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Facing Off in Space

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This article is a book review of Anti-satellite Weapons, Deterrence and Sino-American Space Relations, Michael Krepon and Julia Thompson, eds.(Stimson Center, 2013). Deterrence is a big word. It is a word full of meaning, or rather, meanings, which differ subtly, or sometimes, not so subtly. Entire forests have been felled since the beginning of the nuclear age in the study of deterrence theory, and nonetheless, disagreements among the priesthood of nuclear scholars, strategists, and analysts about what exactly constitutes deterrence—and whether it worked during the Cold War or will continue to work—remain. Indeed, as the international community begins to re-engage in a more urgent way on the issue of nuclear disarmament, there is a growing school of thought that deterrence theory, like the emperor, has no clothes. Therefore, one must applaud the courage of the authors who provided essays for this volume in attempting to migrate concepts of deterrence elucidated in the nuclear arena to the space (and cyber) domain. It is by no means, as it may seem, a straightforward exercise. To complicate matters even more, the volume looks at the issue of space deterrence with a particular lens on Sino-American relations. Considering what (relatively little) is known for certain about Chinese strategic thinking in both the nuclear and space spheres and how much of what we do know differs from traditional US thinking, and taking into account China’s manifest efforts to build up its own military space capabilities, the authors undertake an extremely daunting task.

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