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NATO set to approve German space center amid concern over Russian, Chinese moves

Jens Stoltenberg speaks at the Nordic Council Session 2010. (Magnus Fröderberg/Nordic Co-operation/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

NATO defense ministers are expected to agree this week on setting up a space center in southwestern Germany amid concerns about what the Western military alliance sees as increasingly aggressive behavior by Russia and China.

Ahead of the two-day meeting staring on October 22, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the new space center is to be set up in Ramstein, an air base close to the French border, to help manage satellite communications and the alliance’s military operations around the world.

“NATO continues to adapt in all domains, including in space, which is becoming more crowded and competitive every year. Some nations — including Russia and China — are developing systems which could blind, disable, or shoot down satellites,” Stoltenberg said.

Some 2,000 satellites orbit the Earth, more than half of which are operated by NATO members, allowing everything from mobile phone services to weather forecasts.

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Currently, at least 40 percent of NATO’s communications are via satellite.

“Space is essential for our ability to navigate, communicate, and detect missile launches. And fast, effective, and secure satellite communications are vital for our troops,” Stoltenberg said, insisting that the allies’ aim “is not to militarize space, but to increase NATO’s awareness of challenges in space, and our ability to deal with them.”

NATO allies have been increasingly concerned about attacks using anti-satellite weapons kilometers above the Earth that could wreak havoc below and leave dangerous debris adrift in space.

In December, members of the alliance recognized space as a fifth domain of operations in which it must defend itself as effectively as it does in the air, on land, at sea, and in cyberspace.

The NATO defense ministers are also expected to address on October 22 what Stoltenberg called “the Russian missile challenge, which is growing in scale and complexity.”

“Allies have already agreed a balanced package of political and military measures. Work is ongoing to improve our air and missile defenses to strengthen our conventional capabilities,” he said.

The United States and Russia have not yet finalized a deal to extend their last major arms-control treaty, New START, which is due to expire in February.

The United States and its allies have accused Russia of violating the now-defunct Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) between Moscow and Washington.

Washington has also unilaterally exited Open Skies, a treaty that permits the United States and Russia to conduct reconnaissance flights over each others territory.