Space Policies Intertwined: The Space Force and the Alcantara Safeguard Agreement in the Venture of Militarizing Space

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Abstract: Since the creation of the Space Force as the sixth branch of the United States Armed Forces, understanding the space frontier for the power consolidation of any state in the international system has become more imperative than ever. The renewed (or never ended) interest in spatial conquest presents a new opportunity to revisit different aspects of the Cold War space race in order to identify elements that have endured. To that end, the present work analyzes the international context under which the space race operated as to its historical juncture, political constraints, and military impetus. In this way, the case for space militarization is perceived not only as a latent need for various countries today, but also as an old imperative for the military services of the powerhouses of 75 years ago. By analyzing the practical consequences of the international treaties that shaped what became known as Space Law and the military doctrines pursued by the space militarization of that time, one can understand the present state of space mobilization. Thus, this work introduces the importance of new racers in the space militarization process and the relevance of small players for the new configuration of international space forces. As an example, the Brazilian role in American aspirations towards space is perceived through the Alcantara Safeguard Agreement. Therefore, by bridging past elements that shaped the present context of a renewed interest for a space race, this work hopes to shed some light in the features conducting future space militarization.


In December 2019, the United States Congress authorized the creation of a sixth military branch—the Space Force—following President Trump’s proposal of expanding U.S. military capabilities. From the first American satellite launch—even prior to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) founding—there have been ongoing debates as to how the armed forces can best safeguard the interests of the United States in space[1]. The new Space Force  attests to the fact that those debates remain as pressing now as they were seventy years ago. Thus, serving as evidence of a Cold War-era conflict that did not end with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

However, even with the Soviets’ withdrawal from the space race, the technologies developed and the terrain already conquered became too important to be overlooked. The space frontier had been reached and surpassed, and in the absence of a superpower, there was room for smaller actors to develop in space militarization. Thus, since the end of the Cold War, countries like Russia — former heir of Soviet capabilities —, China and India became important actors in the context of conquering space. Even Brazil, despite its lack of military strength and technology capacity, became notorious for its ability of securing participation in spatial activities due to relative advantages. Making sense of such dynamics is the goal here.

This essay discusses the historical and political background that made the creation of a Space Force necessary as well as bridges the past need for space militarization to the juridical, political, and military elements that shaped space policies implemented today. After reviewing specialized literature and consulting government reports, this article places the establishment of a Space Force within the wider context of military strategies and former presidential administrations, the quest for economic gains through emerging space technologies, and the role of the Alcantara Launch Center as indication of the relevance of different actors  for the U.S. —or any other country — in securing their superiority within the space domain.

This essay is organized in four sections. The first section discusses the Space Race in context of the Cold War, as well as its juridical and political implications for the international system. The second section sheds light on military space occupation doctrines in the second half of the twentieth century and their influence over former presidential administrations. The third section uses the Alcantara Safeguard Agreement to introduce Brazil’s role in space militarization, and draw parallels between Brazilian goals and the influence of American space policies on Brazil’s space program. Finally, the fourth offers a summary of considerations, and provides a glimpse of what Brazil’s actual role in militarized space may be.

Space Race: Historical Background and Legal Framework

The Space Race emerged upon the end of World War II, with the United States and the Soviet Union acting as the two global superpowers on the basis of technology first developed by the defeated Germany. The Soviets debuted space experiments on October 4, 1957 with the launch of Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite to ever orbit the Earth. A month following this revolutionary success, Sputnik 2 was launched, the second spacecraft placed into orbit and the first to contain a living animal. The United States, in its turn, successfully launched its first artificial satellite on January 31, 1958. The device was called Explorer 1 and weighed almost 18 pounds (8 kilograms) in comparison to the 1,102 pounds (500 kilograms) of the Sputnik 2.[2]

The Soviet’s Sputnik Program ignited much political and public debate within the U.S. Initially, President Dwight Eisenhower’s administration could not grasp the practical effects of the Soviet’s achievement, and attempted to minimize the international impact of the satellites. But as public concerns with the Soviet space program grew, the U.S. government was compelled to take action.[3]

As demands for a prompt response to the Soviet’s achievements increased, several nuclear tests began to take place in outer space. Between 1953 and 1958, the U.S., Soviet Union, and United Kingdom conducted an estimated 231 nuclear tests in space. This caused immense international apprehension regarding the risks posed by radioactive experiments made during the space militarization process.[4]

In face of domestic apprehension related to the Space and Arms race during the Cold War, the Eisenhower administration created NASA in 1958. The new agency became responsible for developing space exploration capabilities through pacific technology—in other words, non-military. The primary goal of an agency run by civilians was to divert the public’s focus from military space activities and decrease the perception of such domain as being militarized.[5]

In addition to NASA’s creation, President Eisenhower also addressed international concerns regarding military escalation towards space. He advocated for an agreement to prohibit testing nuclear weapons in space during his term. However, the American political community feared that such an agreement might compromise the country’s national security. These domestic concerns left Eisenhower with little room to move forward.[6] But when the Soviets pushed for an international moratorium on outer space nuclear testing, having announced a unilateral halt in 1958, the U.S. was compelled to settle into an agreement.[7] Thus, in 1960, despite turbulent negotiations, the American, Soviet, and British delegations reached a partial arrangement which placed a moratorium on all atmospheric, outer space, and underwater nuclear testing. Minimally invasive underground tests were still allowed. However, the three powers still had to agree on a period during which the moratorium would stand, as well as on inspection regulations to guarantee the agreement’s enforcement. The inspections issue was particularly hard to overcome.[8]

