Indian Space Policy 2023: India’s Space Diplomacy in the Global South

Space Diplomacy in the Global South States focuses on the establishment of strong connections, creating knowledge structures, and developing space capabilities among nations.  Since space has been a domain that has been exclusive to many developing states, the newly empowered post-colonial States are actively cooperating and forming partnerships with other regional actors to explore and exploit the global common. A TWAIL (Third World Approaches to International Law) perspective on space diplomacy is to use space as a domain to build consensus on commons that have been historically exclusive.

While from a strict geopolitical angle, building consensus would mean combining resources, expertise, and advanced technologies to explore and conduct scientific research in outer space. This would include joint space missions, the sharing of data, the transfer of technology and collaborative research initiatives, among others. One of the core areas of space diplomacy in the Global South is the development of human resources and technical expertise enabling them to contribute effectively to space activities.

India is playing a prominent role in space diplomacy within the Global South. India is actively investing in building resources and building consensus on common space tech for space exploration. In the global south, India uses technical know-how and capabilities as a way for collaborative space projects that drive innovation and progress. An example of this can be the South Asia Satellite Project which has fostered strong regional collaboration for advancing space diplomacy. India is also involved in regional negotiations and organizations in the region.

India’s capacity to provide cost-effective and reliable launch services like the success of Chandrayaan or the Mars Orbiter Mission has made India appealing to other global south states. This development in the sector is impossible without creating an ecosystem for private actors and other stakeholders to help the State’s activities to evolve humanity’s understanding of space.

Recently, the Government of India announced its Indian Space Policy 2023  on the 20th of April 2023. According to the new policy, “Non-Governmental Entities (NGEs) shall be allowed to undertake end-to-end activities in the space sector through the establishment and operation of space objects, ground-based assets and related services, such as communication, remote sensing, navigation, etc”. The Government of India started reforming the space domain in 2020, opening the doors for enhanced participation of NGEs in carrying out end-to-end activities in the space domain with an aim to provide them with a level playing field. The government of India seeks to develop a holistic approach by encouraging and promoting greater private sector participation in the entire value chain of the Space Economy. 

The 2023 Policy focuses predominantly on five key areas. First, encouraging advanced Research & Development in the space sector to sustain and augment the space program. Second, providing public goods and services using space technology for national priorities. Third, creating a stable and predictable regulatory framework to provide a level playing field to Non-Government Entities in the Space sector through IN-SPACe. Fourth, promoting space-related education and innovation, including support to space-sector start-ups. Fifth, using space as a driver for overall technology development, nurturing scientific temperament in society, and increasing awareness of space activities.

The policy also institutionalizes roles for government stakeholders, including the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), New Space India Limited (NSIL), and the Department of Space (DoS). Kiran Vazhapully in his piece argues that “the 2023 Policy sets the stage for India’s expanded participation in the global space arena by emphasising the importance of international cooperation and coordination. This approach recognises the increasing interdependence of nations in outer space and acknowledges the shared responsibility to address common challenges and opportunities.” The policy states that the Department of Science shall “coordinate international cooperation and coordination in the area of global space governance and programmes in consultation with the Ministry of External Affairs” and “participate in international efforts by providing critical remote sensing satellite data for disaster management efforts and meeting the requirements of the sustainable development goals formulated by the United Nations in coordination with the Ministry of External Affairs.” However, Prof. Bhat critically argues that “certain provisions of the 2023 Policy are dubious on the aspect of their compatibility with Indian obligations under the United Nations (UN) space treaties and the vision statement of the 2023 Policy reflects only the national economic interest as against the common interest of all.”

While India is projecting itself as a leader in the South Asian space governance discourse, this policy endeavours to contribute to economic growth, foster social progress, and improve the overall well-being of its population. India’s role in global south space diplomacy reflects its commitment to leveraging space technology for the benefit of all nations, particularly those in the developing world. Through collaboration, knowledge sharing, and capacity building, India strives to foster a more inclusive and equitable global space ecosystem in the Global South.

[Photo by ISRO, via Wikimedia Commons]

Adithya A. Variath is an Assistant Professor of Law and Coordinator of the Centre for Research in Air and Space Law at Maharashtra National Law University Mumbai, India. Khooshi Mukhi is a Student Research Member at the Centre for Research in Air and Space Law at Maharashtra National Law University Mumbai, India. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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