Elon Musk, the controversial figure behind SpaceX and X (formerly Twitter), recently revealed that he refused a request from the Ukrainian military to activate the Starlink satellite communications network over Russian-occupied Crimea. The network would have enabled Ukraine to guide explosives-laden submarine drones towards Russia’s naval base in Sevastopol. However, Musk chose not to comply, stating that it would make SpaceX complicit in an act of war and conflict escalation.
Musk’s decision highlights the power that private citizens like him have in making unilateral decisions regarding national security. While some may agree with his reasoning, others may question the legitimacy of an impulsive billionaire’s ability to weigh in on matters of international conflict.
It is worth noting that Musk’s Starlink satellite network has been crucial to Ukraine’s armed forces, providing internet service that the Russian military has failed to disrupt. At the beginning of the war, Musk donated portable terminals and Tesla batteries to power them, offering much-needed support to Ukraine’s freedom fighters. However, unbeknownst to Ukrainian authorities, he disabled the service over Crimea for fear that it could provoke Russia into responding with nuclear weapons.
When Ukraine launched its submarine drone assault and found that Starlink was offline, officials begged Musk to reactivate the system. He declined, also refusing to allow Starlink in other Russian-controlled areas that Ukrainian soldiers were attempting to reclaim. This raises questions about the extent to which a private individual should be entrusted with the responsibility of influencing geopolitical dynamics.
Musk himself has expressed frustration with being involved in such conflicts, as Starlink was not intended for warfare but rather for peaceful purposes such as internet access and entertainment. The fact that he has the power to turn on and off a crucial communications network at his whim underscores the need for government-owned alternatives. If our aid to Ukraine is contingent on the actions of one individual, then a serious reassessment of national defense strategies is required.
It is the responsibility of elected officials to determine the course of action in response to threats to peace and security. Relying on billionaires like Musk to shape geopolitical decisions should not be acceptable. Instead, the United States government should develop its own low-Earth-orbit satellite array, under the governance of the president and the military chain of command. This would ensure that critical decisions are made collectively and in the best interest of national security.