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Preventing the Weaponization of Space

 

Status as of 1 January 2005. For many years a ban on weapons in outer space has been a potential subject for disarmament negotiations. Both the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva (CD) and the UN General Assembly First Committee have discussed the need for a treaty to “Prevent an Arms Race in Outer Space” (PAROS). Due to opposition primarily by the United States, however, formal negotiations on a draft treaty have not been launched.

Weapons. Developments in armaments and technology related to space-based weapons are reported in two data and analysis (e) subsections of the Arms Control Reporter:
580e1, which covers all US government and US private sector programs, as well as multilateral programs with US participation;
580e2, which covers all other programs worldwide.

History of efforts. A treaty banning weapons of mass destruction in outer space entered into force in October 1967. The Outer Space Treaty provides the basic framework on international space law, including the following principles:
• The exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind;
• Outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States;
• Outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means;
• States shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner;
• The Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes;
• Astronauts shall be regarded as the envoys of mankind;
• States shall be responsible for national space activities whether carried out by governmental or non-governmental activities;
• States shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects; and
• States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.

Following up on the original Outer Space Treaty, in 1981 the UN General Assembly two related resolutions: one put forward by the USSR {A/RES/36/99} calling for the Committee on Disarmament to begin negotiations on a “treaty to prohibit the stationing of weapons of any kind in outer space”; the other drafted by several Western countries {A/RES/36/97C} asking the CD to “consider the question of negotiating effective and verifiable agreements aimed at preventing an arms race in outer space” and making anti-satellite weapons a priority.

After discussions in 1982–1984, on 29 March 1985 the Conference on Disarmament set up an Ad Hoc Committee on Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space. Beginning on 24 June, with Saad Alfarargi of Egypt as chair {DC/1324-1327 20,27.3.1985}, the committee met one to twice per week with a “minimalist” agenda {CD/618 26.7.1985}. On 30 August 1985 the Conference on Disarmament adopted the report of the Ad Hoc Committee and concluded that “all efforts should be made to assure that substantive work…will continue at the next session of the conference” {CD/641 26.8.1985}.

On 24 April 1986 the CD reconvened the Ad Hoc Committee with a mandate “to continue to examine, and to identify, through substantive and general consideration, issues relevant to the prevention of an arms race in outer space.” The CD further specified that “The Ad Hoc Committee, in carrying out this work, will take into account all existing agreements, existing proposals, and future initiatives as well as developments which have taken place since the establishment of the Ad Hoc Committee in 1985, and report on the progress of its work to the Conference on Disarmament before the end of its 1986 session” {DC/139124.4.1986}. On 8 August the CD adopted the report of the Ad Hoc Committee recommending that it be reestablished “with an adequate mandate at the beginning of the 1987 session. {CD/726 28.8.1986}

On 26 February 1987 the CD reestablished the Ad Hoc Committee with a mandate identical to that in 1986. On 24 June 1987 the Ad Hoc Committee began its work for the year, after a delay in selecting a chair and debates over whether the program of work should include “measures” to prevent an arms race in outer space. In the end that term was excluded {Tass 24.6.87; Geneva Monitor (IPB), 19.5.1987}.

On 20 September 1988 the CD again ended with the Ad Hoc Committee having made little progress, despite having met 17 times. In 1988 “preliminary consideration was given to a number of proposals and initiatives aimed at preventing an arms race in outer space and ensuring that its exploration and use will be carried out exclusively for peaceful purposes in the common interest and for the benefit of all mankind.” The Committee recommended that it reconvene in 1989, again “with an adequate mandate.” In the plenary on 14 July Argentina called on space powers to declare that they had not deployed weapons in outer space {DC/1557 14.7.1988} and Bulgaria on 4 August said that the time was ripe to start working on an anti-satellite ban. {DC/1564 4.8.1988}

On 9 March 1989—on the heels of a speech in which Soviet President Gorbachev said that the world should develop an international space program to prevent the militarization of outer space {CN 18.1.89}—the CD reestablished the Ad Hoc Committee with an unchanged mandate and with Luvsandorjiin Bayart of Mongolia as chair. During the 1989 session the “Group of 21” noted that the UN General Assembly wanted to negotiate a mandate for talks on a treaty [see 801bGA1988 7.12], as did the Group of 21. Egyptian delegate Elarby said, “Faced once again with a rigid position taken by the Western Group, and in particular by one delegation belonging to that group, the Group of 21 regrets that it was not ... possible to improve the mandate...” {CD/PV.493 9.3.89}. In response, the Western group expressed disappointment that they were the only group singled out {CD/PV.493 9.3.89}. On 31 August the CD ended and the Ad Hoc Committee again reported little progress. The CD’s report on the discussion of Outer Space issues incorporated diverse views on a variety of topics. Chair Luvsandorjiin Bayart of Mongolia said, “Many delegations expressed their impatience and dissatisfaction at the fact that, after five years’ consideration of this vital issue, no tangible result has been attained.” {CD/PV.530 29.8.89}.

