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S+F, Volume 38 (2020), Issue 1, ISSN: 0175-274X, ISSN online: 0175-274x, https://doi.org/10.5771/0175-274X-2020-1-5

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S+F (38� Jg�) 1/2020 | 5 Sönnichsen/Lambach, A Developing Arms Race in Outer Space? | T H E M E N S C H W E R P U N K T DOI: 10�5771/0175-274X-2020-1-5 1. Introduction Recent years have witnessed a boom in human activity in space and in the development of space related technologies. This includes, among other trends, ‘NewSpace’ industries which have significantly cut launch costs, the widespread deployment of microsatellites, space activities by nations who are relative newcomers to the ‘space club’, the prospective inauguration of a Space Force as an independent branch of the United States military, and much more. These developments have raised worries of a ‘new space race’ (Pekkanen, 2019), a new iteration of the original space race of the 1950s and 1960s which was marked by the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. Such fears of a renewed geopolitical competition for space are very likely overblown, at least over the short and medium term. The original space race represented two major powers directing huge resources towards science and research in order to outdo the other. But the situation today is more complex and less obviously conflictual than during the Cold War. Today, the main space faring actors – the United States, China, Russia, India, several European countries under the umbrella of the European Space Agency, Canada, and Japan – cooperate in many areas even as they strive for national prestige in space. Furthermore, near Earth space is witnessing a veritable ‘Gold Rush’ (Pelton, 2017) of commercial exploitation. With satellite communications as a backbone of globalization, states are entangled in a web of interdependencies. In short, there are significant benefits for everyone not to disrupt human activity in space. However, this general alignment of interests does not preclude the possibility of arms races. As human activity in space increases, so does the need for governance and conflict management in ‘space safety’ fields like space traffic management, space situational awareness, debris mitigation etc. Unfortunately, ‘hard security’ issues are mostly absent from multilateral deliberations on outer space, leaving each state to forge its own policy with little coordination and trust building among space faring nations. This is partly due to the institutional architecture of outer space governance (OSG) which only provides a thin layer of regulation (Hertzfeld, Weeden, & Johnson, 2016). The security related language in the so called ‘Five Treaties’1 mostly consists of normative exhortations with few concrete rules or enforcement mechanisms. As a result, the present system of OSG is ill equipped to prevent or contain arms races. Alternative institutions are also ineffective. The proposed Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) Treaty is in limbo at the UN Conference on Disarmament, while initiatives like the European Union’s International Code of Conduct for outer space activities (ICoC) and Russia’s and China’s PPWT (Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects) are also not getting much buy in (Gindullis, 2016). This is all the more problematic since space powers are renewing a securitized view of space (Peoples, 2011).2 The increase in national space capabilities among major space powers is exacerbating these tensions (Handberg, 2018). Three factors in particular increase escalation risks. First, the relevant treaties do not prohibit the placement of non nuclear arms in space. Also, there is no agreement about what constitutes ‘arms’ in space. Second, states are increasingly reliant on space assets, but these assets are highly vulnerable to disruption and attack. We see the renewed interest in Anti Satellite Weapons (ASAT) as evidence of this (see Section 2.2). Third, there is widespread agreement that space assets are inherently dual use in nature which makes their regulation more difficult, inevitably securitizing many otherwise innocuous debates. This raises questions of what may constitute legitimate defence against real or perceived threats (Chow, 2017). Although we are sceptical of the merits of these claims, there is no denying that this represents an established frame among defence communities and is affecting actors’ behaviour accordingly. 1 The major treaty is the Outer Space Treaty (OST) of 1967. Further treaties are the Rescue Agreement of 1968, the Space Liability Convention of 1972, the Registration Convention of 1976, and finally the Moon Treaty of 1979 which has not been ratified by major space faring countries. 