President Trump’s directive to establish a new branch of the United States Military tasked specifically with orbital defense is not without controversy within the United States, but some of the most interesting responses to this initiative have come from foreign competitors. Russia, in particular, has been particularly vocal in their condemnation of an American Space Force, immediately postulating that such an enterprise could only mean the placement of nuclear weapons in orbit — a clear violation of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty banning such activity.
In June, Viktor Bondarev, the head of the Russian Federation Council’s Defense and Security Committee, had this to say about America’s pursuit of a space-specific branch:
There is a major risk that the Americans would commit grave violations in this field … if one takes into account what they do in other spheres. Of course, let’s hope that the American political elite still has the remnants of reason and common sense, but if the US withdraws from the 1967 treaty banning nuclear weapons in outer space, then, of course, not only ours, but also other states will be followed by a tough response aimed at ensuring world security.”
Russia’s assumption that a Space Force would almost certainly lead to violations of longstanding treaties between them and the United States, however, may seem ironic considering Russia stood up the most recent incarnation of their own space branch of the military nearly three years ago. It seems unlikely that Bondarev is unaware of an entire branch of his nation’s armed forces, of course, seemingly suggesting that Russia’s public statements regarding the new American military force are aimed not at lawmakers and politicians, but rather at American media outlets that can sometimes be eager to paint Trump-led initiatives in a negative light. Much like Russia’s attempts at influencing American voters during election cycles, Russia’s information operations utilize a combination of legitimate-seeming media reports and concerted social media efforts to sway public perception rather than policy, aware that on an extended timeline, that perception among voters will serve as a stronger influence on policy than direct pressure ever could.