Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Satellites and the Changing Politics of Transparency in World Politics

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Abstract:  This article explores the degree to which commercial satellite imagery has empowered non-state actors in the politics of transparency in world politics. This question has received renewed attention in the wake of the disclosure of China’s new missile silos in 2021 as well as Russia’s war against Ukraine since 2022. The article contributes to research on this question by teasing out the competition over authority undergirding the politics of transparency. It does so in two steps: it conceptualizes the politics of transparency as involving a combination of state and non-state actors engaging in transparency efforts against another state or other states and it distinguishes four aspects of the empowerment of non-state actors in such constellations of actors: (a) the emergence of new or better disclosure devices that (b) bolster the expertise of some non-state actors, (c) giving them more influence over public debates, and (d) prompting changes in the policies of relevant actors. The article uses this framework to explore the factors that affected the degree of empowerment of non-state actors in the two cases of China’s new missile silos as well as Russia’s war against Ukraine. It highlights three factors: the interplay between state and non-state transparency makers, the polarization of public spheres, and the ability of states targeted by the transparency efforts to fragment public spheres.

Keywords:  authority; China; commercial satellites; Russia; transparency



© Thomas Müller. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.