2 We understand securitization (treating outer space as an asset for or threat to national security), militarization (viewing outer space in terms of military risks) or weaponization (deploying arms or parts of military systems in outer space) of outer space as different elements on a spectrum of a ‘securitized view of outer space’. A Developing Arms Race in Outer Space? De Constructing the Dynamics in the Field of Anti Satellite Weapons* Arne Sönnichsen, Daniel Lambach Abstract: Fears about the militarization of space are widespread. For example, the recent development of Anti Satellite (ASAT) capabilities by rising powers like China and India is often described as a technologically driven arms race. This article takes a social constructivist approach to deconstruct the dynamics of this supposed arms race. Using a case study of Mission Shakti, the 2019 Indian ASAT test, the conclusion is that the ASAT arms race is more complex than it seems at first glance. Most importantly, states seem less motivated by security gains but frequently make status seeking arguments. This offers possibilities for de securitizing outer space again. Keywords: Outer space, arms race, anti satellite weapons, militarization, science & technology studies Stichwörter: Weltraum, Rüstungswettlauf, Anti Satelliten Waffen, Militarisierung, Wissenschafts und Technologiestudien * This article has been double blind peer reviewed. The authors are grateful to Jürgen Altmann, Christian Reuter, the editorial team of S+F and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. SuF_01_20_Inhalt_3.Umbruch.indd 5 24.06.20 14:14 T H E M E N S C H W E R P U N K T  | Sönnichsen/Lambach, A Developing Arms Race in Outer Space? 6 | S+F (38� Jg�) 1/2020 ‘spacepower’ have been going on for decades (Bowen, 2019) as have discussions about the protection of space assets from aggression (Wolter, 2006). Yet, in spite of these historical continuities, recent moves seem to signal a shift in discourse and perception towards the possibility of warfare in space (Pavelec, 2012). However, it is not clear whether the build up of military assets for such scenarios is driven by genuine security concerns or whether it could also be interpreted as a symbolic move that underpins a nation’s claims for great power status. The ‘space club’ (Paikowsky, 2017) is now complementing the famed ‘nuclear club’ and is expanding beyond the ‘traditional’ space powers (Harding, 2013).3 2.2 Anti-Satellite Weapons (ASAT) and the Difficulties of Arms Control ASAT in itself is not a new technology but has been envisioned since the early days of man made objects in space (Bulkeley & Spinardi, 1986). Starting in the late 1950s, the US and the USSR developed the earliest ASAT systems using missiles or interceptor satellites launched either from the ground or (for the 1985 US test) from a fighter jet (see Fig. 1). Both countries also experimented with ground based lasers, masers and other high energy beams, as well as ‘killer satellites’ and co orbital battle stations, such as the Soviet 17F19DM Skif DM Polyus, but these systems never became operational. The earliest ASAT systems were mostly discontinued or mothballed at the end of the Cold War. But interest in counterspace capabilities was re invigorated by a study headed by then US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld which warned of a possible ‘space Pearl Harbor’ (Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization, 2001). In the wake of this and of the terrorist attacks of 2001, the Bush Administration withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002, allowing it to pursue counterspace capabilities again. ASAT capabilities have since been developed by other space powers. China had pursued ASAT capabilities since the 1960s and in January 2007 successfully destroyed a defunct weather satellite using a ground launched missile. This set off a series of tests by other nations. The US Navy destroyed a malfunctioning US spy satellite using a ship fired kinetic missile in February 2008. Since 2015, Russia has undertaken several flight tests of its PL 19 Nudol anti ballistic missile and anti satellite system between 2015 and 2018. China has reportedly conducted further tests 3 This process is in line with findings from recent research into status and prestige in international relations. See, e.g., Ward (2017). The aim of this article is to subject claims of arms races in outer space to critical scrutiny. Focusing on ‘Mission Shakti’, India’s first successful test of a kinetic ASAT system in March 2019, we ask whether this episode is evidence of a wider arms race in the field of ASAT weapons. We take a sceptical view of overly techno centric explanations of arms races. Indeed, many of the arguments summarized above boil down to assertions that new technologies will inevitably be weaponized. Instead, we argue that arms races dynamics are not solely determined by technological development but also by social dynamics. In line with most of Science & Technology Studies, we argue that the development, purpose and effects of technology are socially situated, and that arms races are therefore best understood through the interaction of technology and politics. Specifically, drawing on a Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) approach, we argue that anti satellite weapons are created not just, and maybe not even primarily, for national security purposes, but are also treated as symbols of national status and prestige. This is not to deny the possibility of escalation or the existence of security dilemmas in this field, but rather to probe how such dynamics emerge in sociotechnical assemblages of national security and what they imply for peace and security. 