chapter  3
28 Pages

Cutting the Umbilical Cord: Transatlantic Competition in the Field of Space Transportation

This chapter investigates the causal mechanism of transatlantic competition in the field of space transportation from the mid-1960s to the present. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the US controlled the access of almost all the payloads of Western states to orbits. When the US was confronted with the European determination to develop an independent satellite launcher, it tried to dissuade Europe by promising to launch European scientific payloads. For the US, the European acquisition of an independent launch vehicle would not only undermine US interests in space control, but also raise the problem of nuclear proliferation, because the technologies of satellite launchers are quite similar to those of ballistic missiles. For Europe, the proviso of US launch services that stipulated the functions of European satellites rendered the US promise of launching European payloads unattractive. Besides, US control over European access to space was deemed an infringement upon European political autonomy and a major impediment to European strategic interests. By the mid-1970s, Europe and the US respectively had embarked on their

major launcher programs, namely, the Ariane launcher and the STS (i.e. the space transportation system of the Space Shuttle fleet). Both programs were government-directed and government-funded enterprises (Johnson 2002b: 269). Europe and the US regarded each other’s program as detrimental to their own strategic interests. The US had devoted enormous resources to the STS to making it an effective and cheap means for routine access to space, and was reluctant to see a competing launcher system being developed by its European allies (McCurdy 1990: 101). In addition, the US worried that European launcher technologies might be leaked to antagonistic actors. Europe’s decision to develop an independent satellite launcher resulted from a

combination of three major considerations. The first was Europe’s grievance over the strict US stipulation on European satellites to perform only scientific or experimental functions and have no commercial or other applications. The second consideration was Europe’s misgivings over the limitations of the US

STS such as its access to only LEO. Third, Europe worried that the US might deny the provision of launch services at any time (i.e. uncertainty about US intention and fear about US unilateral predisposition). In fact, a reliable, flexible, and independent access to space constituted the prerequisite for Europe to pursue all aspects of its civil, commercial, and military interests from space exploitation (Launius 2002b: 1). Europe would be severely incapacitated in space if it continuously depended on the US launch services. The European Ariane launcher was detached from the umbilical cord of its

launch pad on 24 December 1979. This launch was the first successful test of the independent European launch vehicle. This successful launch of Ariane simultaneously cut the European umbilical cord of dependence on US launch services. After three decades of the managerial and technical reliability of the Ariane launcher series (i.e. from Ariane 1 to Ariane 5), Europe not only ensured its own independent access to space and freedom of space activities, but also removed US control over its strategic interests. In order to regain competitive advantage over the European Ariane launcher, the US modified its strategy from the full use of the STS to upgrading its obsolete expendable launch vehicles (ELVs) after the disaster of the Space Shuttle Challenger accident of 1986. This modification showed that Europe was now considered a major competitor to the US in the field of space transportation. I argue in this chapter that the flexible balance of internal/domestic and

foreign policy interests determined the US and Europe’s adoption of competitive strategies in the field of space transportation. The transatlantic security community did not make transatlantic competition for relative gains less necessary. European and US practice in this case seemed more consistent with the realist expectation that they emphasized relative gains (i.e. the competitiveness of their launch vehicles) regardless of the other’s interests. Europe and the US worried that the disadvantageous gains in this field would lead to their technological dependence and political vulnerability, and provide opportunities for the other, even though they were an ally, to constrain their strategy options or exercise leverage over their behavior in other policy domains (Mastanduno 1991; Keohane and Nye 2001). As a result, the US endeavored to maintain its monopoly and control over European access to space with a strict proviso on the functions of European payloads, while Europe struggled for independent access to space in order to remove the US control over its interests and gain competitive advantage over US launch vehicles. Europe strived to strengthen its own launch capability, and the US responded in kind. Their unilateral action that aimed at maximizing relative gains in the field of space transportation shaped an interest configuration similar to the security dilemma, which resulted in an intensified transatlantic competition. This chapter proceeds in four sections. The first section discusses the develop-

ment of the US launch vehicles, including its early-date ELVs, the Space Shuttle, and the upgraded ELVs after the Space Shuttle Challenger accident. This section explains the US preference for maintaining its monopoly in the field of space transportation and preventing its launcher development enjoying

foreign participation lest its sensitive technologies were leaked to antagonistic actors. The second section discusses the origin and development of the European Ariane launcher series. This section identifies Europe’s preferences of pursuing independent access to space with the advancement of its technological capabilities and managerial skills in order to remove US control over its strategic interests. The third section elaborates on the essence of transatlantic competition in the field of space transportation and provides several theoretically related observations that facilitate the evaluation of the validity of different IR theories. Finally, the fourth section evaluates the validity of IR theoretical explanations with the findings of this case study.