Monday, 15 September 2008

The rise of space technology: capacity and responsibility

Writing in Venezuelanalysis.com, Alex Sánchez (Council of Hemispheric Affairs, COHA) writes on the efforts being made in Latin America to cultivate a degree of technological competence that will lessen that region's traditional reliance on US space technology. In his article, "Space Technology Comes to Latin America: Part of the Hemisphere’s Road to Autonomy", he reviews the current space programmes of Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and Peru, both in terms of their current accomplishments and in terms of their medium and long-term objectives. He concludes:
"Some argue that, given Latin America's current state of poverty and economic inequality, founds allocated to space programs could be better utilized for national development in critical areas like agriculture, feeding the poor, or creating jobs. Other specialists argue that such programs are necessary in order to achieve Latin America's autonomy from the influence of the world's major powers, including the U.S. In addition, a space program does not automatically have to have a militarized edge to it; non-military uses like improved telecommunications are urgently required in a region whose geography includes both the Andes and the Amazon.

In the meantime, Latin American space programs will continue to be heavily depended on aid and technical assistance from nations with sophisticated economies and the necessary expertise and launch capabilities. Nevertheless, even in their current early stages, Latin American space programs have the possibility to change the security landscape of the region. Space is a way for a society to test its limits, but this must go hand in hand with responsible oversight by a civilian chain of command in each of the countries to make certain that these programs are not distorted by being militarized".
All of this seems to suggest that Latin America may be regarded as a ripe market for the licensing-in of various elements of space technology. The extent to which the suitability of such technologies for military use may substantially reduce the willingness of licensors to assist, even if the licences contain checks and balances to direct the technology's responsible use. However, given the obvious benefits for the region in terms of increasing communications capacity, the surge towards a stand-alone and self-supporting regional space technology may ultimately prove irresistable.

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