2. Arms Races and Arms Control in Space 2.1 Debates about the Militarization of Space The risks, benefits or even inevitability of militarization has always featured prominently in debates about outer space. In the 1950s and 1960s, the superpowers explored possibilities of stationing weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear arms, in orbit, and to develop anti satellite weapons. These options were foreclosed by the Outer Space Treaty (1967) and the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM, 1972), although the language of these two treaties is somewhat ambiguous (Peoples, 2011, pp. 78 79). But militarization has never been simply about placing arms in space (which is more properly referred to as the ‘weaponization’ of space), a costly and difficult prospect at the best of times. An easier way of militarizing space is not to treat it as a separate domain but to view it as an extension of earthbound military activity as NATO (2019) did recently. In many nations, space exploration and human spaceflight projects grew out of military programs and are evaluated, at least in part, according to their contributions to national defence and security. Space infrastructure is an integral part of the Revolution in Military Affairs, with satellites providing crucial intelligence, surveillance and communications capabilities. While space assets have been used in terrestrial warfare since the early days of spaceflight, Maogoto and Freeland (2007) consider the Gulf War (1990 91) to be the first ‘space war’, in which space assets contributed significantly to military success. But beyond this, there are renewed discussions about war in space, not just involving space. The recent move by the United States government to establish a Space Force has to be seen as an attempt to improve the US armed forces’ capabilities for in theatre action, as are similar projects by other nations. Discussions about Fig. 1: Successful ASAT tests (systems used/satellites targeted) SuF_01_20_Inhalt_3.Umbruch.indd 6 24.06.20 14:14 S+F (38� Jg�) 1/2020 | 7 Sönnichsen/Lambach, A Developing Arms Race in Outer Space? | T H E M E N S C H W E R P U N K T human activities and bodies of knowledge (Bijker, 1995, p. 231). Crucially, while SCOT foregrounds social processes, it does not view technology simply as a dependent variable of social processes. It acknowledges that technology follows developmental paths that are characterized by contingencies and critical junctures but argues that the design choices made along these trajectories are influenced by perceptions among key stakeholders and that research should problematize these processes and their social implications (Williams & Edge, 1996, p. 866). While a full recapitulation of SCOT is beyond the scope of this article (see Pinch & Bijker, 1984), we draw from it that the meaning of technology is never inherently obvious. In the process of intersubjective construction, multiple meanings can be attached to an artefact by relevant groups. In contrast, theories of arms races typically treat actors as single minded and focusing on security concerns and uncertainty about other states’ intentions (Tang, 2009). However, there is much research showing that political actors attach a multitude of meanings to space technologies, e.g. their effects on local economies and employment (the ‘space industry’ argument), or use them to suppress internal discord (Olbrich & Shim, 2017). For ASAT, we argue that states are not only motivated by security fears but also emphasize the symbolic and ideological value of ASAT capabilities. 4. Methodology To support our argument, we use ‘Mission Shakti’, the March 2019 test of an Indian ASAT system. We identified meanings attached to this technology in India and its regional competitors, China and Pakistan. We used publicly available commentary on the event from Indian, Chinese and Pakistani sources. Our search (using keywords like “ASAT”, “anti satellite” or “Shakti”) was focused on three main sources: a) official webpages of state institutions (e.g. the gov.pk domain), b) government affiliated Twitter accounts, c) Lexis Nexis for national press coverage and commentary by local analysts, supplemented by commentary from outside experts in the secondary literature. We then identified recurring discursive elements in justifications and explanations of the Indian ASAT program and classified those as primarily security or status seeking arguments. 