual arrangements. This real-time information accessibility demonstrates the potency of informational superiority these states possess. The innate dual-use nature of space technology and particularly of the availability of remote sensing satellites with sub-metre resolution capability, clearly demonstrates their relevance for the militaries of these states. China has already conducted a successful ASAT test and is reported to have developed satellite jamming technologies. This directly portrays their military space potential. Theoretically, India is in a position to develop ASAT technology if it chooses to do so.
These three states have already published their vision documents giving their plans for coming few decades. These plans demonstrate that for them, the relevance of space has grown much beyond a mere tool for socioeconomic development. Economics and security have emerged as other important pillars for their future space architecture. They view space technology as a symbol of national power.
Amongst these three states, China appears to be more focused towards identifying their space programme as a tool for raising nationalism. It has already succeeded in sending the human to the space and has also successfully demonstrated their spacewalk capability. They are also developing an independent space station and
have successfully tested space-docking technology. India has articulated its vision for human space flight programme but is expected to take many more years to fulfil this dream.
There is a strong possibility that the first human to put its foot on the Moon in the twenty-first century could be the Chinese. If China succeeds in doing this before the USA, then it could be a significant act of power expression. Apart from Japan- China-India, the states in the region with interest in space are still in the process of evolution in space arena and hence are unlikely to reach the level of placing their space accomplishments as a symbol of national power in the coming two to three decades. This is not to argue that their space achievements would not demonstrate some correlation with any of the above-stated commonly accepted instruments of national power. But, in overall analysis, they are likely to remain as tier three or tier four space powers.