By 1989, thus, annual CD reports suggested that the Western group of nations and in particular one nation—presumably the United States—had been blocking the negotiation of a treaty banning weapons in space, or a treaty banning anti-satellite weapons, despite having made a proposal along these lines in 1981 that helped lead to the establishment of the Ad Hoc Committee. What emerged more explicitly as US opposition to a treaty to ban all weapons in space persisted throughout the 1990s.

In the Ad Hoc Committee established in 1990 the United States stated openly on 3 August that it [the USA] “has not identified any practical outer space arms control measures that can be dealt with in a multilateral environment” {CD/PV.523 3.8.90}. On 16 August, after meeting 16 times, the Ad Hoc Committee could report little progress. The conclusion of the Committee’s 1990 mirrored that from 1989, including the recommendation that the committee be reestablished in 1991 {CD/1034 16.8.90}.

On 14 February 1991 the committee was again reestablished with Roberto Garcia Moritan of Argentina as chair and with an unchanged mandate {CD/1105 23.8.91}, despite the expression of regret by the Group of 21 improvement in the mandate was not possible {CD/1105 23.8.91}. During the 1991 session the Committee met 17 times and received 14 papers from the USSR, China, Canada, France and others. Various opinions were expressed: One Western delegation, for example, said that some “destabilizing” military activities deserved to remain authorized. Moreover, the delegation argued, making a distinction between civil and military activities was sometimes impossible. Furthermore, the delegation claimed, a comprehensive ASAT prohibition would be difficult since many space objects and ballistic missiles, as well as many ground-based systems, had potential ASAT capabilities [see 575.E 15.7.1991]. Another delegation, taking the opposite view, called on the two nations with the largest space capabilities to immediately adopt practical measures not to test, develop, and deploy any types of space weapons and to destroy all existing ones. {CD/1105 23.8.91} On 6 December the UNGA passed Resolution 46/33 by a vote of 155-0-1 (USA abstaining). In this resolution paragraph 9 called on the CD to “reestablish the committee with an adequate mandate at the beginning of 1992 and to continue building upon areas of convergence with a view to undertaking negotiations for the conclusion of an agreement or agreements, as appropriate, to prevent an arms race in outer space in all aspects.” In the First Committee paragraph nine was adopted 107-1-26 with the United States alone voting against. {A/46/670 22.11.92; DT 12.91}.

On 13 February 1992 the Committee reconvened with Romulus Neagu of Romania as chair and the same mandate as in 1990 {CD/1125 14.2.92}. On 12 August the committee submitted its report to the CD and proposed to spend an equal amount of time on three key program points:
• Issues relating to preventing an arms race in outer space,
• Existing agreements relating to Outer Space, and
• Specific proposals for preventing an arms race in outer space.

Committee Chair Neagu closed the session by saying that while there were advances, much remained to be done. {DC/1784 12.8.92} When the General Assembly ballots were cast on 9 December for Resolution 47/51 to reestablish the committee, the resolution passed by a vote of 133-0-2 (USA and Micronesia abstaining). In a separate vote on the paragraph calling on the CD to give the Ad Hoc Committee a mandate to negotiate an agreement to prevent an arms race in outer space, members voted 130-1-4 with the United States voting against and Micronesia, Israel, Japan and the UK abstaining. In another provision of the Resolution, the UNGA called on Russia and the USA to pursue bilateral negotiations to prevent the weaponization of space {GA/PS/2944 17.11.92}.

The Ad Hoc committee reconvened 1993 with an unchanged mandate and with Wolfgang Hoffman of Germany as chair. {DC/1798 28.1.93} Of the six papers received by the committee, none was submitted to the GA {CD/OS/WP.64}. On 16 December the UNGA called for the reestablishment of the committee, this time “with a view to under taking negotiations for the conclusion of an agreement or agreements, as appropriate, to prevent an arms race in outer space in all its aspects”. Resolution 48/74A was approved 169-0-1 with the United States again abstaining {GA/DIS/2985 18.11.93}.

