From Russia with love: An Iranian space odyssey

Russia and Iran drag their planetary politics into outer space. Is it deja vu?

The geopolitics of the region may now be promoting a joint Iran-Russia space project, writes Dabashi [AP]

“Russia and Iran have reportedly signed a secret deal on wide cooperation in space exploration,” reports RT, which presumably has an intimate knowledge of such secret deals, further adding that the terms of this deal range “from training Iranian cosmonauts in Russia to possible production of Earth observation and telecommunication satellites for Iran”.

As to what had led to this growing political intimacy between the two countries, we learn from RT, citing Russian newspaper Izvestia, that “the alleged deal was boosted by the West’s sanctions targeting Russia in retaliation for its position on the Ukrainian crisis”.  

So it is the geopolitics of the region that is now promoting a joint space project.

The satellite part of the agreement, we also learn, “is of greatest interest for Tehran”. Russia has “pledged to provide sample images of earth gathered by its Resurs-DK and Resurs-P satellites, which allow taking photos with resolution up to 70 cm per pixel”.

Is this an echo of the old Cold War, or perhaps a new version of the old Cold War? Aljazeera’s senior political analyst Marwan Bishara is adamant that this is not Cold War – he is in fact quite adamant that: “To speak of a Cold War today is rather absurd”.

So if not Cold War then what is it?  

From geopolitics to astropolitics

In a recent article in the journal of astropolitics, The International Journal of Space Politics & Policy, we learn about “the role of unacknowledged classified programmes”, which has evidently remained “an enigma for fully understanding activities in space and the study of astropolitics. Classified programmes by law are not publicly announced, and remain inaccessible to all except those with valid security clearances to be briefed about them”.

More specifically, “in the United States, waived Unacknowledged Special Access Programs are the most highly classified programmes conducted by the military and intelligence community. The same classification protocols are also required of private contractors working with US military departments and intelligence agencies on classified programmes”.

Given the extent of such research it is quite evident that the domains of geopolitics have far advanced into outer space where the new frontiers of warfare are being charted,

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Given the extent of such research, it is quite evident that the domains of geopolitics have far advanced into outer space where the new frontiers of warfare are being charted.

“As space continues to grow in its national security significance,” the same article argues, “the number of these unacknowledged programmes pertaining to space is likely to grow significantly from its current number. This requires adopting the necessary conceptual tools and methodological flexibility for investigating unacknowledged activities in space.”

As astropolitics scientists and scholars try to sort out our perilous future, we on earth have to fend for ourselves.

The geopolitics of our existence on earth has now become positively astropolitical. To escape their domestic woes, countries like Russia and Iran – and of course China and the United States – are now focusing on the geopolitics of their region. From there, it is only one more step into outer space.

From the secure hideouts of cyberspace to the darkest corners of outer space, the geopolitics of the troubled parts of the world has exploded and imploded into a security state that threatens the fate of our humanity. We have become our cyberspace profile at one end and have evaporated into astropolitical dust at another. Warmongers from Moscow to Washington, as well as opportunists from Beijing to Tehran, have come together to eviscerate our humanity.

The absorption of the Islamic republic into the aggressive militarisation of space means the geopolitics of the region is being played out in astropolitical terms. Israel has already beaten Iran at the game.

“SpaceIL, a nonprofit organisation aiming to land the first Israeli spacecraft on the moon, said on Wednesday it has received a $16.4 million grant from the foundation of US casino magnate Sheldon Adelson” – this according to a recent report by Reuters.  

In addition, we read in Haaretz, “Israel launched its tenth satellite into space late Wednesday, the defense ministry announced. The satellite entered its orbit before dawn on Thursday. The satellite, known as Ofek 10, is one of a group of reconnaissance satellites that gather information for military purposes. According to the IDF’s data, each satellite makes about 800 reconnaissance orbits a year for a total of 64,000 minutes annually”.

So not just US, China, and Russia, but their satellite states, Israel or Iran, have also dragged planetary politics into outer space.

Centuries-old wisdom has become ever more handy in humanity’s unfolding fate. As those who rule over our world drag us further into these “star wars”, we need to remind them of the nasty trace they have left behind here on earth. The inimitable 13th century Persian poet and prose stylist Sa’di has a short anecdote in his masterpiece Golestan in which we learn: “An astrologer came home one day and saw a man in bed with his wife. He began to curse and cuss, and a scandalous fighting ensued. A wise man was passing by and asked the astrologer: ‘What the hell do you know about what’s happening in the heavens, when you have no clue who’s in your own bed?'”

Hamid Dabashi is a Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York.