By Léa Glaenzer, Pallas Foundation Fellow
4 December 2023
In October, the Pallas Foundation facilitated a candid conversation over dinner with a variety of guests in the space sector, including participants from government, nonprofit, industry, and venture capital. The goal was to discuss the forthcoming Department of Defense Commercial Space Integration Strategy.
I didn't expect to take a seat at the table with senior leaders across the national security space policy and technology community so early in my career. I was granted the opportunity by the Pallas Foundation Fellowship, created by Sally Donnelly and Tony DeMartino, which empowers future leaders in national security to participate in such high-level events. As the starry-eyed dinner guest (no pun intended), I had the privilege of experiencing firsthand the dynamic discussion on how to ensure the U.S. continues to lead in space. Three key lessons stood out as takeaways:
First, space technology will become increasingly essential to geopolitical dominance. The motivating force behind the space race of the 1960’s was an adversary with rival capabilities, and we should bear that in mind when pursuing policies to protect U.S. leadership in space. Any distrust between commercial and government entities will hinder our space capabilities and global competitiveness. The U.S. cannot afford to lag behind in its utilization of commercial capabilities and allow near-peer adversaries to surpass them across technological areas. Smart policies will incentivize space companies to do business in the U.S., protect our innovative base, and maintain our edge in space on our global competitors.
Second, it is our own outdated bureaucratic processes that are holding back American greatness in the space domain. The time it takes our government to procure commercial technologies virtually guarantees that systems are a generation old by the time they're employed, and reducing redundancies in our processes to make decisions more quickly requires cooperation with industry. Even so, accepting a baseline of risk is necessary to engage with the commercial sector on technological innovation. The government should be encouraged to pursue partnerships with scale-up firms and view risk as an opportunity for intellectual curiosity. An acquisition policy that is mindful of this objective would make a difference.
Finally, information sharing is key to developing trust between the government and industry. The government lacks an understanding of how capital is deployed by private companies, while private industry lacks an understanding of how the government budget functions and flows. How the Department of Defense understands risk also depends on how companies articulate it. Reciprocally, ensuring that large companies see themselves as aligned with U.S. National Security interests is in our best interest. Increased information sharing between the two domains in space policy and technology would foster trust and lead to better outcomes.
Through conversations like these, the Pallas Foundation aims to bring a variety of perspectives to the table and facilitate more supportive and integrated policies for the space industry with an eye towards how they will affect geopolitics at large. In the end, all of these efforts contribute to the greater Pallas mission: creating a lasting positive impact on national security and helping prepare future leaders to tackle tomorrow’s hardest problems.
N.B. The event described was held under Chatham House rules; the above summary reflects the views of the author alone and does not imply endorsement by any other attendee.
Léa Glaenzer was a Pallas Foundation Fellow in fall 2023. She is a recent master’s graduate of George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, and previously worked at international NGO Search for Common Ground.