Nationalism in Outer Space: How the Global Trend of Pursuing Space Programs Reinforces (New) Nationalism(s)

Dr. Itir Toksöz

USSR and the USA engaged in a space race as part of the Cold War and introduced space technologies that became indispensable in our global world today. This race led other regional powers to launch their space programs during the 1960s. However, it was especially at the end of the Cold War that both vertical and horizontal proliferation of space capabilities became evident: not only space technologies became more sophisticated and the range of space technology applicable areas widened, but also the number of state and private sector actors engaged in space programs increased.

Aspiring to go to outer space is a global trend today, for developed and developing states alike. As we speak, there are 69 states with official government space agencies, as well as other international actors such as ESA or APSCO. The economic, military, scientific and dual use abilities brought by space capabilities are becoming sine qua non for states to compete and to cooperate in a world highly linked with globalization. While the trend to become spacefaring is global and the global cooperation with other spacefaring nations is essential especially for the new space actors, the way states promote their space programs contains highly nationalistic elements.

This paper argues that this global trend of pursuing space programs reinforces (new) nationalism(s) when the actors play a two-level game by seeking domestic support for space programs and by demonstrating space abilities to project power at the international level via similar nationalistic acts. The author carries out a content analysis of the nationalistic elements in the space programs of spacefaring actors. To this end, the author studies comparatively how selected space actors from developed and developing world construct the narratives of their space programs through acts such as:

• finding a historical myth/reference point as to when dreams of space started for the relevant nation
• naming of their space vehicles after nationally significant terminology
• launching dates coinciding with milestone dates in their relevant history
• declaring spacemen/women as national heroes
• engaging in nationalist discourses (especially by populist leaders) as to why and what kind of a space program the state needs.