Tensions kept high in subsequent years. In 1961, PresidentKennedy was sworn into office and had to face pressures from sectors interested in the agreement.[9] In that same year, the Soviet Union announced the orbital flight of the first astronaut to orbit the planet, less than three years after Sputnik 1. In response, still in 1961, President Kennedy announced that  the United States were to explore the Moon with a manned mission by the end of the decade. The goal was reached in 1969 when U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, becoming the first man to ever set foot on the lunar surface.[10]

Parallel to the manned missions achievements, atomic tests in space remained a big problem during the 1960s. With the rise of tensions in West Berlin, the superpowers abandoned the negotiations on banning nuclear space experiments. The partial moratorium previously reached collapsed and tests resumed. Both the U.S. and the USSR tested over 200 nuclear weapons in space during the 1961-1962 biennium.[11]

The American Starfish Prime nuclear test in 1962 particularly impacted the international community. The test generated an artificial atmospheric aurora that could be seen several kilometers away from the detonation site, and which generated an electromagnetic pulse that halted electricity transmissions within its vicinity.  In some cities, street lighting was destroyed, landlines were interrupted, and interferences in airplanes circuits and blackouts in radio transmissions were caused.[12] Starfish Prime also created an atmospheric radiation belt that attached to the Earth’s magnetic field. The belt consisted of artificial electrons surrounding the planet, whose presence damaged at least six satellites, including a Soviet one. Altogether, the experiment displayed the risks posed by escalating the nuclear arms race to space by exposing how high magnitude nuclear detonations could impact the surface.[13]

The Chinese aspiration of building a nuclear weapon and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 were other elements that pushed for an agreement. The Kennedy administration and Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, feared other countries would also acquire nuclear technology, thus introducing other parties into the conflict. Despite facing severe domestic criticism, President Kennedy carried on with the talks and even yielded to Soviet demands regarding the number of annual mutual inspections. Although aware of the risks of a low number of inspections on Soviet facilities, both President Kennedy and former Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, believed that a world without any deal was far more dangerous than the world with a weak one.[14]

Thus, efforts from both sides as well as from the UK were made to keep the negotiations going. Thereby, on August 5, 1963, the Limited Test Ban Treaty was finally signed in in Moscow by the U.S., USSR, and the United Kingdom; 108 countries signed onto the Treaty, with the most notorious exceptions being China and France; both continued tests in the domains prohibited by the Treaty—outer space, within the atmosphere, and underwater. Based on the agreement, nuclear tests were only allowed to be conducted underground.[15]

The Limited Test Ban Treaty inaugurated a long period of negotiations during the Cold War regarding the use of space with military purposes. In 1967, the Outer Space Treaty was signed, more comprehensive than the former, and regulated the bans on nuclear tests to be conducted in space, on the Moon and other celestial bodies.[16] Under this umbrella treaty, complementary conventions were reached. These conventions contributed to the creation of what became known as Space Law.[17]

Air Force: Doctrines of Space Militarization

Space is notorious for its importance to the development of widely-used civilian technologies. For instance, satellites offer relatively cost-effective methods for facilitating international communication; they also provide sophisticated meteorological services, land surface recognition, and support a myriad of other activities ranging from television transmission to cellular signal. However, all these technologies were originally developed to respond to military demands.[18]

Both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force sought a larger role in defending American assets in space. One particular dispute regarded the operation of ballistic missiles with a range greater than 400 miles, which was ultimately deemed within the jurisdiction of  the Air Force, leaving the Army responsible for operating the short-range missiles. This initial Air Force victory inaugurated the agency’s authority over space operations, and continued with the formation of the Air Force Space Command—an aerial military branch responsible for all military space initiatives—in 1982. Thus, it was in the Air Force where the most contentious debates about the best doctrines of space militarization took place.[19]

The book On Space War, published by the Airpower Research Institute, discusses the four main doctrines of military space occupation in evidence during the Cold War, linking these doctrines to the presidential administrations most influenced by them. The work offers wide insight into terrestrial, maritime, and aerial military strategies which could be utilized in space. The book also analyses how the U.S. should engage in space policy prosecution. Thus, before presenting doctrines on different approaches as to the best way of militarily dominating space, the author highlights the differences between key concepts for the discussion he proposes:

Space power is an element of national power analogous to air, sea, and land power. […] First, land, sea, and air power are elements of national power that enable a nation to exert influence through use of a particular medium. Space power, it follows, is the ability to use the space environment in pursuit of some national objective or purpose. Second, this purpose may be purely military, such as the collection of surveillance data, or nonmilitary, such as earth resource data collection or civilian communications. Third, all four elements of national power embody not just military forces but civilian capabilities as well. […] By extension, the space shuttle, a civilian vehicle, along with the political structure that allowed its development, contributes to US space power. A definition that includes these three characteristics is that spacepower is the ability of a nation to exploit the space environment in pursuit of national goals and purposes and includes the entire astronautical capabilities of the nation. A nation with such capabilities is termed a space power. By this definition, the United States is a space power whether or not it ever deploys space forces or even military space systems.[20]

