Eric Sterner's Articles

Eric R. Sterner is a Fellow at the George C. Marshall Institute, teaches at Missouri State University’s Graduate Department of Defense and Strategic Studies, and consults on national security and aerospace issues. His work addresses national security policy with a focus on the challenges new technologies pose for U.S. national security, particularly in space and cyberspace. He was the lead Professional Staff Member for defense policy on the House Armed Services Committee, where he managed the full committee staff charged with executing Congressional responsibilities regarding defense and foreign policy. During the 1990s, he served on the House Science Committee staff and was the Staff Director for the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics at the time of his departure. In the Executive Branch, he served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy and, at NASA, was dual-hatted as Associate Deputy Administrator for Policy and Planning and Chief of Strategic Communications. At NASA, he was concerned with all aspects of NASA’s internal management on behalf of the Deputy Administrator and directly managed a staff of 150 personnel, including 19 members of the Senior Executive Service. In the private sector, Sterner served as Vice President for Federal Services at TerreStar Networks Inc., and as a national security analyst at JAYCOR and National Security Research Inc., where he focused on the strategic implications of emerging technologies. His work on national security, military history, space, and cyberspace issues has appeared in a range of publications, including The Washington Post, The Washington Quarterly, Strategic Studies Quarterly, Comparative Strategy, the Journal of International Security Affairs, Naval History, The Washington Times, and Aviation Week & Space Technology. Sterner earned a B.A. in International Studies and USSR Area Studies from The American University and separate M.A. degrees in Political Science and Security Policy Studies at The George Washington University. Link to MSU’s Department of Defense and Strategic Studies:

The Martian message

Folks in the space advocacy community are already angling to capitalize on the October release of the Matt Damon film, The Martian. Based on Andy Weir’s astonishing novel, the story follows the struggle of astronaut Mark Watney to survive alone on Mars when an emergency forces his crewmates, thinking him dead, to abandon him on […]

China, Talk and Cooperation in Space

At the end of June, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi, in the course of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, agreed to establish “regular bilateral government consultations on civil space cooperation.” Neither the purpose of these consultations nor the topics they will cover was immediately clear. The U.S. […]

Armed and Ready: The Pentagon’s Assertive New Cyber Strategy

When the U.S. Department of Defense released its latest cyber strategy last week, it laid more than just another brick in the edifice of cybersecurity that the government has been building for decades. Coming just a few weeks after President Barack Obama’s Executive Order setting out a policy framework for sanctioning malicious cyber actors, the […]

Obama’s Welcome Cyber Sanctions Plan Is Worth Expanding

On April 1, U.S. President Barack Obama signed an executive order expanding Washington’s ability to deter cyberattacks, by empowering the government to apply financial sanctions on hackers and companies overseas that benefit from cyber-espionage. The directive authorizes the secretary of the treasury, in consultation with the attorney general and secretary of state, to impose sanctions […]

Sony Hack: No Good Options for U.S. on Private Sector Cybersecurity

When they set out to make “The Interview,” a comedic movie about assassinating the leader of North Korea, actors Seth Rogen and James Franco likely did not realize they would spark a massive cyber attack, lead the White House to dub those attacks a national security problem or inadvertently trigger a First Amendment crisis in […]

Sony Attack Signifies New Twist in Cyber Conflict

Attacking another country’s sources of economic power and its political and cultural cohesion is an old practice in warfare. The former was most clearly explored in the theories of strategic bombing that sprung up after the invention of the airplane in the first part of the twentieth century. The latter is considerably older; history is […]

As New Space Powers Emerge, NASA More Unreliable as Partner

When the European Space Agency (ESA) successfully landed the spacecraft Philae on a comet last week, it accomplished something once thought to be the sole purview of the superpowers. In truth, the ESA—a consortium of 20 formal members—highlights a well-established and accelerating trend: Whereas space was once beyond the reach of all but the United […]

