Short answer: no.

The Outer Space Treaty (also known as the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies) is the basis of international space law. It is overseen by the United Nations Committee for the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) and was entered into force by the initial signatories in 1967. Today there are 107 parties to the treaty.

A common misconception is that the Outer Space Treaty results in international law that prohibits the militarisation of space. It should be noted that since humanity has had access to space, it has been a significant domain for advancing military capability. Since Sputnik was launched by the USSR as a show of military capability to utilise outer space, satellites have been used to form critical infrastructure supporting intelligence and defence organisations around the globe.

In fact, the Global Positioning System (GPS) — the technology that enables your taxi drive to take you to your destination on time, or for you to play Pokemon Go on the bus ride home— is and always has been first and foremost a military asset developed and maintained by the US Air Force.

While the full name of the Outer Space Treaty may suggest that the international community has collectively agreed not to militarise outer space, it really sets only a few limitations:

  • No weapons of mass destruction can be placed in orbit, or on any celestial body (such as the Moon or Mars)
  • Celestial bodies can only be used for peaceful purposes (i.e. no military bases, no weapons testing, etc.)
  • Governments (and hence, for legal reasons, people or companies) can’t claim celestial resources such as a moon or a planet (unless they launched it from Earth)

Conventional weapons in orbit are fair game. So are the use of satellites and other military infrastructure in orbit. A nation could put a military base in orbit around the Earth and fall within the confines of international space law, but they cannot have one on the Moon or Mars.

The creation of a US Space Force is little more than a bureaucratic shuffle of existing operations and capability within the US Department of Defence (DoD). In fact, most nations have significant space military capability today already.

In 1985 the US Space Command was created to help institutionalise the use of space by the armed forces. In 2002 this was merged into US Strategic Command to improve information collection, decision making, and reduce overheads. Today, within Strategic Command sits the US Air Force Space Command — the primary space force within the US armed forces.

The new US Space Force will separate and transition much of the Air Force Space Command’s capability into its own branch.

Should you be worried about what the new Space Force means for the peaceful use of outer space? No more than you should have been before.

The creation of a US Space Force alone is not an increase in capability, but conversely, an exercise in increasing bureaucracy and operational overhead.