With the conceptual differentiation between the two terms—space power and space force—in mind, it is important to highlight that the U.S., throughout the Cold War, had become a consolidated outer space powerhouse. The country counted on resources deployed in outer space and had practical capacities of exploring this domain. This way, a heated debate arose in the U.S. military as to what would be the best strategy the country could pursue in order to promptly secure its space occupation process.[21]

In face of the rise of interest of the civil society and military groups, it is important to keep in mind that this debate was largely influenced by the Cold War. Perception of space technology with a dual-use—both military and civilian—underlined the time period and oriented states’ actions both in their domestic policies and international stances on the matter. Undoubtedly, controlling advanced technology in critical areas, like outer space, was important political capital in a highly securitized international context.[22]

 Influenced by deterrence logic, President Eisenhower introduced the first practical military approach in U.S. space policy: the Sanctuary Doctrine. [23] Emerging as a response to the ever-growing apprehension of the risks intrinsic to military space exploration, this doctrine perceived space as a sanctuary that was not supposed to be militarized by considering it a public good at the service of all humankind. Furthermore, military space activities, such as intelligence acquisition, should exclusively have the purpose of gathering necessary intelligence for pursuing the deterrence strategy. On the basis of the operating principles of artificial satellites that legally overfly other countries’ territories, the main military use of space would be the capacity to verify the enforcement of international treaties by signatory parties. Violating this pacific use could cause instabilities in the space realm that might ultimately lead to the escalation in military tensions.[24]Since President Eisenhower was more sensitive to public opinion and international pressures than Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, he adopted a space policy that mostly diluted the idea of space as a militarized domain. The creation of NASA in the same year of the founding of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency tasked with monitoring all military space activities, was one of the strategies used to this end.[25] Thus, as the first militarization doctrine properly implemented by a Cold War presidential, the Sanctuary Doctrine contributed to making

The average American citizen views space as the responsibility of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and its peaceful exploration programs, such as the one that put men on the moon. Because even then on aggressive military space activities have been hidden behind a veil of secrecy, the citizenry is largely unaware that the military has any role in space. […] Therefore, any military space activities, particularly those done under the guise of space power by space forces, are seen as examples of military efforts to invade a peaceful sanctuary. […] After all, this nation has been peacefully exploring the fourth environment for more than 25 years without military involvement, so why should the military make a muck of it now?[26]

President Bill Clinton also leaned on the idea of using space as an area for international cooperation with pacific ends—analogous to its use as a “sanctuary.” Since Clinton’s administration was not directly influenced by the imperatives of the Space Race, outer space militarization was not a priority under his presidency: the U.S. did not engage in notable military space projects, and NASA actually faced budget cuts. However, the Clinton administration—along with Russia, Japan, Canada, and the European Union—did oversee a cooperation agreement for the construction of the International Space Station (ISS) that had been signed in the last year of President George H. W. Bush’s term, but expanded under Clinton.)[27]

A different international context must be considered if a comparison is to be made between Clinton’s and Eisenhower’s space policy, both of which contained elements of the Sanctuary Doctrine. To this end, it suffices to mention that the sanctuary approach disregarded that other actors involved in outer space exploration may not have shared the conception of space being a public good. The Soviet Union was one of such actors.

Although they understood the risks involved with outer space nuclear tests, and actively advocated for their prohibition, the Soviets did not see space as a sanctuary. Thus, despite having committed themselves to not conduct any extra-atomicpheric tests, the USSR continued to develop outer space military technologies. For instance, they developed a device capable of knocking down a fully-operational satellite. Since this anti-satellite system compromised American national security, the sanctuary-perceiving doctrine had to be replaced.[28]

Thereafter, a new doctrine emerged in the debate and started to influence U. S.’ space policy implementation:he Survivability Doctrine. This doctrine perceived certain outer space assets, such as telecommunication and localization satellites, as useful in peacetime but easy targets in wartime. On the basis of this approach, military services should not be dependent upon space forces. Instead, they should rely on assets more resistant to being compromised and, consequently, be easier to deploy in case of necessary and imminent military attack.

To a large extent, this doctrine considered how the physical properties of outer space would preclude the use of space assets as military resources. On account of satellites’ pre-established displacement patterns, they cannot alter their routes midair, thus being highly susceptible to attacks. Besides, satellites were great sources of intelligence data to military services and this feature alone increased enemies’ incentives for destroying them. Furthermore, any object in space was a potential projectile by virtue of the absence of atmosphere which could, for example, transform shrapnel into hypervelocity weapons due to the lack of air resistance. These physical features contributed even more for the excessive perception of the vulnerabilities inherent to space assets.[29]

However, Survivability Doctrine’s weak spots were early identified. One commonly-rejected aspect of this doctrine was its premise based on the high vulnerability of assets deployed in outer space: even though the Soviet anti-satellite system presented a risk for the U.S., it hardly posed a serious threat to high-altitude satellites. Furthermore, since anti-satellite technology was incredibly costly, many felt that the advantages of investing in outer space resources far surpassed the disadvantages.[30]

