It is a truism to say that space is geopolitically important. The Space Race and the ISS have taught us this lesson, and, lest we should forget, China has reminded us forcefully with the Chinese Space Station (CSS) and the possible ambition to send humans back to the Moon (see the ESPI book, ‘When China Goes to the Moon….’). With the CSS China has also shown how effective the outreach to developing nations can be using space. Hardly a speech goes by without China stressing that that it is open to cooperation on the CSS particularly with developing countries. This goes hand-in-hand with China offering satellite packages, including launch, to developing countries in conjunction with natural resource deals.
There are lessons to be learned by Europe from this! Europe could, as do others, offer satellite systems as part of Official Development Assistance (ODA), for example. Yet, conditionality of ODA is a questionable concept, which the West largely abandoned quite a while ago. Still, being helpful to developing countries by finding ways to put space at the service of development is unquestionably good and, in general, much more can be done in this respect – not for the purpose of pushing space, mind you, but in order to help developing countries address infrastructure and information challenges!
The world is becoming smaller, more interconnected, more interdependent. Abject poverty is, thankfully, becoming rarer in all regions of the world and the information society is taking hold even where money is very scarce. This is dynamic that must be reinforced, as so well expressed by the Sustainable Development Goals agreed in New York last September.
It is therefore important to remember that space has an important role to foster societal development in the underprivileged parts of the world; is an indispensable part of the glue necessary to create a harmonious and prosperous future for all. It is ugly to say, and to think, but the reality is that there is a strong own interest for the ‘West’ in deploying space in the service of developing countries to a much higher degree than currently. We fret about inequality within our nations not only from the perspective of morals but also from the perspective of social harmony. Exactly the same considerations are true among nations, and this we should heed. Space is important for broad-based prosperity and for good governance and hence the utility of space must be much increased for developing countries. This is not only right, but also an investment in constructive global co-existence and the promotion of European values!
Europe should not assume that the market will on its own lift all boats in the best possible fashion. In Europe we have realised that accompanying measures are necessary, and therefore we have the programmes of ESA and the national agencies. Until now these programmes have mainly served European purposes. There is, however, an urgent need to learn from ourselves, and create a dedicated European programme on space for developing countries. Such a programme can be funded from traditional space sources, but also by development assistance from the EU and national development agencies and perhaps even by foundations and NGOs with very specific needs. The important thing is to realise and accept that such a programme cannot be a technology promotion exercise. Such a programme must reflect the needs on the ground in developing countries – and governance structures of such a programme must be designed accordingly!
We owe it to all to give space a further geopolitical dimension – and to use space not only to build bridges between superpowers, but to further the future of those countries that until now have not been in full possession of the benefits of space. That requires a targeted effort and a targeted programme and Europe should be in the lead!