Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Committee Member

John Tuman

Second Committee Member

Tiffiany Howard

Third Committee Member

Jonathan Strand

Fourth Committee Member

David Henry

Number of Pages



This study examines what role a state’s security environment plays in the adoption of satellite capabilities and whether once these capabilities have been acquired they effect the onset and internal dynamics of international crises. A widely held view by both scholars and practitioners is that the surveillance and early warning satellite platforms put in place during the Cold War by the U.S. and Soviet Union helped keep the Cold war from becoming “hot”, and the absence of a major conflict outbreak between the two superpowers during this period is proof of their deterrence value. This may be the case, yet outside of the widespread acceptance of the logic behind their supposed benefit there has been no empirical research conducted that has shown evidence establishing a link between satellites and peace.

As these technologies have their roots in interstate conflict- beginning with early rocket programming during WWII and their subsequent development and maturity throughout the Cold War; I argue that a state’s adoption of satellite platforms is influenced by its level of engagement in interstate conflict, specifically when it is involved in a protracted conflict with other state(s) as a principal adversary. The second question this study explores is whether once a state is in possession of satellite capabilities do these platforms produce a deterrent effect or do their informational benefits and enhancement of command and control illuminate additional opportunities for gain, contributing to an increase in the likelihood of interstate crisis? And once engaged in crisis, do satellites effect the degree of violence crisis actors employ and shorten/extend the length of the crisis? I use an original satellite dataset compiled from the records of the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) 1957-2017 and the Union of Concerned Scientists Satellite Database 2005-2016 to test variant hypotheses grounded in realism and its variants alongside the stability-instability paradox and power transition theory.

I find evidence for the effect of a state’s security environment on its acquisition of satellite capabilities, and that the associated effect of both general satellite capabilities and military- specific applications on crisis onset and duration are greatly moderated by two well-documented factors heavily featured in IR conflict literature, state power and distance. I find no evidence for the effect of satellites on the level of violence employed by crisis actors in an interstate crisis. The findings presented in this study provide the first empirical evidence supportive of satellite’s effect on interstate conflict, and underscore the importance of realism and the stability-instability paradox as frames to understand the use of these platforms of various types by state actors.


Astropolitics; Conflict; International Relations; International Security; Realism; Satellites


Geography | Political Science

File Format


File Size

2.3 MB

Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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Available for download on Monday, December 15, 2025