Credit: ESA – Earth Observation Satellites Monitoring Earth

Security, justice, science, technology, law, and politics are inherently interrelated, as are space activities, where there are often overlapping civilian and military applications and choices made regarding the uses of outer space directly affect international peace and security. The tools countries use to implement the functions of governments and the functioning of society continue to evolve with time, demography, and technological innovations. Peace and security are the first essential steps to ensuring sustainable, healthy, and prosperous societies.

For centuries, military commanders sought high-altitude locations such as mountains and hills to obtain visual information about the location and movement of enemies. World War I is seen as a turning point in history that led to the widespread popularity of many advanced technologies, with remote sensing, in particular, gaining prominence due to the use of high-altitude aircraft and balloons for aerial reconnaissance. These aerial images were used to locate enemy trenches, hidden positions, troop movements, supply routes, and warehouses and to verify the effectiveness of attacks against the enemy. The development of satellites is considered one of the greatest technological achievements in the military field. The Cold War and post-Cold War eras saw significant expansion of satellite deployment for international peace and security. Due to the ultra-fast advances of remote sensing application platforms, the sensors themselves have improved significantly, with the spatial resolution of satellite images showing a drastic improvement in accuracy to less than half a meter in recent years from more than fifty meters when these technologies were first developed. Such multispatial and multitemporal data, combined with local and global land-acquired data, can be applied to international peace and security in conflict areas.

Satellite data is used to identify terrain, rivers, hills, populated areas, strategic installations, communication networks, and many other items of interest. The quality of remote sensing information for peace and security depends on the specific sensing platform and its characteristics. Recently, with the availability of high-resolution spatial and temporal data, remote sensing technology has been used to detect human trafficking and drug cultivation and trafficking in several regions. In addition to applications to military purposes, aerial and satellite sensing has significantly contributed to international peace through its role in preventing conflicts over resources, combating and preventing diseases, protecting human rights, tracking human and international violations, assisting humanitarian teams in their tasks, supporting complex emergencies in refugee relief operations, monitoring armed conflict, providing evidence in domestic and international courts and assessing human rights violations.

Earth observation satellites and communication technologies provide accurate and reliable means of remote monitoring and verification of conflict areas. Monitoring these dangerous areas is difficult using ground information, and remote sensing contributes to supporting and complementing international peace and security activities due to its ability to provide objective, comprehensive, and wide-ranging real-time visibility at ground level. This contributes to the monitoring of remote and dangerous areas without physical contact, which allows it to also be used to verify the application of international laws, treaties, and resolutions, for example, monitoring sources of oil pollution and exploring renewable energy sources. The technological development and rise in the use of sensors have led to an increase in remote sensing companies, contributing to the use of space-based data for social and environmental global safety and scientific development.

Credit: ESA – Earth Observation Satellite

There are several benefits of remote sensing for peace and security applications from macro and micro perspectives. At the macro level, the application of GIS techniques in determining the role of historical precedents in regional conflicts has shown effective results; for example, in the European context, the application of GIS has helped in finding the relationship between historical boundaries and conflicts. From a partial perspective, issues such as migration that led to violence in a city in one of the central African nations have been studied. Remote sensing can also help in understanding issues arising from state classifications such as racial fragmentation, and this in turn helps strengthen the social and cultural theoretical frameworks of other humanities disciplines. Satellite data and imagery, remote sensing, artificial intelligence, and big data contribute to the accomplishment of peace and security goals on Earth. Investment in technology access and supporting it for effective peacebuilding is vital now more than ever.

However, there are challenges, some of which could hinder the applied capabilities of remote sensing for future peace and security, as different types of sensors can form differences in image classifications, affecting cases and the results of their investigation in terms of cost, accuracy, and difficulty in knowing the truth on the ground, particularly in conflict areas.

The National Space Science Agency (NSSA) harnesses satellite imagery, data, and remote sensing to enhance security and safety in the region through several studies such as monitoring factors affecting human health and safety through the study of air quality and the monitoring of greenhouse gases, carbon and its oxides, sulphur oxides, and nitrogen oxides in the air, as well as monitoring of building violations, illegal fishing, and smuggling routes. NSSA has demonstrated its commitment to peace, security, and prosperity in the region by joining international space associations which includes becoming a member of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and its Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) which is concerned with the peaceful uses of outer space and has gained membership in the International Astronautical Federation (IAF). The agency has also signed a number of space international treaties such as the Outer Space Treaty, the Liability Convention, and the Registration Convention for the Purposes of Maintaining Peace and Security.

As technologies evolve and ancillary resources become more available, the role of remote sensing has become a vital operational tool for countries as it supports a wide range of policy actions for peacekeeping, security, and justice operations.

Prepared by NSSA Space Engineer: Reem Senan