Dictators and Deterrence: Syria’s Assad, Chemical Weapons, and the Threat of U.S. Military Action

The United States’ attempt to deter chemical weapons use by the Syrian government failed largely due to the former’s lack of credibility. Having seen its implicit deterrent threats ignored in spring and summer, 2013, the United States scrambled to restore them by threatening to use force explicitly, only to find that its credibility was exhausted. […]

Focusing on Priorities in Human Access to LEO

nterest groups are coming out of the woodwork in the never-ending struggle over NASA’s commercial crew programs. While the battles are usually over funding and debates about the balance between commercial crew program and the Space Launch System, this time the fight concerns the government’s role and responsibilities when it comes to NASA’s stewardship of […]

Forget Forgetting on the Internet: The Birth and Death of a Right to Be Forgotten

On May 13, the European Union’s Court of Justice ruled that citizens under its jurisdiction have a so-called “Right to be Forgotten,” essentially, that individuals have a right to leave embarrassing or adverse information from their past, in their past. On its face, the notion is appealing. Who wouldn’t want to be judged by the […]

Space in the National Interest: Security in a Global Domain

On paper, the United States has the world’s most powerful military. It has the largest navy, the most modern and combat-tested army, and an air force unparalleled in its full-spectrum capabilities. On paper, the United States dominates every potential adversary on the land, sea, and in the air. But of course, wars do not occur […]

China, Russia Resume Push for Content Restrictions in Cyberspace

China and Russia have launched a global campaign to regulate content on the Internet that, if successful, would slowly destroy cyberspace as a means of self-expression, freedom and unregulated speech. While they are still far from achieving their goals, Moscow and Beijing sense an opportunity in the outraged reaction to former National Security Agency contractor […]

Cuban Twitter: Not as Silly (or Stupid) as it Sounds

When the Associated Press revealed that the State Department’s U.S. Agency for International Development had funded ZunZuneo as a sort of Twitter for Cuba, it provoked peals of laughter, ridicule and criticism. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy called it “dumb, dumb, dumb.” The senator has a point. The program did not last more than two years […]

U.S. Failure to Clarify Interests in Cyberspace Weakens Deterrence

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, retired Gen. Keith Alexander, who recently stepped down as head of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, expressed misgivings about America’s deterrent posture in cyberspace. In particular, he raised concerns about the lack of a threshold that, when crossed by cyberattackers, would […]

Snowden’s Misleading Testimony

NSA leaker Edward Snowden made two particularly spectacular public appearances (by remote) earlier this month; first by giving testimony to the European Parliament and second at the SXSW conference in Austin.   In both, he repeated assertions that the NSA’s phone metadata collection program had not stopped any terrorist attacks, concluding therefore that they offered no […]

The security vs. privacy debate is already over, and privacy lost

When Edward Snowden leaked massive troves of information about the National Security Agency‘s collection of electronic information, he started a debate over the tradeoffs between security and privacy. At least that’s how President Obama framed it, arguing, “we have to make some important decisions about how to protect ourselves and sustain our leadership in the […]

NASA at Another Crossroads

The American space program is at a perpetual crossroads. Every few years, policymakers reach some sort of consensus about the future. Contested though it may be, NASA creates programs to move in that direction. The science community plans for it and sets research priorities. Budgeteers begin identifying resources, and engineers start bending metal. Sometimes the […]

America’s Space Futures: Defining Goals for Space Exploration

The George C. Marshall Institute has published a new book, America’s Space Futures: Defining Goals for Space Exploration, edited by Institute Fellow Eric R. Sterner. America’s Space Futures is an important contribution to the ongoing debate about space policy, the American space program, and the human destiny in space.  Despite broad, popular, bipartisan support for […]

Poor Readiness for an Evolving Cyber Threat

Every year, the Congressional intelligence committees hold hearings reviewing worldwide threats to the United States. For the last several years, Directors of National Intelligence have consistently identified cyberspace as an area of growing concern.  This year’s testimony from James Clapper is particularly chilling, coming against a backdrop of high-­profile cyber events that have caught the […]