Reconvening on 21 February 1994 the Committee adopted the following program of work:
1. Examination and identification of issues relevant to the prevention of an arms race in outer space.
2. Existing agreements relevant to the prevention of an arms race in outer space.
3. Existing proposals and future proposals on the prevention of an arms race in outer space. {CD/PV.666 25.1.94; CD/OS/WP.68}

During the 1994 session Wolfgang Hoffman lamented the lack of a formal negotiating mandate and urged the CD to develop one shortly {CD/PV.667 27}, while, according to an Australian diplomat in Geneva, Britain, France and the USA remained reluctant to adopt such a mandate. Australian Amb. Paul O’Sullivan had urged the CD to consider the Committee as “a forum for confidence-building measures (such as advance notification of space launches and inspection of payloads) and for the globalization of existing measures (such as the INF treaties).” O’Sullivan added, “It may also be a suitable forum for the compilation of regional or sub-regional understanding of restraint of (or even forswearing of acquisition of) advanced delivery systems.” {ACR interview 22.3.94: DE/PV.672 24.2.94} Just one day later, however, a Russian diplomat noted that the CD might not re-establish the Ad Hoc Committee. He said that Russia might eliminate the Transparency in Armaments Ad Hoc Committee if WMD were not included, and that some space-capable nations had made clear that there would be a quid pro quo with the outer space committee. The Russian diplomat added that the committee’s discussions were dormant due to the US’s uncertainty about its position. {Reporter Interview 23.3.94} In August 1994 delegates from the Western Group argued that no new legally binding instruments were necessary, since the end of the cold war had brought about significant changes and there was in fact no arms race in outer space. They also said that existing multilateral and bilateral treaties, together with existing laws, provided an equitable and sufficient system for ensuring the use of outer space for peaceful purposes. {CD/127124.8.94; DC/94/38 7.9.94}

On 6 September the CD failed to agree to reestablish the Ad Hoc Committee in 1995. Instead it agreed to delete the final bracketed paragraphs of the CD report to the UNGA and to make no statement on the question of which committees should be reconstituted. {CD/PV.691 6.9.94; CD/1281 13.9.94} The UNGA later passed a resolution calling for the CD to reestablish the Ad Hoc Committee on Outer Space, with a vote of 170-0-1 (USA abstaining). {A/RES/49/74 9.1.95; DT 20.12.94}.

In 1995 the CD did not reestablish the Ad Hoc committee on Outer Space. (It also failed to reestablish the ad hoc committees on negative security assurances and transparency in armaments.) {CD/PV.700 3.3.95, A/50/27}

In 1996 the UN General Assembly adopted a Declaration on International Cooperation in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space for the Use and Benefit and in the Interest of All States (Res. 51/122). An annex to the Declaration stated that “international cooperation in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes ... shall be conducted in accordance with the provisions of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations and the Treaty on the Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. It shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all States, irrespective of their degree of economic, social or scientific and technological development, and shall be the province of all mankind. Particular account should be taken of the needs of developing countries.”

On 29 November 2001 an item entitled “Prevention of an arms race in outer space” was included in the provisional agenda for the fifty-seventh session of the General Assembly in accordance with Assembly Res. 56/23.

At the first meeting of the fifty-seventh session, on 27th September 2002, the First Committee decided to hold a general debate on all disarmament and international security items included in the provisional agenda. Regarding Outer Space, the First Committee had before it a letter dated 18 September 2002 from the Permanent Representatives of China and the Russian Federation to the UN Secretary General (A/57/418). In addition on 15 October, the representative of Egypt, on behalf of various nations, introduced a resolution entitled “Prevention of an arms race in outer space” (A/C.1/57/L.30). At its 18th meeting, on 22 October, the Committee adopted this resolution by a recorded vote of 151 to none, with 2 abstentions, the United States and Israel.

On 27 August 2004 China called for an international consensus and a legally-binding agreement to prevent an arms race in outer space. China’s Ambassador for Disarmament Affairs, Hu Xiaodi, told delegates to the United Nations Conference on Disarmament that, “In our view, the priority concern is to further consolidate an international consensus on prevention of weaponization and an arms race in outer space in the form of a legal commitment or a legal instrument.” Hu introduced two informal papers—initiated jointly by China and Russia—outlining the two countries’ concerns over the lack of definition and verification of arms in outer space and concluding that verification will be highly difficult in terms of cost and technology—adding that a verification protocol may be needed in the future.

POSITIONS OF GOVERNMENTS

Note: For many years annual UN General Assembly resolutions calling for the Conference on Disarmament to negotiate a treaty to Prevent an Arms Race in Outer Space have passed by overwhelming positive votes (160-175 countries in favor), with no negative votes, and 2–4 abstentions. The key, persistent abstentions have been those of the USA and Israel. Officials in both these countries have publicly expressed support for national programs to place weapons in space. Virtually all other countries have opposed such programs, and many of them have made statements to that effect at the UN, in Geneva, and in other fora.
The individual country positions reporterd here are limited to five: official representations from the USA and Israel, articulating national goals for placing weapons in space; and statements by officials from China,the UK, and Russia, which have played leading roles in calling for a treaty to ban such deployments.