The different international context of its time allowed President Obama’s administration to share this mindset. Under his term, outer space was viewed as an environment that should not only be conquered, but also economically explored. This initiated the commercialization of outer space; although NASA astronauts were no longer sent to the Moon, the private sector was  allowed to transport cargo shipments to the ISS. Aerospace manufacturers and space transportation services,  such as SpaceX, also gained relevance during President Obama’s term.[31]

In addition to expanding private sector access to space, namely through partnerships with government agencies, Obama’s space policy included the approval of the Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act in 2015. This act introduced the possibility for the privatization of celestial natural resources through authorizing the possession, property, transportation, use, and sale of such resources to private American companies.[32] Thereafter, Obama’s space policy managed to alter the perception of the risks and vulnerabilities intrinsic to space exploration and contributed to overcome these elements as impediments for the investment in space technology by allowing the private sector to financially benefit from its investments in outer space.

Nevertheless, as support for the Survivability Doctrine weakened, still in the highly-inflammable context of the Cold War, a new approach that justified the militarization of outer space emerged. Contrary to the previous two, the High-Ground doctrine understood that controlling outer space would be indispensable for maintaining military superiority across aerial, terrestrial, and maritime domains. High-Ground advocates recommended the development and employment of technologies capable of using defensive ballistic missiles directly from space, claiming that such an asset would defend civil-military satellites from enemy strikes. In theory, this technology could intercept hostile attacks even before the strike had left the Earth’s atmosphere in its ascent to outer space. Deterrence was no longer enough—an offensive concept of mutual destruction should be replaced by the defensive idea of mutual survival assured by the capacity of actively defending assets in space.[33]

President Ronald Reagan was the main exponent of this doctrine, and repeatedly demonstrated his understanding of space as a critical zone for military occupation. Moreover, the president even signaled his good-will in relation to the development of a laser-beam weapon to be positioned in space as an American defensive resource in case of an escalation in military tensions.[34] This weapon—the Strategic Defense Initiative Project, informally known as Star Wars—was launched by the Reagan administration and later reformulated by George H. W. Bush. Later renamed to Global Protection Against Limited Strikes, the initiative began to encompass interceptors, mobile sensors, and transportable structures of defense against ballistic missiles.[35]

The High-Ground Doctrine also echoes particular actions taken by other presidential administrations, including that of George W. Bush. Under his term, the U.S. withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty which prohibited weapons systems that could be used in outer space.[36] In 2004, it was announced that the Space Shuttle program, launched in 1981 under Reagan, would be replaced by the Constellation program, which would resume missions to the Moon and initiate missions to Mars. President Bush also considered budget arrangements in order to secure American satellites with space weapons. In this regard, research on weapons capable of knocking down enemy satellites was fomented.[37]

George W. Bush’s administration has also engaged, through its foreign policy, in blocking any advancements of a convention put forth by China and Russia that would prohibit any employment of weapons in space at the UN level. The convention, known as the Proposed Prevention of an Arms Race in Space (PAROS), was (and still is) rejected by the American delegation on the basis of an alleged diplomatic maneuver of the two countries on their quests to acquire military superiority.[38]

However, the High-Ground Doctrine’s inability to pacify the space militarization debate gave rise to a new approach of space militarization. The last doctrine presented in the Airpower Research Institute’s study, the Control Doctrine considered that space power should be analogous to naval and aerial power inasmuch as it should defend strategic facilities and deny adversarial abilities to properly explore the disputed domain. This premise largely differed from that of the terrestrial power and its dependence on actively occupying territory to guarantee dominance. Thereafter, space power should coexist with other domains of military service in order to defend state assets in peacetime and serve as offensive capacity against enemy forces in times of war.[39]

Despite sharing some  premises, the Control Doctrine had different inputs to the alleged advantages of space weaponization professed by the High-Ground Doctrine. Whereas the former held that positioning a laser weapon in space was irrational as it would motivate other countries to do the same, the latter argued that transferring the war theatre to space could mitigate destruction on the planet’s surface. However, the prospect of fighting war in space was incongruous to the very nature of the outer space environment. Also, regardless of where conflict takes place, the ultimate goals of states are found on the Earth’s surface—alongside their enemies.[40]

Guaranteeing space “control” in peacetime would be, to some extent, more important than preparing defensive weapons in anticipation of war. Lupton, author of the Airpower Research Institute’s study, further suggests that a vehicle capable of operating both in the atmosphere and in outer space would be indispensable in attaining outer space military superiority. Thereafter, implementing the Control Doctrine—defended by the author as most appropriate for American space policy—depended on the development of technologies that could ensure the prominence of a state in comparison with all the others in terms of space exploration capacities.

Some former presidents have implemented space policies that possessed aspects of militarization inspired by the Control Doctrine. For instance, George W. Bush endorsed a 2001 Space Commission report that discussed the possibility of an outer space-Pearl Harbor, spurring the United States to stay ahead of potential enemies in regard to space control.[41] However, though a thorough analysis of the debate regarding space militarization doctrines, Lupton’s book does not offer a comprehensive review of all possible approaches to space occupation. But given its historical review and contemporary application, the relevance of Lupton’s work endures.