Keeping Advanced Defense Technology in US Hands: A Challenge in the Period Ahead

Just before Christmas, A123 Systems Inc., best known for receiving “green jobs” funding from the Obama administration, announced that a judge approved a Chinese company’s bid to buy the battery-manufacturing firm’s assets in a bankruptcy auction. Normally, an offer to take over a bankrupt firm and put its resources to good use would be welcome, but in […]

Misconceptions About Conflict in Cyberspace

For the better part of two decades, experts have been telling us that cyberwar is coming, or has arrived. In 2007, General James Cartwright, then commanding general of U.S. Strategic Command, declared in public testimony that “America is under widespread attack in cyberspace.” In 2010, former Director of National Intelligence, Vice Admiral Mike McConnell, declared […]

Assange, Asylum and Softpower in Cyberspace

It is not often that a man wanted for questioning about rape allegations uses the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and customary international law to escape the judicial system. Welcome to cyberspace and one of its many, unanticipated, affects on the world. To recap recent events, Julian Assange, founder of the internet site Wikileaks, recently […]

New Space Pact is Risky for U.S.

Eric Sterner discussed the Code of Conduct.  This article appeared in Aviation Week & Space Technology on May 21, 2012.

The Paradox of Cyber Protest

Political protest—even illegal protest—is as American as apple pie and baseball. Even before the advent of the Republic, Americans used illegal organizations and illegal means to protest British colonial policies and argue in defense of their natural rights. The 19th century is scattered with instances of protest over issues ranging from war, to labor practices, […]

Why Crisis Footing With U.S. Serves Iran’s Interests

Conventional wisdom holds that it is in Iran’s near-term interest to calm tensions with the West, particularly the United States. But with those tensions now rising, it’s worth considering the dynamics at work in Tehran’s relationship with the rest of the world. In fact, the Iranian leadership’s incentives may run counter to our expectations, making […]

Returning to Fundamentals: Deterrence and U.S. National Security in the 21st Century

Is deterrence a “one-size fits all” strategic concept? Can it be applied equally effectively to security challenges as diverse as nuclear weapons and cyberspace? Or do the emerging domains of outer space and cyberspace require their own deterrence strategies? These and related questions are the subject of a collection of essays recently published by the […]

The Constellation Program and Future of NASA Space Exploration

Marshall Institute Fellow, Eric Sterner, discusses the demise of the Constellation program and the future of manned space flight.

Space Exploration Policy

Eric Sterner, a Fellow at the George C. Marshall Institute, discusses U.S. space exploration policy.

Sterner on the Role of Prestige in US Space Policy

Eric Sterner, a fellow at the George C. Marshall Institute, discusses the importance of prestige in space exploration policy.

Five Myths About NASA

This year marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s speech announcing plans to send Americans to the moon — and marks the end of the space shuttle program. Today, many Americans have no memory of the moon landing, and NASA isn’t a source of pride but a budget line that needs to be […]

The Folly of Internet Freedom

In the past two years, protesters against authoritarian regimes have begun to heavily use social-networking and media services, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and cell phones, to organize, plan events, propagandize, and spread information outside the channels censored by their national governments. Those governments, grappling with this new threat to their holds on power, have responded […]

Managing the Space Domain

Debates over space policy typically concern three themes: national security, civil space and commercial space. National security discussions have historically focused on threats to space systems and the proper steps to either preclude, or respond to, those threats. Over the past several years, however, those discussions have grown more sophisticated, moving on to the broader […]

Retaliatory Deterrence in Cyberspace

The view that deterrence is of little value in securing the nation’s information infrastructure is based on a Cold War model of strategic nuclear deterrence. If one examines other approaches to preventing attack, however, deterrence may make significant contributions to US security in cyberspace. Success, however, will require a new mind-set and changed expectations. Deterrence […]

