Peace Dividend in Indo-Pak Space Cooperation?

24 Sep, 1999    ·   265

Gaurev Rajen says increased co-operation between India and Pakistan in the use of space-based data could be one preventive device to offset conflict

Increased co-operation between India and Pakistan in the use of space-based data could be one preventive device to offset conflict. Farmers and fishing communities in Pakistan will benefit from such space co-operation. The data sharing will also assist both countries in dealing with storms and cyclones, such as the one that recently devastated parts of Pakistan ’s coast. Remember that at the height of the Cold War, space cooperation was one of the first steps towards peace between the United States and the Soviet Union


Joint measures


Missile non-proliferation goals can be met through joint co-operative measures. Achieving co-operation creates more transparency and eventually leads to greater predictability of the deployment status of missile systems. Intrusive on-site inspections are required. This needs a marked improvement in Indian and Pakistani relations. The sharing of space-based monitoring data for nuclear non-proliferation, environmental and natural resource uses could strengthen confidence and security allowing for more intrusive on-the-ground checks in the future.





The US has initiated programs to develop small satellite systems employing multi-spectral infra-red imaging techniques that can detect and monitor reactor cooling pond temperatures to estimate plutonium production rates. Such space-based multi-spectral imaging techniques can also detect undeclared production facilities and activities. Having lesser capabilities to duplicate such unilateral technical means, India and Pakistan could collaborate and link on-the-ground physical monitoring with satellite remote sensing to improve the resolution and analyses of space-based data. For example, by measuring the temperature of effluents of nuclear reactors, and sharing this data in near real-time using telemetry, India and Pakistan could continuously estimate facility power from thermal data and indirectly estimate the production of fissile material. (A first demonstration of the technologies required could occur between Bangladesh and India focused around the TRIGA Mark II research reactor operated by the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission.)



Such demonstrations of Nuclear Confidence Building Measures through Indian initiatives could be of value in the upcoming discussions in Geneva on the Fissile Materials Cutoff Treaty. With increasing resolution of space-based systems coupled with on-the- ground validation, substantial progress could be made on extracting facility power and production estimates from thermal signatures remotely sensed by satellites. Knowing the quantities of nuclear material being produced is a necessary first step in eventually limiting the amounts produced. Space co-operation will promote such projects.



Indian co-operation with other countries in sharing satellite-generated imagery is not new. In December 1997, India ’s Department of Space (DoS) and Department of Science and Technology (DST) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A similar tripartite MoU to further cooperation has been signed between NASA, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). 



Valuable Examples



Multilateral space co-operation has worked well in other regions of the world. In the Middle East , Arab countries co-operated successfully in the use of satellites and space technology for telecommunications, with ARABSAT being a valuable example. The United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) has used satellite imagery and space co-operation in attempts to strengthen the Middle East Peace Process. In another project, UNIDIR and the Co-operative Monitoring Center at Sandia National Laboratories in the USA hosted a workshop to study the potential uses of commercial satellite imagery for promoting peace and development in the Middle East . The participants explored three main areas where remote-sensing technologies might be employed: arms control, economic development, and environmental and natural resources. These ideas from the Middle East could be of great utility in promoting a South Asian peace process. 



The Pakistani Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) was started in 1961 with US assistance. SUPARCO is active in the use of satellite imagery for natural resource surveys. For example, scientists from SUPARCO have participated in international efforts to map wetlands in the Indus Delta. SUPARCO could benefit greatly through increased interaction with Indian space and remote sensing agencies. Such interactions would need sufficient precaution to prevent the transfer of any sensitive information. Indian agencies have significantly greater data gathering and analysis capabilities than their Pakistani counterparts. By voluntarily sharing data with Pakistan and other South Asian countries, India can unilaterally initiate greater regional co-operation in the use of satellite imagery for earth and atmospheric studies. In return, India can get better ground information for validation of data on a regional scale. 



Recently, India has acquired the capability to generate large streams of data on ocean resources with the successful launch of OCEANSAT. To be more cost-effective and have improved value, the analyses of some of this data could occur co-operatively by India and Pakistan especially for their shared ecosystems in the Arabian Sea



Co-operation in the use of space- based data for weather forecasts, joint surveillance of natural resources, such as of the oceans, and for verifying nuclear non-proliferation goals could lead to peace in South Asia . Utilizing space technologies for deploying systems such as Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles makes war more likely and reduces the effectiveness of Indian conventional deterrence.