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Developing National Power in Space: A Theoretical Model

Developing National Power in Space: A Theoretical Model by Brent Ziarnick. McFarland, 2015, 268 pp. 

As we move further into the twenty-first century, space continues to play an increasingly significant role in the world. Among its myriad applications, space is instrumental to global communications, transportation, weather prediction, business, and military operations. For the past 60 years, the United States has enjoyed its position as the world's preeminent space power, sending men to the moon, launching satellites to the farthest depths of the solar system, and dominating the modern battlefield with space technology. However, other nations such as China are rapidly expanding their national space power, and the United States, while still strong, is losing ground.

In Developing National Power in Space: A Theoretical Model, author Brent Ziarnick, an instructor at the US Air Force's Space Education and Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and an award-winning writer on military space issues, intricately details a military-type strategic theory for a nation's space program. He does so by analyzing the significant characteristics of national space programs and examining how nations can maximize their political, economic, and military advantages gained from space operations. Through his strong grasp of military and economic theory, Ziarnick lays out a General Theory of Space Power, which he asserts can guide the United States in developing its national space power and maintaining its leading position in the world.

Ziarnick's General Theory of Space Power is impressive in both its scope and predictive ability. Indeed, his unique theory is comprehensive across all forms of space activity, including commercial, civil, political, and military. The universality of the theory means that any space professional or enthusiast who reads this book will gain a better understanding and appreciation of the interconnectedness of these diverse areas. For example, space enthusiasts who typically focus on space-related current events or science fiction will learn about classic military and economic theories as applied to space, as well as strategic lessons for space power development derived from military history. Military professionals will be exposed to the presently unfamiliar territory of interstellar flight and a future Deep Space Force.

Ziarnick also uses his theory to analyze both the successes and failures of past and present space program organization and activities, as well as to describe preferred future actions for aspiring space powers. In particular, he draws many insightful parallels between the current American situation in space and the rise of US naval power in the early twentieth century, claiming that the United States’ space power innovation will not happen overnight and will need to be a deliberate, long-term process. Thus, Developing National Power in Space is a valuable tool in understanding space power in both its applications and historical context.

Ziarnick is quite adept at describing problems with the division of America's current space program between civilian and military sectors and its concentration on mission-based rather than capability-based development. Not surprisingly, he is especially critical of the so-called von Braunian vision of space--a government-led, mission-oriented approach meant to devote the space program to one overarching objective, such as NASA's Apollo program to send men to the moon. With his practical approach to space power development, he is perhaps a bit too harsh in his criticism of knowledge gained via science and exploration as an end unto itself. Although such basic space research may not be a direct goal of national space power, it does play an important role in motivating future scientists and engineers to pursue careers in the space industry, helping us understand our place in the universe and developing new technologies inherently required to carry out far-reaching science and exploration missions.

Nevertheless, Ziarnick is quite successful in detailing a compelling vision for the American space program's future via his unique space power theory. Although the purely theoretical sections can at times be pedantic, the author provides many meaningful examples to illustrate his theory's main tenets, and his commentary on America's past and present space development problems and the recommended solutions are particularly engaging. Ziarnick writes with a sense of urgency and warning, clearly detailing the importance of setting the American space program on the right path for the future.

By discussing an extensive range of space development issues from the commercial, civil, political, and military perspectives and tying them into a General Theory of Space Power, Ziarnick offers excellent insights into synthesizing the efforts of these distinct space communities. Therefore, Developing National Power in Space should appeal to any space professional, enthusiast, policy maker, or planner interested in developing a wider comprehension of national space power and determining how a nation's space assets can be applied towards a unified vision.

1st Lt Keegan S. McCoy, USAF
Vandenberg AFB, California


"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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