5. Mission Shakti On 27 March 2019, India launched ‘Mission Shakti’ (‘power’), a ground launched interceptor missile which destroyed Microsat R via kinetic impact at an altitude of 283 km in Low Earth Orbit. Microsat R, an Indian earth observation satellite, had only been in orbit since 24 January 2019 and had likely been intended as a practice target from the beginning. The ASAT system was spun off from India’s ABM program and was developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the research branch of the armed forces. There are indications that the program received strong support from the Indian government and might have even been fast tracked (Lele, 2019b, pp. 12 13). From our analysis, we find three distinct objectives attached to the ASAT program in Indian political discourse. First, in line with of more advanced systems capable of reaching higher altitudes. Most recently, in March 2019, India successfully tested its ASAT system (‘Mission Shakti’, see below) (Weeden & Samson, 2019). In total, it seems appropriate to speak of an ASAT arms race, where states view ASAT as a useful deterrent against enemies targeting a nation’s space assets. However, there are two ways in which this arms race is more complex than it seems: first, relationships within the arms race are not always reciprocal. For instance, while India justifies its ASAT program by pointing to the relative space superiority of China, China seems mostly unconcerned about this, referring to the United States as its main competitor instead. Second, the escalatory dynamic of ASAT technologies is complex. States seem more worried by the scenario that a competitor uses technological capabilities acquired through ASAT to advance its ABM program than by the ASAT program itself. Beyond these dedicated systems, there are other means for counterspace operations, such as cyber warfare (Neuneck & Rothkirch, 2006, pp. 26 32; Rajagopalan, 2019). Since recently, defence communities are discussing the possibility of using satellites to target space assets by placing them on collision courses, or otherwise sabotaging or disabling other satellites through On Orbit Servicing technology since they carry the same kinetic energy as a dedicated Kinetic Kill Vehicle (Chow, 2017). This alerts us to the fundamental definitional problems for arms control in outer space: Should ‘arms’ include space based assets that are integrated into Earth based systems, such as satellites providing guidance for drones, or should it be restricted to systems that target objects in space? Does it make sense to restrict the definition to assets which are explicitly designed as weapons? Such questions are difficult to resolve and we cannot provide an answer here. But in the absence of international consensus, it is noticeable that states mainly rehash discussions, going back to the 1950s, about what constitutes legitimate defence (Brandau, 2015). 3. The Social Construction of Arms Races Arms races are not a technologically induced inevitability but are just as much socio politically driven. The basic formulation of an arms race sometimes glosses over this part of the equation: if nation A develops capability Z, then nation B is under pressure to also develop capability Z so as not to be at a strategic disadvantage. But nation B is only under pressure to develop capability Z if it sees nation A as a threat. Evidently, arms races are not just driven by ‘hard’ factors like security, economy and technology, but are also shaped by such ‘soft’ factors as perceptions, narratives and identity constructions. Of course, without technological development, qualitative arms races would be an impossibility – national rivalries would play out in other ways, or in purely quantitative terms. Technological shifts force states to re evaluate and clarify their relationship and to provide important touchstones for conflict or cooperation. To make sense of this interplay of technology and politics, we use the SCOT approach as an inspiration. The core premise of SCOT is that the meaning, use and impact of technology are socially constructed. It takes a broad view of technology, looking not only at physical artefacts but also at ‘social techniques’ and how such technologies are embedded into SuF_01_20_Inhalt_3.Umbruch.indd 7 24.06.20 14:14 T H E M E N S C H W E R P U N K T  | Sönnichsen/Lambach, A Developing Arms Race in Outer Space? 8 | S+F (38� Jg�) 1/2020 the political capital generated by the test to push for institutional reforms in the military, such as the creation of a Defence Space Agency (DSA) to command all space assets formerly attached to India’s army, navy and air force, as well as the development of a space doctrine to govern the use of its newly developed assets (Lele, 2019a; Gupta, 2019). In July 2019, the Indian armed forces held its first space warfare exercise (IndSpaceEx), a table top wargame involving all branches of the military. The second and third objective show how arms technology can be a symbolic and political resource for governments. Also, they are not incompatible with the first aim of deterring Chinese aggression. But Mission Shakti is not a clear cut case of arms race escalation: there is very little evidence that other states, especially India’s regional rivals Pakistan and China, perceive this as a particularly threatening move. China gave no official statement on the test at all. Semi official commentary in the state controlled press was more critical of IndSpaceEx and the creation of space debris rather than India having ASAT capabilities (Weijia, 2019; Global Times, 