Strategy is the bridge between military power and political purpose. Its state of repair is highly variable. Moreover, although it is a bridge that must allow two-way traffic between tasking from policy and evidence on military feasibility, it is the former that must dominate. When policy fails to command it finds itself the servant of warfare, the reverse of the only legitimate terms of the relationship.

Colin S. Gray, Strategy and History: Essays on theory and practice (Abingdon, Oxon.: Routledge, 2006), p. 1.

Welcome to my blog – a forum for occasional thoughts, papers, and articles on all things connected to national security, geopolitics and strategy.

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SpaceWatch Middle East -a magazine that needs your support!

MidEast space

My company, ThorGroup GmbH, is launching an online magazine called SpaceWatch Middle East, that will cover the intersection of space technologies and Middle Eastern geopolitics.

To get SpaceWatch Middle East started, we are launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise U.S.$15,000 to cover the costs of an online platform and commissioning features for the first issues.

Please support SpaceWatch Middle East generously on Kickstarter!

Thank you!

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My Intellectual Debts: #MondayMusings in The Strategy Bridge


My friends at The Strategy Bridge – one of the best strategy blogs around – did me the great honor by inviting me to talk about my intellectual inspirations – or as I call them, my intellectual debts – in their weekly #MondayMusings series that profiles various participants in the field.

My piece can be found here.

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Filed under #MondayMusings, Shameless Self-Promotion, The Strategy Bridge

Strategy in the Contemporary World – the Cyber Dimension

SITCW 5th Ed

The 5th Edition of Strategy in the Contemporary World was published by Oxford University Press on 31 December 2015, and is available from all good booksellers.

Among the many excellent chapters on all things strategic by some of the leading thinkers around is my updated chapter (originally published in the 4th Edition) titled “The Rise of Cyberpower.

Strategy in the Contemporary World is a great introductory textbook for student and layman alike looking to understand the fundamentals of, and trends in, strategic studies.

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Filed under Books, Cyberpower, Cyberspace, Cyberwar, Professional Military Education, Publications, Shameless Self-Promotion, Strategic Theory, Strategy, Theory of Cyberpower

UAE to go to Mars

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) formally announced on May 6, 2015, its intention to launch an an indigenously built probe to Mars by July 2010 and have it in orbit around the Red Planet by 2021 to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the UAE.

This is more than just a prestige space mission – though it will have plenty of that for the UAE since, if successful, the probe will be the first Arab and Islamic spacecraft launched for space exploration. More importantly, however, the probe will actually contribute to scientific knowledge about Mars by collecting data on the Martian climate. The science from the UAE mission to Mars will be shared freely with scientists around the world.

This mission is also important because it is demonstrative of the rapid changes occurring in the space sector around the world. The UAE is on the cusp of graduating from an emerging space power – of which there are at least 50 around the world – to an established (and hopefully accomplished) space power. There are geopolitical implications too. The UAE is likely to emerge as the space hub for both the Middle East and for Africa, and will therefore accrue global influence. In fact, the UAE Space Agency has already established a cooperative relationship with the French space agency, CNES, and is engaged in government-to-government space dialogues with a number of other countries, including the United States.

The slick video posted above is a great overview of the UAE mission to Mars. Some might be tempted to dismiss the UAE’s space ambitions, and certainly they face a great number of technological and other challenges. But don’t write these guys off – I’ve met a number of them and they are professional, serious, and have the engineering, scientific, and financial capacity and resources to pull this off.

They’re serious, and everyone I speak with in U.S. and European space circles take them very seriously.

I’m rooting for them, and I hope they achieve – and exceed – their dreams and ambitions in space.


Filed under Emerging Space Powers, Spacepower, United Arab Emirates

In Defense of Space Control


The issue of space control is back, and I wrote the following piece that was published on the Real Clear Defense website on Monday, April 20, 2015:


In Defense of Space Control

Speaking on April 15 about the growing threat from China, Russia, and others against U.S. military satellites at the 31st National Space Symposium, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work told his audience that, “[w]hile we rely heavily on space capabilities, in both peace and war, we must continue to emphasize space control as challenges arise.”
Judging by the heated reaction to Deputy Secretary Work’s use of the term ‘space control,’ one could be forgiven for thinking that he had just made up U.S. policy on the fly — and that preparations are finally underway to build the Death Star. For example, Theresa Hitchens, a scholar at the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies and the former director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, told Breaking Defense that space control “has a connotation regarding offensive activities.” Further, Ms. Hitchens asserts that there seems to be more “aggressive attitudes on threat response” within the U.S. national security space community. Victoria Samson of the Secure World Foundation claims that the mention of space control primes “the pump…for a more active counter space program for the United States.”

Yet Deputy Secretary Work was hardly speaking off the cuff, nor is he the first to mention the term “space control” in recent months – that honor goes to the commander of the 14th Air Force, Lt. Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, in testimony he gave to Congress in late March. The fact is that space control – the ability in peace, crisis and war to assure access to and use of space – has been an enduring feature of U.S. national space policy for several decades. The need to train, equip and prepare to exercise space control, should it be required, has been a continuing and consistent facet of national space policy since at least the Eisenhower administration, and is mentioned explicitly in the space policies of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and now Barack Obama, all of which are publicly available.