Wikileaks and Cyberspace Cultures in Conflict

Every few months, Wikileaks and its founder, Julian Assange, make headlines for publicizing yet more titillating information passing through the U.S. government’s classified systems. Each round of publication does real damage to U.S. national interests, compromising relations with other countries and revealing to current and potential adversaries the internal thought processes of the U.S. government. […]

Unforced Errors in the New National Space Policy

The United States has wrestled with the space age’s implications since before the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite in 1957. Successive presidents often approached space issues in clusters of national security, civil, and commercial activities. More often than not, they addressed those issues in isolation from one another as problems arose. Consequently, national […]

Stuxnet and the Pentagon’s Cyber Strategy

Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn recently caused a stir in official Washington by publicly confirming that the Pentagon had suffered a massive computer breach in 2008. A foreign intelligence service successfully slipped an infected flash drive into a Central Command computer. The drive contained software that surreptitiously spread through both classified and unclassified government networks, establishing a “digital […]

Re-Categorizing Cyber Conflict

At the end of May, the Senate confirmed Army Gen. Keith Alexander as commander of U.S. Cyber Command. The command’s creation had already been controversial, and as a result, the Senate Armed Services Committee delayed Alexander’s confirmation due to questions over roles and missions, authorities and restrictions. After his confirmation, Alexander specified that the new […]

Tending the Forge of American Space Power

American culture has long had a fascination with outer space. President John F. Kennedy described it as “this new ocean,” and words like “destiny” and “frontier” are frequently used to characterize America’s relationship to it. Hollywood and the media often approach it with a sense of wonder, humility, and even a bit of fear. From […]

In space, no one hears you flip-flop

When President Obama arrives in Florida today for his space summit, he will bring considerable baggage with him. When running in the primaries to be the Democratic nominee, he promised to cancel the space-shuttle replacement program, known as Constellation, to pay for new education initiatives. As a candidate in the general election, he famously changed […]

Worthy of a Great Nation? NASA’s Change of Strategic Direction

NASA’s fiscal year 2011 budget request is a significant change of direction for the U.S. space program. As such, it makes several strategic choices for the country at a time when a growing number of countries are acquiring ever greater capabilities to use space and incorporate it into their pursuit of national interests. In a […]

R&D Can Revitalize the Space Industrial Base

For nearly 20 years, the United States has been living off its investments in space. Unfortunately, its ability to do so is coming to an end, and the space industrial base finds itself increasingly at risk. Without a healthy foundation, the American people will not continue to enjoy the benefits that space systems provide and […]

Dragon in Sheep’s Clothing?

This autumn, China and the U.S. began moving toward greater cooperation in space. As China lifted a little more of the veil covering its space program, U.S. officials expressed a greater desire to work together in exploring space. Presidential science adviser John Holdren floated the idea of increased cooperation in human spaceflight last spring. The […]

How to Lose Friends and Amuse Your Enemies

In less than a week’s time, the Obama administration gave in to Tehran’s demands, sawed off the limb that our East European allies had climbed onto on behalf of NATO, and signaled Moscow, Tehran, and North Korea that the United States will not stand up to their bullying tactics.  With that in mind, it’s not […]

To Boldly Go . . . Anywhere?

When it debuted in May, the number one movie in the country was Star Trek, the re-launch of a long-in-the-tooth entertainment franchise that long ago became a cultural icon and one of the most successful brands in entertainment?s annals. Nearly simultaneously, NASA launched the space shuttle Atlantis with a crew to repair and upgrade the Hubble […]

Taking the Bomb for Granted

At the dawn of the nuclear age, strategist Bernard Brodie, noting the awesome destructive power of nuclear weapons, famously wrote, “Thus far, the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars. From now on its chief purpose must be to avert them.” For most of the Cold War, U.S. policymakers, civil and […]

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