By signing Space Policy Directive-4 in February 2019, President Trump ordered the Pentagon to create a sixth branch of the U.S. armed forces: the Space Force. As stated in a Congressional Research Initiative report named “Towards the Creation of a U.S. ‘Space Force,” the Department of Defense established guidelines to assist the creation of a “combatant command responsible for space” with the deliberate purpose of displaying American dominance over outer space, and protecting the integrity of satellites and other orbital devices.[42] After receiving Congressional approval in late 2019, the Space Force was established, ultimately demonstrating the persisting influence of the Control Doctrine.

Space Policies Intertwined: The Alcantara Safeguard Agreement

Considering the way military doctrines shaped U.S. space exploration makes it easier to analyze present-day U.S. space initiatives. The role of Brazil in its current state of international engagement towards space shows that the debate about space militarization is not over. Although the discussion raised in this essay seeks to establish parallels between the Brazilian and American space policies, the arguments presented here are not unrelated to initiatives taken by countries like China and India, which have been demonstrating a growing interest in expanding their space-based military capabilities.

In 2007, China conducted a weapons test which destroyed one of its own satellites in orbit, successfully demonstrating full operation of its long-range missiles system.[43] Since then, the country has been testing with success its own anti-satellite system with increasingly frequent military drills.[44] India in turn has become the most recent country with the ability to strike  targets. In 2019, the country knocked down a low-orbit satellite and became the fourth space power with offensive military capabilities.[45] Although all these countries are nuclear powers, which naturally draws more attention to their military successes, small players are also a part of the game. Accordingly, the Alcantara Launch Center (ALC) serves as evidence of the developing Brazil-U.S. relationship regarding space militarization.

 Established on March 1, 1983, the ALC is situated in one of the best locations in the world for launching satellites due to its short distance from the equatorial line. Alcantara’s position enables for the conservation of fuel required to put a satellite into orbit because from its location it is possible to use Earth’s rotation speed for launches. Thus, by utilizing less fuel, satellites can carry additional equipment. Another favorable aspect of the ALC is the weather, having well-defined rainy months through the year and no abrupt temperature changes or seismic activity.[46]

Any country with access to the ALC would accrue practical and operational advantages to its space program. With this in mind, in 2019 Brazil and the U.S. signed the Alcantara Safeguard Agreement. The deal was praised as a state-of-the-art piece of international cooperation between countries due to its importance for both parties. However, considering the aforementioned historical, political, and military elements that contributed to the development of modern American space policy, one needs to be careful on the evaluation of the benefits for both countries involved.

Before correctly assessing future scenarios at stake due to this commercial agreement, the historical context must be properly understood. Although remarkable, this arrangement is not unprecedented insofar as Brazil has already engaged in space cooperation with other countries. In 2003, the “Treaty of Long-Term Cooperation on the Use of Launching Vehicle Cyclone-4” was signed in Brasília, creating the Brazilian-Ukrainian binational company named Alcantara Cyclone Space (ACS). Under the treaty, Brazil provided the facility and all the associated infrastructure of the ALC, while Ukraine was responsible for developing the Cyclone-4 vehicle. Both parties engaged in commercial launches that took place in the ALC.[47] Another international cooperation initiative was the Sino-Brazilian partnership on the CBERS project (China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite) for the construction and launching of remote sensing. In force since 1988, five satellites have been launched through the partnership.[48]

Brazil was also engaged in space cooperation initiatives with the U.S. even before the signing of the 2019 Alcantara Safeguard Agreement, disclosing the long-term interrelatedness of space policies between the two countries. Space efforts by both states were focused on developing collaborative scientific research. Since the creation of the Brazilian Space Agency, more than fifteen cooperative instruments have been signed with NASA. One of the most important was NASA-12, which allowed Brazilian students to participate in training and specialization programs in American research centers.[49]

As of 2000, alignment between the space policies of the two countries has started to deepen. In that year, an agreement similar to the one of 2019 was signed, but was not ratified by the Brazilian Congress. Resistance from the legislative branch of Brazil was due to certain articles on the deal, especially ones that regulated specific areas in the ALC where entrance would only be granted to American personnel. These areas of restricted access were seen as being in practice a territorial cession to the United States. Claiming the agreement hurt national sovereignty, the Brazilian Congress rejected the deal. Nevertheless, it is important to note that at the time Brazil’s now-current President Jair Bolsonaro was a congressman and voted against the deal, though a very similar one was reached with the United States under his presidency.[50]

After the deal was rejected, talks receded and were only resumed after almost two decades. The same reasons that sparked public debate in 2000 regained the attention of the mainstream media during the new rounds of negotiations. Nevertheless, access to the ALC for the United States was secured with the ratification of the Alcantara Safeguard Agreement. According to the text of the new agreement, the U.S. committed to pay for the use of the ALC. In turn, Brazil renounced any claims of access to American technology used in missiles, rockets, satellites, and other artifacts that might be used or developed in the ALC. Thus, in general terms, the main difference between the Alcantara agreements of 2000 and of 2019 relates to the restriction of Brazilian personnel in designated areas within the facilities of the launch center.[51]

