An important visit to France began on Wednesday 23 June, at least for the interests of France in the field of space defense. That of the head of the US military space command, General James H. Dickinson, who was to stay two days in Paris. On the program, this high-ranking officer must in particular exchange with his French counterpart, the air division general Michel Friedling, at the head of the space command, and with the minister of the armies, Florence Parly.
For the first trip to France of this American official since the election of President Joe Biden, several files are on the table. General challenge for Paris: to deepen its cooperation with the United States, which remains a leader in civil and military space, and the only ones to have a relatively global vision of what is happening beyond the atmospheric layer. France, for its part, is often considered by the Americans as their “most capable” ally in this area.
General Dickinson’s trip was thus to be marked on Wednesday by the biannual meeting of Combined Space Operations (CSpO). A multilateral forum – organized remotely – which France joined in 2020, where major decisions on space defense are being sketched out. In addition to France, the CSpO brings together Germany and the “Five Eyes” (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States). Main topic of discussion this Wednesday: the standards of “responsible behavior” in space.
This subject is of particular concern to the United States, like France, while more and more behaviors deemed irresponsible, even hostile, are observed in space. These include espionage maneuvers by interposed satellite. Only a very small number are made public, however, as there is no precise definition of what these maneuvers cover, and not all countries have the technical capacity to spot them.
A number of countries, including France, would therefore like “Further specify certain situations”, explains General Friedling. If, for example, there is a consensus to limit debris in space, nothing precisely frames it. The same goes for “proximity” maneuvers between satellites, potentially for espionage purposes: these are generally denounced, but how to define a safety distance? “If we define a perimeter, we can be in contradiction with international law which defends the principle of non-appropriation of space, continues the general. It is as much a technical as a legal debate. “
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