Will Space Force become political football?

Will the United States Space Force (USSF) become an issue in the 2024 election? The service can never deviate from political legacy of GOP leader Donald Trump?

The question counts for more than a mere marginal point or two in some states throughout the union. The USSF continues to struggle to find a place for itself within the defense discourse and national security bureaucracy. Indeed, the viability of the Force is fundamentally a political question, which has its basis in the political origins of the service. The existence of the USSF is a bureaucratic reality, but the political underpinning of that bureaucratic reality will have long-term effects on the health of the institution.

Trump’s role in the Space Force

The Space Force not burst, fully formed, from The head of Donald Trump. Debates about how to structure U.S. military space assets date back at least to the 1990s, and significant congressional momentum for some sort of reform developed in the 1910s.

The idea of ​​creating a Space Force as an independent service was part of this conversation, although it was initially unclear whether this was a real priority or a rhetorical tactic designed to get the Air Force and other services to more attention to space.

The decision to establish Space Force as a quasi-independent service, however, owes much to Trump’s vision himself as a critical figure in American political history. Trump clearly saw the USSF as not just part of his legacy, but an element of his 2020 re-election campaign.

While Trump couldn’t literally label the USSF as if it were a building, a casino, or a steakhouse line, he could seek to ensure that US military forces in space are forever associated with his presidency. The service’s founding in late 2019, followed almost immediately by the COVID-19 pandemic, meant that Space Force was tiny, clunky, and not entirely independent of the Air Force. (Keeping the USSF in the Department of the Air Force was necessary to avoid bureaucratic infighting that could delay institutional founding.)

Identity crisis

It’s not at all controversial to note that the Space Force continues to have internal and external identity crises. AS Thomas Novelly clarifies, an internal debate has emerged on the service mission statementwhich may not have much hold on the base’s memories or imaginations.

Something simple and straightforward like Fight and Win America’s Wars in Space sounds nice, but it’s not accurate. More aggressive claims about generating or maintaining space dominance have potentially unfortunate national and international repercussions. The service leadership has obviously explored ways to find more aggressive and critical role in joint military operations, but the fact that the USSF appears largely limited to a role in supporting joint and coalition forces undoubtedly makes it difficult to pinpoint an institutional identity.

The institutional crisis is undoubtedly linked to the political origins of the service. There was no deep-seated belief among either civilians or military personnel that the Space Force should become formally independent in the bureaucratic sense of the word. This it is in stark contrast to the experience of the Air Force in 1947.

In that case, a broad canon of strategic theory informed a large body of professional aviators that they had not only come to the conclusion that an independent service was needed, but had also built the cultural and bureaucratic foundations for a new service. While more informed observers probably know that the Air Force was founded on Harry Truman’s watch, it is not associated with Truman in any intellectual or political way.

Political noises

The founding of the US Air Force did not have much impact on the 1948 election, but it was not a political issue in the postwar security environment. Trump has not made the establishment of the Space Force a key component of his monotonous speech, although it is a small point in his Renew American Strength and Leadership bullet on the campaign website. Unsurprisingly, Joe Biden didn’t want to spend any bureaucratic or political capital to overthrow the establishment of the Space Force.

That could take the service off the political table for what looks increasingly like a rematch of the 2020 election. However, given Trump’s taste for self-aggrandizement and his need to draw attention to the results of his presidency, it doesn’t it would be surprising to find Space Force squarely in the political conversation in the 2024 presidential campaign.

Dr. Robert Farley has taught security and diplomacy at the Patterson School since 2005. He received his BA from the University of Oregon in 1997 and his PhD from the University of Washington in 2004. Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), The Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016), Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020), and more recently Waging War on Gold: National Security and Financial Dominance Through the Ages (Lynne Rienner, 2023). He has contributed extensively to numerous journals and journals, including National Interest, Diplomat: APAC, World Politics Review and American Prospect. Dr. Farley is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Lawyers, Guns and Money.

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