Therefore, when Deputy Secretary Work mentioned space control to his audience in Colorado Springs, he did not do so from a policy and contextual vacuum. Over the past two years there has been an increasing concern within the Obama administration about the growing threats against U.S. military and intelligence space systems. These threats emanate largely from China and Russia, but also from countries such as Iran. The threats themselves range from capabilities that can jam the signals from satellites, to using lasers to dazzle the cameras on U.S. reconnaissance satellites. Additionally, a growing cyber threat against space systems as well as the ongoing testing and development of hit-to-kill antisatellite (ASAT) weapons that can physically destroy satellites in orbit pose increasing threats to U.S. national security.

Further, U.S. concerns over growing threats to satellites are hardly confined to a handful of senior officers at Air Force Space Command or officials in the Pentagon. Instead, officials in the State Department, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle and the president himself have expressed concerns about these threats and the vulnerabilities of U.S. space assets. Just as importantly, the growing threat to space systems is not just a preoccupation of Washington, DC. Officials in Brussels, New Delhi and Tokyo, among others, are also increasingly concerned about the evolving threat environment in space, and they see China and Russia as the primary sources of these threats.

Since the United States and its allies are dependent on these satellites for everything from maintaining and operating critical infrastructure and the everyday functioning of modern society, through to the American way of war itself, these growing threats to satellites can not be ignored by policymakers. Fortunately, since the Eisenhower administration, the U.S. has crafted and evolved a remarkably enduring space policy. The fundamentals of which have scarcely changed over the decades, yet is more than capable of dealing with the growing threat environment in space.

That policy, last updated in 2010, is enabling government officials to carry out several initiatives designed to enable mission assurance by space systems in an increasingly hostile space domain. These include measures to physically protect satellites against threats such as jamming and laser dazzling, as well as creating a new satellite architecture emphasizing resilience and redundancy to mitigate threats such as ASATs. These initiatives are part of the space control mission and do not involve things such as ‘space weapons’ and other exotic or controversial capabilities. If offensive force is ever required to assure U.S. access to its space systems, it will take place in the traditional domains of the land, sea, and air, as well as through the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) and cyberspace – a contingency that will only come into effect in a time of actual war.

The current and proposed budgets support the claim that offensive force for space control will take place in terrestrial domains, since there is no U.S. plan to deploy (or even develop) weapons in orbit. Conventional weapons and capabilities based in the traditional domains of land, sea and air, as well as the EMS and cyberspace, can achieve the space control mission without even entering space by targeting, and if necessary attacking, adversary jammers and lasers, ASAT launch sites and other capabilities that might threaten friendly satellites. In this regard space control is no different conceptually from the sea and air control that navies and air forces have been employing effectively for a very long time. Rather than implying or suggesting that we are on the cusp of some form of disturbing development in military technology, as critics assert, the actual practice of space control – should it come to that – will be viewed as prosaic when compared to the misinformed hype of its critics. There is nothing in the space control concept that mandates space-based weapons or other exotic capabilities.

Certainly the United States will continue to pursue diplomatic solutions to mitigate the risks posed by the counter-space capabilities being developed by the likes of China and Russia. However, diplomatic success is far from guaranteed due to China’s refusal to engage in direct government-to-government talks on space security, and the breakdown in relations with Russia over its annexation of the Crimea and continued interference in Ukraine. Geopolitics, far from stopping at the edge of space, will always extend to the orbits of Earth, and the United States should not be restrained in its ability to defend its vital interests there — as well as assure access to its own systems, especially in crisis and war.

Space control is a vital element to U.S. space policy, but it is too often naively or disingenuously maligned by critics who seem unable to offer any viable alternative. They are too ready to criticize the United States for its desire to protect its assets in space rather than condemn those who are determined to extend warfare into space by threatening American satellites. The Obama administration deserves credit for taking the threat seriously, and we should all hope that its measures are not only timely but are also sufficient to ensure continued access to space in the coming years.

John B. Sheldon, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the George C. Marshall Institute.


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Maritime Domain Awareness Visualization

I came across this video from 2012 that offers a cool visualization of the maritime domain awareness (MDA) tools provided by FleetMon, a German company that provides automatic identification system (AIS) services.


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Geopolitics and Cyberpower: Why Geography Still Matters

AFPI Journal

I have a new article, “Geopolitics and Cyberpower: Why Geography Still Matters,” published in the latest issue of American Foreign Policy Interests, the journal of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy in New York City.

It’s an imperfect first attempt at an issue that is of enduring interest to me, so expect more on this from me down the road. That said, all comments and critiques are welcome. I hope you enjoy it: 10803920%2E2014%2E969174

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Filed under American Foreign Policy Interests, Cyberpower, Cyberspace, Cyberwar, Geography, Geopolitics, National Committee on American Foreign Policy, Publications, Shameless Self-Promotion, Strategic Theory, Strategy, Stuxnet, Theory of Cyberpower