It's a tricky balance when a country seeks to protect its own borders, but also needs to find international partners to get the job done. This is perhaps most readily demonstrated in the space arena.
Phobos-Grunt, a failed Mars probe launched by the Russians, fell back to Earth in January under the watchful eyes of several defense agencies. One of the participants shared his experience in a panel Wednesday at the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.
"We shared that (re-entry) information in a two-way arrangement with the country that had tracking data available, and as re-entry got closer we all had a shared awareness of when it would come in and when re-entry actually occurred," said Maj. Gen. James (Kevin) McLaughlin, who is with the United States Air Force.
Representatives from European countries also shared their experiences with international co-operation. France, as panelist Col. Inaky Garcia-Brotons explained, sees space collaboration as addressing three fundamental issues: protecting the space global environment, providing access to heretofore unaffordable capabilities, and strengthening partnerships and alliances.
The chief of staff of French Joint Space Command then outlined how the European Union is seeking a new space strategy. It is intended to build on the strength of alliances that power Galileo (the equivalent of the United States GPS system), the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service, and Global Monitoring for Environment and Security, an Earth observation program.
Elements of the strategy, according to an EU press release, include enhancing its ability to monitor its borders and surrounding waters, getting a system started to protect its communication satellites and allowing all EU countries to access space and the International Space Station. The United States and Russia are seen as key partners, with China a potential one.
Germany, also represented in the panel, is undergoing a restructuring of the Bundeswehr, its defense force. First announced in 2010, and fully implemented a few weeks ago, it is eliminating conscription, reducing its armed forces to 185,000 from 250,000, and implementing a new management structure that is intended to streamline decision making.
"It is about building a house in which we can live for some years and especially, (for) as long as possible," said Brig. Gen. Ansgar Rieks, the assistant chief of staff for Future Development Armed Forces in the German Ministry of Defence.
With the military organization in hand, the ministry is now turning to interagency and international collaborations to further assist with streamlining. Germany is building an interagency national space situational awareness center, Brig. Gen. Rieks said, and is participating in an open space situation awareness architecture along with other EU nations, the United States and others.
A participant in a panel earlier on Wednesday pointed out that climate change mitigation is often a forum of international collaboration. In fact, climate change is seen as among the greatest threats to security in the coming years, said Gen. Chuck Wald, who retired from the USAF and is now a director with Deloitte Services, LP.
As proof of the effect on the United States military, he said every time there is a disaster around the world, "they basically dial 1-800-US-NAVY and we show up."
In a world of declining defense budgets, international collaboration may be the way to go to best protect sovereign interests - as long as national secrets are protected in the meantime. Provided this concern is adequately addressed, though, collaborations such as what were outlined in these discussions do have potential to spur more.