Regarding access to these areas, the current agreement establishes that people authorized by both parties can access zones considered to be sensitive. Furthermore, the new arrangement allows for the use of financial resources acquired by the commercial exploration from the ALC to leverage the Brazilian space program. Additionally, the text prohibits the entrance of containers that are sealed, or not inspected by Brazilian authorities, into the ALC. The deal also stipulates the non-transference of patents between signatory parties.[52] Countries like India, New Zealand, and Kazakhstan have also signed similar arrangements with the U.S.[53]

According to Brazilian Air Force’s Luiz Fernando de Aguiar, the deal would allow for Brazil to participate in the global market of space activities that can handle up to US$ 330 billions per year.[54] In line with a recent Twitter post by Brazilian President Bolsonaro, it would be a “loss of money if Brazil did not participate in this market.”[55] Hence, Brazil argued that its stance on signing the deal was merely on the basis of claiming a share of the space market to itself.[56]

However, despite being a major piece of space cooperation, this partnership was preceded by a problematic history. The United States had already imposed barriers to the development of the Brazilian space program in its beginning. The main reason for the American hindrances lay in the origins of Brazil’s program, which from 1971 to 1994 was an exclusively military venture. Indeed, the space program retains strong ties with the Brazilian Air Force to this day. Space programs from both countries began around relatively the same time and were both strongly militarized.[57] Although they sought similar ends, the military doctrines and approaches guiding the space programs of the two countries differed. While the Sanctuary Doctrine had been largely influential upon American space policy at the time, the Brazilian government did not necessarily share the same mindset. This discrepancy proved to be the source of significant friction.

Although the Brazilian space program is strongly linked to the country’s Armed Forces —as it is in the United States — Brazil had already signed international treaties, such as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which restrained the county’s military aspirations towards space. The MTCR, for example, is an international agreement of political character which seeks to limit the proliferation of mass destruction weapons, both chemical and biological, as well as their carriers — missiles. The MTCR was established in 1987 by seven countries. Today, the arrangement enjoys the support of thirty-five signatories, including Brazil and the U.S.[58]

According to the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Communications of Brazil , by signing the MTCR, the country clarified its intentions of using space for peaceful purposes and of developing its space program in line with the non-militarized exploration of this domain. Hence, Brazil reiterated its commitment to the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and guaranteed its own insertion in the international regime of space cooperation. The country also stated that its sole goal was the development of its own satellite launching vehicle.[59]

However, while Brazilian aspirations towards space could be pacified, mostly due to the country’s inability to put forth a comprehensive and potentially hostile space program, the same is hardly the case for American objectives. Therefore, the promulgation of the ALC Safeguard Agreement needs to be considered by taking into account two indispensable factors for correctly assessing the framework into which this deal is inserted.

First, there is a legal flaw in one of the few international treaties signed by the United States that aims to pacify space activities. The Space Treaty of 1967, in its Article 4, preserved the use of space exclusively for pacific purposes once it has strictly forbidden the presence of nuclear weapons, or any kind of weapons of mass destruction, as well as the installation of military bases in this domain.[60]  However,

By specifying the types of weapons prohibited in outer space – nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction -, the Space Treaty exposed a legal flaw: the one of allowing that other kinds of weapons, like conventional missiles and new weapons that might be developed, to be deployed by countries in space. Prohibition of space militarization is not, therefore, absolute, for this legal flaw relativizes the legal proscription that the conventional Space Law aimed to stipulate.[61] (our translation).

The second factor regarding the ALC Agreement is that one of the biggest challenges to Space Law in the twenty-first century concerns the exploration of natural resources found in celestial bodies. The U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, signed into law by Barack Obama in 2015, opened the possibility for the private sector to invest in space exploration. After the act, companies like Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries already had sights set on the economic potential of outer space resources.[62]

Planetary Resources has already presented a plan to put in space “multiple airplanes capable of exploring different asteroids in search for water and ores, as well as collecting data that will help the construction of the first commercial mine in space.” Deep Space, on the other hand, is planning to take the lead on the “production of propulsion engines, navigation systems and low-budget spaceships that will allow for other companies to explore natural resources found in asteroids”, (our translation).[63]

It is evident that the ALC, due to the relative advantages that it has in comparison to other launch centers, can become a fundamental element in any project to build space power capabilities that will certainly not be limited to the Alcantara Safeguard Agreement of 2019. Rather than seeing this particular deal as an end in and of itself, one needs to view it as a part of a project much older and more complex than the signing of one bipartisan arrangement. The legal gaps in international treaties and the commercial goals of spatial powerhouses — added to the fact that space technologies are dual-use with military and civilian applications —  should at least raise the question as to what role Brazil plays in this space juncture in light of the concession for commercial exploration of the ALC by the United States.

It is not hard to foresee the rise of a new type of space race in the short term. The patterns will likely be different from the ones that guided this competition during the Cold War. However, understanding the history and the doctrines that led the international system to where it stands today on the importance of obtaining the upper hand in space control is indispensable in order to make a thorough analysis of the case. By discussing the Alcantara Safeguard Agreement and placing it in the context of the military and political history of the countries involved, this essay hopes to shed some light on the probable implications of this deal as well as to motivate further discussion on the topic of space exploration and its intrinsic militarization.

