NATO Is Poised to Expand Its Remit to Include Outer Space

(Bloomberg) -- The North Atlantic Treaty Organization plans to widen its remit to include outer space as the alliance anticipates new security threats.

NATO intends to make space an “operational domain” along with air, land, sea and cyber, according to Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

The move, to be approved at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers on Wednesday, would bring all five areas within the scope of the alliance’s collective-defense commitment and comes as member countries seek to address fresh internal political splits.

“Space is of great importance for our civilian societies and for any military operation,” Stoltenberg told reporters Tuesday in Brussels. “It’s about communications, it’s about navigation, it’s about data imagery. Space is essential for almost everything we do.”

NATO is seeking to adapt to new external challenges as its leaders prepare to meet in London Dec. 3-4 to mark the 70th anniversary of the alliance’s founding.

Already shaken by U.S. President Donald Trump’s vocal demands for European allies to spend more on defense, the 29-member NATO is grappling with internal political tensions over a Turkish incursion into northern Syria last month to challenge Kurdish forces.

Turkey, which has NATO’s second-biggest army after the U.S., received Trump’s approval for the military operation that European countries including France and Germany oppose. That prompted French President Emmanuel Macron to say a lack of strategic cooperation among NATO members showed the alliance was suffering a “brain death” -- a remark that irritated many countries in the U.S.-dominated alliance.

“We firmly disagree with President Macron’s assessment,” U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison told reporters Tuesday in the Belgian capital. “NATO is absolutely essential if we are going to assess the risks that we face altogether.”

Stoltenberg said that he will travel to Paris next week for talks with Macron, who has pushed for greater European defense-policy clout. Stoltenberg echoed German arguments that European military initiatives must complement NATO rather than compete with it.

“We need more European efforts on defense, but not as an alternative, not as something that is replacing NATO,” Stoltenberg said.

He called NATO’s plan to integrate space into the alliance’s operations a “defensive” step, saying it would be a “clear sign that we continue to strengthen our deterrence and defense.” Stoltenberg said NATO has no intention of putting weapons in space.

At their meeting on Wednesday, NATO foreign ministers are also due to discuss:

  • the latest European efforts to foot more of the common security bill
  • anti-terrorist actions
  • hybrid threats
  • Russia
  • China (which is the focus of a new confidential NATO report)
  • arms control
  • energy security

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