2019). Pakistani government officials decried risks to regional stability in abstract terms and highlighted the domestic interests of Prime Minister Modi, who faced political pressure for his handling of conflict in the contested region of Jammu and Kashmir. But there were no calls for Pakistan to develop similar capabilities (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2019; Jaspal, 2019). This may be conditioned by Pakistan’s general lack of space expertise compared to India, but even taking that into account, the official statements did not evoke a sense of threat. Instead, China and Pakistan seemed to understand that India was mainly or partly playing a status game and their comments were aimed at undercutting the status narratives that Indian officials had put forward, often referring to the creation of space debris, quoting Bridenstine’s critique, or insinuating that the ASAT test was only made possible by technology transferred from the United States. In conclusion, while Mission Shakti might look like another step in a typical arms race, the picture seems to be more complex than that. The security angle is only one within a complex and entangled set of aims and aspirations by key actors in India, and international responses back up this interpretation. The government is also keen to present itself as a modern, responsible member of the space club – a step foreshadowed for quite some time (Aliberti, 2018). The ASAT test, the DSA and the space doctrine represent a continuation of this strategy. 6. Conclusion In our introduction we indicated widespread worries about a potential new space race. At face value, the recent Indian ASAT test seems like a milestone to further militarization in a space arms race. In brief, we find that there may be an ASAT arms race but that its risks of escalation are lower than might be expected. Our findings indicate that states do not develop space weapons only, and maybe not even mainly, to seek security in space – and crucially, they also interpret a rival’s behavior in terms of both security and status seeking. Generalizing from the Indian case, we argue that status seeking and the symbolic capital of being a member of the space club are a goal in themselves and that space faring nations pursue these goals through the development an arms race explanation, there are indications that India was genuinely worried about its strategic disadvantage vis à vis China (Lele, 2019b; Tellis, 2019). India and China have a history of conflict, and Indian space assets were vulnerable to Chinese ASAT after the latter’s 2007 test. Hence, one of Mission Shakti’s aims was to ‘establish credible space deterrence against China’ (Davis, 2019). The BJP, the governing party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, tweeted ‘India now has the capability to shoot down any satellite that may pose a threat to its security in lower orbit’ (BJP4India, 2019 March 27a). In contrast, Pakistan did not feature much in the Indian decision due to its lack of comparable space capabilities. Second, ASAT is also, maybe even predominantly, about enhancing India’s status as a global power. The grand strategy of the Hindu nationalist government is ‘driven by the pursuit of national strength and international prestige […] to restore India’s civilizational glory and rightfully secure the country a more prominent place in the international system’ (Rej & Sagar, 2019, p. 73), and ASAT is portrayed as symbolic capital in evidence of that fact. It is repeatedly stressed that India is only the fourth country globally to acquire ASAT capabilities. PM Modi himself claimed that the successful test was proof that India has now ‘entered the elite club of space power’ (narendramodi_in, 2019, March 31). Government representatives point out that the effort was completely indigenous and developed solely by Indian scientists, thereby underscoring further the nationalist narrative (narendramodi, 2019, March 27). This also ties in with a long standing aim of successive governments to ‘indigenise’ Indian defence procurement (Pardesi & Matthews, 2007). In addition, India is keen to portray itself as a responsible power, highlighting the very low altitude of the target and the head on approach of the kinetic interceptor missile to minimize debris creation. If a space object is hit at an angle, debris is propelled into higher orbits, threatening other objects. Furthermore, these fragments take longer to re enter and burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere. But independent analysts conclude that the impact was not precisely head on and launched fragments into much higher altitudes, some even above the orbital band of the International Space Station (~410 km) (Akhmetov, Savanevych, & Dikov, 2019). NASA Chief Administrator Jim Bridenstine said that creating debris was a ‘terrible, terrible thing [and] not compatible with the future of human spaceflight’ (Foust, 2019), referring to an emerging global norm against ‘unsafe’ ASAT tests. Some commentators think that the relatively rapid development of the ASAT system was at least partly driven by a wish to