Final considerations

The Cold War dynamics that motivated the space race between the U.S. and the USSR are long gone. But this does not mean that outer space has lost its appeal. As it was true in the twentieth century, it is also valid to assume that, in the twenty-first, any country capable of securitizing and exploring space will become an unstoppable powerhouse in the international system. This insight forms the foundation upon which countries’ endeavors towards space must be analyzed.

China is successfully conducting military tests striking down its own satellites, demonstrating the full operation of the country’s long-range missiles system.[64] Since then, the Chinese have been testing, with exciting results, their own anti-satellites system.[65] India,  in turn, has become the fourth country to demonstrate the ability to strike space-based targets.[66] These recent demonstrations of force, as well as the latest announcement of a Space Force as the sixth branch of the United States Armed Forces, suggests that space has never been further from a “sanctuary” than it is today.

During the Cold War, the Space Race, by virtue of the new technologies that appeared, created the need to regulate the use of outer space and all forms of exploration that might derive from it. Moreover, escalating tensions raised awareness about the consequences of any demonstration of power that might be too strong for the world to recover from, thus managing to prevent the most belligerent tendencies of the time, even if on the basis of the deterrence strategy. Arrangements like the Treaty of Space of 1967, alongside the conventions that followed, created the legal-political grounds that prevented the world from combusting in a nuclear-spatial catastrophe.

Parallel to a legal-political framework, the Space Race created military opportunities. Mostly conducted within the Air Force, debates on doctrines of military space occupation contributed to consolidate space as an essential strategic domain to be conquered if the United States —or any other country, for that matter — wished to keep their military superiority. Therefore, with evidence from space policies implemented by the administrations of former presidents George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump, it appears that among the four doctrines previously discussed, the Control Doctrine has won the debate as to what would be the best approach to secure the upper hand in space militarization.

Other countries’ efforts to develop armed forces with spatial capabilities seem to confirm the Trump administration’s decision to establish a Space Force as the best strategy to effectively obtain control over a domain that has already proved to be critical to the survival of any superpower. Thus, the 2019 Alcantara Safeguard Agreement is here presented not as much as a thorough case study under the implications of the creation of an American Space Force, but rather as a militarily-motivated political action taken under the influence of a latent context of space militarization.

The concession agreement for economic exploration of the Alcantara Launch Center will certainly be a great source of financial resources for the Brazilian government. However, by virtue of its privileged location as a space assets launching facility,[67] any country with access to the ALC automatically has an advantage in face of its adversaries. Legal gaps and commercial pretensions that became feasible with the advent of new technologies might be explored through the use of the ALC under the terms of the Safeguard Agreement between the United States and Brazil. Meanwhile, the creation of a brand-new Space Force is evidence that American aspirations towards space are high enough not to be overlooked.

 Viewed through historical, military, and political lenses, the 2019 agreement can be understood as a subset of a much deeper discussion. Outer space has always been an action field for the Armed Forces of countries involved in its conquest. Alcantara’s concession cannot solely be seen as a deal that will only foment economic, civilian, scientific, and peaceful activities because the differences between the military and civilian segments of space exploration are blurry. In this way, perhaps the Alcantara case should be treated less as a matter of national sovereignty by the Brazilian government and more as evidence of military alignment in an international venture in which the issue of space militarization has never ceased to be pressing.

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[1] David Lupton. n.d. On Space Warfare: A Space Power Doctrine. Alabama: Air University Press. Accessed June 18, 2019.

[2] Aydano Barreto Carleial. “Uma Breve História Da Conquista Espacial.” Parcerias Estratégicas 4, no. 7 (1999), 21-20.

[3] Lupton, n.d. On Space Warfare: A Space Power Doctrine.

[4] William Burr and Hector Montford. 2003. The Making of the Limited Test Ban Treaty, 1958-1963. The National Security Archive. 2003.

[5] Lupton, n.d. On Space Warfare: A Space Power Doctrine.

[6] Burr and Montford. 2003. The Making of the Limited Test Ban Treaty.

[7]  Burr and Montford. 2003. The Making of the Limited Test Ban Treaty.

[8]  Ibid.

[9]  Burr and Montford. 2003. The Making of the Limited Test Ban Treaty.

[10] Aydano Barreto Carleial. “Uma Breve História Da Conquista Espacial.” Parcerias Estratégicas 4, no. 7 (1999), 21-20.

[11] Burr and Montford. 2003. The Making of the Limited Test Ban Treaty.

[12] Phil Plait. 2012. The 50th Anniversary of Starfish Prime: The Nuke That Shook the World. Discover Magazine. Discover Magazine. 2012.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Burr and Montford. 2003. The Making of the Limited Test Ban Treat.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Irene Oanne Gabrynowicz. “Still Relevant (and Important) After All These Years: The Case for Supporting the Outer Space Treaty.” Res Communis, 2007.

[17] Douglas Nascimento Santana and Luciano Javier Liendo, “Relações Internacionais e Direito Espacial no século XXI:” mudanças normativas e institucionais em fase de incubação”. Cadernos de Política Exterior, N. 6 (2017).

