PEACE-KEEPING SATELLITES: The Case for International Surveillance and Verification

by Professor Caesar Voûte, first published in Book Reviews section, Space Policy, Vol. 4, No. 1, February 1988.


A. Walter Dorn, Peace Research Reviews, Vol. X, Nos. 5 and 6 (1987), Peace Research Institute-Dundas, 173 pp.

The increasing interest in the concept of peace-keeping satellites is reflected by a rapidly swelling flow of publications and by several initiatives and recommendations discussed in a number of international or regional intergovernmental or non-governmental forums. Under the circumstances, this thorough analysis of the available literature by Walter H. Dorn constitutes a welcome contribution. The references cited constitute but a selection.

In this study a peace-keeping satellite is defined as an observation satellite operated under the aegis of the international community, which could be used to perform one or more of the following functions:

  • verify international treaties, in particular, arms control and disarmament treaties;
  • monitor conflicts or crises;
  • support peace-keeping operations, such as those performed by the United Nations;
  • predict and manage natural catastrophes.

At the heart of the peace-keeping satellite concept are the notions of 'common security' and 'internationalism.' The former is the recognition that the security of any nation is dependent on the security of all others; that the threat to the peace of any nation is one and the same as the threat to international peace and security. The latter word describes the belief that a stronger international order involving greater international cooperation is necessary to maintain peace and security in this interdependent world. The peace-keeping satellite concept can therefore be characterized by the intersection of three different fields of study: (1) satellite remote sensing; (2) international law, including space law; and (3) peace studies, in particular the role of international organizations in the maintenance of peace and security.

The review covers in seven chapters the most basic questions one can ask about a peace-keeping satellite: What?, Why?, How?, Who?, When?, and Where? The analysis thus covers the concept (What?), the need or motivation (Why?), the technology (How?), the specific proposals made during the past 10 years and past and present political reactions (Who?), a few possible scenarios for the creation and development of a peace-keeping satellite (When and Where?), and the desirability and feasibility of such a system. The expertise of various countries is also summarized and their potential contributions to an international peace-keeping satellite project are considered.

The book is very useful for all who, for professional or political reasons, are in need of an overview of peace-keeping satellite concepts, their background, history and development. In the chapter on technology they will find information on military satellites today and on civilian programmes of various nations. This last section is unfortunately rather incomplete and lacks up-to-date information on Soviet, Chinese, Indian and Japanese missions. The information on the current Canadian Paxsat studies is also rather brief. However, no other weaknesses were noted in the book.

C. Voûte
International Institute for Aerial Survey and Earth Sciences, ITC
The Netherlands