United Kingdom The British government’s position is as follows:
The focus of the UK governments’ policy on space is on civil and scientific uses, but the security benefits we derive from its military use are important. Satellite communications, early warning, navigation and sensing are all integral to our national security responsibilities. The cornerstone of international space law is the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, to which the UK is a Depository. This treaty places significant constraints
on military activity in space: it bans the deployment of WMD in space and military activity on the moon and other celestial bodies. The UK continues to be a firm supporter. As national security activities in space have grown, so have concerns by some states about the risk of an arms race in outer space. Some states
would wish to see additional and more extensive arms control measures. We recognise colleagues’ concerns and we support the annual resolution on the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) at the UN. However, there is no international consensus on the need for further legal codification of the use of space, which would be difficult both to agree and verify.
{IDDS correspondence with Libby Green, Foreign and Commonwealth Office 9.6.05}

United States The United States is actively pursuing efforts to place weapons in space and has described the primary purposes of these efforts as follows:
• To improve the US’s situational awareness and view of the “battlespace” in space;
• To find, fix, track, target, engage, and assess other nations’ space capabilities;
• To institute the appropriate protective and defensive measures, thus ensuring that friendly forces can continuously conduct space operations across the entire spectrum of conflict; and
• To establish operations that can deceive, disrupt, deny, degrade, or destroy adversary space capabilities. {US Air Force, Counter Space Operations (AFDD 2-2.1), 2.8.04:
http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/jel/service_pubs/afdd2_2_1.pdf}

Israel On 10 January 2005 Yuval Steinitz, chairman of Israel’s Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, called for the development and deployment of a space-based missile defense system and commented on the need for an offensive space-based military capability. Steinitz said that Israel must compensate for its lack of strategic depth on land by expanding use of sea- and space-based weapons. Steinitz also urged defense and industry officials to consider future developments of anti-satellite missiles, satellite-attacking lasers and ship-based missiles “that can strike the skies.” The Chairman also stated that “In Israel, our strategic Achilles’ heel is our miniscule geographical size, this lack of ground territory and our obligation to defend the homeland from attack drives the need to develop a strategic envelope of air, sea and space forces not only for defense, but for attack.” Referring to space-based weaponry programs in the United States, Steinitz said Israel must not ignore trends and technologies that can extend the battlefield beyond the atmosphere. {Defense News 10.1.05}

China Hu Xiaodi, Ambassador for Disarmament Affairs, gave China’s position at the 28 March 2002 Plenary of the Conference on Disarmament, saying:
The last 50 years have witnessed the process of research, deployment and reduction of nuclear weapons. History tells us how tedious a task it has been to achieve nuclear disarmament when these weapons were already developed and deployed. To avoid following the same disastrous path, we are duty-bound to take preventive measures immediately for the prevention of the weaponization of outer space—to nip the danger in the bud, so to speak—so that we would not have to be confronted with the same complex and thorny issues such as “outer space weapon disarmament” and “the non-proliferation of outer space weapons” in the future. China has also called on the CD to reestablish the Ad Hoc Committee on PAROS and start to negotiation towards one or more legal instruments on the prohibition of weapons in outer space. {CD 28.3.2002}

Russia put forward a proposal for a moratorium on the deployment of weapons in outer space and the prohibition of the weaponization of outer space at the UN General Assembly in 2004.
In a speech to the General Assembly on 26 September 2001 Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that Russia invites the world community to start working out a comprehensive agreement on the non-deployment of weapons in outer space and on the non-use or threat of force against space objects. In particular, the agreement could contain the following elements:
• outer space should be used in the interests of maintaining peace and security;
• an obligation not to place in the orbit around the Earth any objects carrying any kinds of weapons, not to install such weapons on celestial bodies or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner;
• an obligation not to use or threaten to use force against space objects;
• a provision establishing a verification mechanism for the implementation of the agreement on the basis of confidence-building and transparency.
As the first practical step in this direction, a moratorium could be declared on the deployment of weapons in outer space pending a formal agreement. Russia would be willing to make such a commitment immediately, provided that the other leading space powers join this moratorium. {GA 26.9.01}

Coverage of historical developments This topic and closely related issues were previously covered in the following Arms Control Reporter sections:
• Anti-Satellite Weapon Ban (573: 1982 and 1984)
• Preventing an Arms Race in Outer Space (multilateral talks) (574: 1982–1995)
• Outer Space (bilateral USA-USSR/Russia talks) (575: 1983 and 1985–1995)
• Ballistic Missile Defense (bilateral USA-USSR/Russia talks) (576: 1994, 1995 and 1997)
• ABM Treaty (603: 1983–2004; renamed Restraints on Ballistic Missile Defense since the abrogation of the ABM Treaty by the USA in 2002)
• Other Treaties and Negotiations (840, 1998-2004).

 


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