[18] Lupton.n.d. On Space Warfare: A Space Power Doctrine.

[19] Lupton. n.d. On Space Warfare: A Space Power Doctrine.

[20] Ibid. p. 4

[21] Lupton. n.d. On Space Warfare: A Space Power Doctrine.

[22] Santana and Liendo, “Relações Internacionais e Direito Espacial no século XXI:” mudanças normativas e institucionais em fase de incubação”.

[23] Lupton. n.d. On Space Warfare: A Space Power Doctrine.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Lupton. n.d. On Space Warfare: A Space Power Doctrine.

[26] Ibid. p. 1

[27] John Logsdon. n.d. Ten Presidents and NASA. 28 mai. 2008,

[28] Lupton. n.d. On Space Warfare: A Space Power Doctrine.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Lupton. n.d. On Space Warfare: A Space Power Doctrine.

[31] Mike Wall. 2017a. President Obama’s Space Legacy: Mars, Private Spaceflight and More. Space.Com. January 20, 2017.

[32] Santana and Liendo, “Relações Internacionais e Direito Espacial no século XXI:” mudanças normativas e institucionais em fase de incubação”.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Lupton. n.d. On Space Warfare: A Space Power Doctrine.

[35] Michal Krepon. ‌Weapons in Space? | Arms Control Association. n.d.

[36] Ajey Lele. 2005. The New US Agenda:Militarising Space. Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses. 2005.

[37] Marc Kaufman. 2006. Bush Sets Defense As Space Priority. Washington Post.

[38] Proposed Prevention of an Arms Race in Space (PAROS) Treaty. Nuclear Threat Initiative. 2017.

[39] Lupton . n.d. On Space Warfare: A Space Power Doctrine.

[40] Ibid.

[41] ‌Ajey Lele. 2005. The New US Agenda: Militarising Space. Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses.

[42] Steven Hildreth, et al. “Toward the Creation of a U.S. ‘Space Force.’” 2018.

[43] Carin Zissis. “China’s Anti-Satellite Test.” Council on Foreign Relations, 2007.

[44] ‌Jeffrey Lin and P. W. Singer. 2018. China Shot down Another Missile in Space.

[45] Sanjeev Miglani and Krishna Das. 2019. Modi Hails India as Military Space Power after Anti-Satellite Missile Test. Reuters. 2019.

[46] Eler. “Por Que Alcântara é Um Lugar Estratégico Para Lançar Foguetes e Satélites.” Super Interessante, March 19, 2019.

[47] Brazilian Space Agency. 2019a. Ucrânia. Brazilian Space Agency.

[48] Santana and Liendo, “Relações Internacionais e Direito Espacial no século XXI:” mudanças normativas e institucionais em fase de incubação”.

[49] Brazilian Space Agency. 2019b. Estados Unidos. Brazilian Space Agency.

[50] Brasil Assina Acordo Que Vai Liberar Uso Da Base de Alcântara Por EUA. O Globo. O Globo. March 18, 2019.

[51] Julia Braun. “Brasil e EUA Assinam Acordo De Salvaguarda Para Base De Alcântara.” Revista Veja, March 18, 2019.

[52] Aj Oliveira. 2019. 11 Mitos e Verdades Sobre a Base de Alcântara e o Acordo Com Os EUA. Revista Galileu. April 8, 2019.

[53] Brasil Assina Acordo Que Vai Liberar Uso Da Base de Alcântara Por EUA. O Globo. O Globo. March 18, 2019.

[54] Rubens Valente. 2018. FAB Quer Arrecadar R$ 140 Milhões Ao Ano Com “aluguel” Da Base de Alcântara. 2018.

[55] Jair Bolsonaro, Twitter post, March 2019, 7:21 p.m.,

[56] Eler. “Por Que Alcântara é Um Lugar Estratégico Para Lançar Foguetes e Satélites.” Super Interessante, March 19, 2019.

[57]Alexandre Rodrigues. 2015. Qual é o Problema Do Programa Espacial Brasileiro? Revista Galileu. January 7, 2015.

[58] Marcos Cesar Pontes. 2019. Conhecendo o Acordo de Salvaguardas: Brasil e Estados Unidos. Força Espacial Brasileira. 2019.

[59] ASCOM. “Ministro diz que acordo de Alcântara traz desenvolvimento e resguarda soberania”. Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovações, March.

[60] Santana and Liendo, “Relações Internacionais e Direito Espacial no século XXI: mudanças normativas e institucionais em fase de incubação”.

[61] Ibid.. p.148.

[62] Santana and Liendo, “Relações Internacionais e Direito Espacial no século XXI: mudanças normativas e institucionais em fase de incubação”.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Zissis. “China’s Anti-Satellite Test.” Council on Foreign Relations, 2007.

[65] Santana and  Liendo, “Relações Internacionais e Direito Espacial no século XXI: mudanças normativas e institucionais em fase de incubação”.

[66] Sanjeev Miglani and Krishna Das. 2019. “Modi Hails India as Military Space Power after Anti-Satellite Missile Test”. Reuters. 2019.

[67] Eler. “Por Que Alcântara é Um Lugar Estratégico Para Lançar Foguetes e Satélites”.