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Tomorrow’s world

Russia steps closer to a space war

The International Space Station

The US relies on satellites more than any other nation on Earth, says Brandon Weichert in Asia Times. Not only are satellites key for modern communications, they’re critical in military operations. President Biden’s administration last week briefed Nato members about the imminence of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. They should also be looking up.

Russia has just fired an anti-satellite weapon at one of its own defunct spy satellites, creating a debris field so large that the seven astronauts on the International Space Station – including two Russians – had to shelter in their capsules in case the station collided with the “space junk”. Russia’s military build-up near Ukraine and these orbital high jinks “are not separate”.

In space, the US has more to lose than any other country – and the Kremlin knows it. This explains why Russia began a rapid military modernisation in 2010, reorganising its forces to better fight a space war. And the US is now in a quandary. Failure to respond with at least an in-kind demonstration in orbit would lead President Putin to conclude that they can have their way with Ukraine. And it would reinforce Russian and Chinese claims “that the United States is a great power in terminal decline”.

Should we re-engineer the planet?

The world failed miserably to take decisive action at the Cop26 climate summit, says Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times, so the prospect of risky “geoengineering” seems increasingly likely. One idea popular among credible scientists is to direct sunlight away from the planet by using giant planes to inject tiny reflective particles into the stratosphere. Another is to “refreeze the Arctic” by spraying seawater into the air from remote-controlled ships, creating more white-cloud cover to cool the ocean.

Wild schemes such as these involve “big risks”: air pollution, for example, or unanticipated effects on the climate. But the bigger risk may be to continue to rely on global climate talks. The US and China have “the power, arrogance and resources” to put these untried ideas into practice, but they wouldn’t dare do it alone. As for teaming up, there’s little mutual trust between Beijing and Washington. Yet desperate times “may call for desperate measures”.