Do We Come in Peace? The Weaponization of Outer Space and Cyberspace

A few hours outside of most major cities in Australia, you start to reach what we call the outback—a great vastness of arid land that is a majestic sight to behold. However, if you wait for the sun to set, you will find true splendor—unparalleled access to the night’s sky. I used to love stargazing as a child, and had the privilege of doing so in Australia, home of the best night sky in the world. I would spend hours with my eyes firmly planted towards the heavens, in sheer awe of the universe and the wonders that lie within.

However, my passion for astronomy has evolved into worry for the future. We are rapidly moving towards the weaponization of space. I know that sounds dramatic— we recently landed another scientific rover on Mars, right? But did you also know that roughly 13% of all satellites in space are used for military purposes alone? Let’s not forget the US government’s brand new “Space Force.” We went from putting a man on the moon and exploring new planets to defunding NASA and discussing space lasers as weapons.

You are probably wondering why you are reading about space warfare on a blog dedicated to digital peace. Well, the parallels between the domains of outer space and cyberspace are uncanny. Outer space and cyberspace are shared by all nations, believed to be mediums that can promote international cooperation and exciting human activity only accessible through sophisticated technology. They have also sparked worldwide competition among governments that could very well determine future global superpowers.

As a young child, I found comfort and community online. Much like I spent hours gazing up, I spent hours gazing down, keeping in touch with family and friends in the digital world. Thanks to the Internet, we have been able to increase access to education, create meaningful connections from the comforts of our own homes, and revolutionize the way we live our daily lives. I love the Internet for all its quirks, and I shall forever be indebted to the digital pioneers that made it accessible to the masses.

Yet, I find myself experiencing déjà vu. My love for the Internet is succumbing to the fear of it being weaponized by governments, just like space. Over 60 nations are currently developing offensive cyberwarfare capabilities, and more governments are joining this digital arms race. Furthermore, the complexity, severity, and frequency of state-sponsored attacks are rapidly increasing. Throughout 2020, when humanity was fighting a once-in-a-generation pandemic, hospitals, healthcare facilities, and medical research institutions were subjected to ongoing cyberattacks.

Even though these two domains that I cherish are being turned against us, I still have faith. Just like our nations came together to construct the International Space Station, our nations can establish digital peace. A collaborative effort from governments, businesses, and civil society to stand together and reject the idea that war in cyberspace is necessary to protect the future of the Internet.

Both outer space and cyberspace, separately and together, must be protected and continue to be points of passion, inspiration, and discovery for our future generations, just as they were for me. Whether my friends, family, or future children are looking up at the stars or looking across the vast expanse of the digital world, I don’t want them to see battlefields and warzones. I want them to see endless opportunities to grow and explore.

That’s why I joined Digital Peace Now and why I think you should join the fight for digital peace too.

Keep up to date on the issue:
Follow our Twitter @digitalpeacenow and sign up for our monthly newsletter.

Written by Raj Burli, Digital Peace Now’s Global Ambassador.