establish ASAT capability before such tests are regulated or banned (Davis, 2019) – a situation that India already experienced with the Non Proliferation Treaty (Weeden & Samson, 2019, section 6 2). Third, the ASAT test also had a domestic politics angle. Some opposition parties framed the mission as a political stunt ahead of the national elections in April 2019, a narrative that is also picked up by Chinese and Pakistani commentators. An opposition newspaper criticized Modi for claiming credit for a technology developed by DRDO scientists, whose budget he had previously cut, in a program that was started by his predecessor Manmohan Singh in 2012 (National Herald, 2019). In response, the BJP accused the previous government of dragging its feet on several weapons programs, including the ASAT system, while it was in office (BJP4India, 2019, March 27b). The government also uses SuF_01_20_Inhalt_3.Umbruch.indd 8 24.06.20 14:14 S+F (38� Jg�) 1/2020 | 9 Sönnichsen/Lambach, A Developing Arms Race in Outer Space? | T H E M E N S C H W E R P U N K T Gindullis, M. (2016). Is the European Initiative for an International Code of Conduct the right Step forward for Conflict Prevention in Outer Space? 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Other possibilities include the development of norms and protocols for remote proximity operations, i.e. emerging technologies for controlled rendezvous between space objects, so as to defuse fears of sabotage and damage by other satellites. 7. References Akhmetov, V., Savanevych, V., & Dikov, E. (2019). Analysis of the Indian ASAT test on 27 March 2019. arXiv. doi:arXiv:1905.09659 Aliberti, M. (2018). India in Space: Between Utility and Geopolitics. Cham: Springer. Bijker, W. E. (1995). Sociohistorical Technology Studies. In S. Jasanoff, G. E. Markle, J. C. Petersen, & T. Pinch (Eds.), Handbook of Science and Technology Studies (pp. 229 256). Thousand Oaks: Sage. BJP4India (2019, March 27a). This is how the Anti Satellite Missile works. India now has the capability to shoot down any satellite that may pose a threat to its security in lower orbit. #MissionShakti [Tweet]. https://twitter.com/BJP4India/ status/1110861171916038149. BJP4India (2019, March 27b). 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Report of the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization. http://www.dod.gov/pubs/space20010111.html. Davis, M. (2019, 29 March 2019). Will India’s anti satellite weapon test spark an arms race in space? ASPI Strategist. https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/will indias anti satellite weapon test spark an arms race in space/. Foust, J. (2019). NASA warns Indian anti satellite test increased debris risk to ISS. SpaceNews. https://spacenews.com/nasa warns indian anti satellite test increased debris risk to iss/. Arne Sönnichsen (M.A.) is Research Associate at the Chair of International Politics and Development at the University of Duisburg Essen. His PhD project is about New Technologies and Governance in Outer Space, and he is a member of the research network ‘Security and Technology in Outer Space’. Daniel Lambach (PD Dr.) is a Heisenberg Fellow at the Research Unit Normative Orders, Goethe Universität Frankfurt, and a Privatdozent at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Universität Duisburg Essen. He is the coordinator of the research network ‘Security and Technology in Outer Space’. SuF_01_20_Inhalt_3.Umbruch.indd 9 24.06.20 14:14

Abstract

Fears about the militarization of space are widespread. For example, the recent development of Anti-Satellite (ASAT) capabilities by rising powers like China and India is often described as a technologically driven arms race. This article takes a social constructivist approach to deconstruct the dynamics of this supposed arms race. Using a case study of Mission Shakti, the 2019 Indian ASAT test, the conclusion is that the ASAT arms race is more complex than it seems at first glance. Most importantly, states seem less motivated by security gains but frequently make status-seeking arguments. This offers possibilities for de-securitizing outer space again.

References
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Abstract

S+F (Security and Peace) is the leading German journal for peace research and security policy. S+F aims to serve as a forum linking civil society and the armed forces in the areas of science and politics comprising of research analysis, insider reports and opinion pieces. Decisions on publication are made on the basis of the contribution made by a text to national and international discussions on peace and security issues; from scientific aspects of arms control, to questions of nation-building in post-war societies. Every issue of S+F is focussed on a particular theme. In addition to contributions devoted to the central theme, texts addressing general aspects of peace and security research are also published. Contributors can choose whether to have the text evaluated by the editorial team or by way of an external evaluation process (double-blind peer-review).

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