‘We Have Not Passed the Point of No Return’, Disarmament Committee Told, Weighing Chance Outer Space Could Become Next Battlefield
Strategic Space Environment ‘Congested, Contested and Competitive’
A Damocles sword was hanging over space, threatening to transform the peaceful domain into a theatre of conflict, the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) was warned today, during its thematic debate.
China’s speaker said certain countries clung to cold war mentalities, pursuing space dominance and viewing outer space as a domain for military power and strategic advantage. An outer space arms race was increasingly becoming a reality. He welcomed proposals aimed at preventing that possibility but opposed those that would spur unilateral military advantage.
“We have not passed the point of no return,” said the Russian Federation’s speaker. He warned, however, that Western countries, headed by the United States, were using outer space for military purposes. He urged them to stop positioning that realm as an area of conflict by not deploying outer space weapons or using outer space objects to strike targets on Earth. It was still possible to prevent a fully fledged arms race in outer space.
A conflict in outer space would have disastrous consequences and endanger all uses and users, said Argentina’s representative. There were several threats arising from space activity — intentional or not — which could have dire consequences, escalate swiftly into conflict or affect cybersecurity. An example was the exponential increase in the number of satellites in orbit and the potential interference with the services they provide, or possible collisions, which generated enormous economic losses.
Italy’s representative said the development and proliferation of new dual-use technologies, capabilities and systems blurred the line between military and civilian use, making it more complicated to protect and defend space assets and identify threats. The current strategic space environment appeared increasingly congested, contested and competitive. Security from and in space no longer appeared to be a purely military and national issue, but rather a multisectoral and global issue. Indeed, space security was gradually becoming more linked to economic and social stability on Earth.
The complexity of security issues in outer space, Austria’s speaker agreed, was increasing through unprecedented technological advancements. Damage to space systems and the disruption of services through directed-energy capabilities, electromagnetic interferences, jamming, spoofing or cyberattacks often had an impact beyond the initial target. The humanitarian effects of an outer space conflict would require application of international humanitarian law, including principles of proportionality and precaution.
The representative of Bangladesh said his country’s stake in a peaceful outer space was more crucial than ever before. Activities in outer space must not be preserved for a small group of States only. Efforts should be scaled up to allow developing States to contribute to outer space discourse.
In that vein, the observer for the Holy See underlined that outer space was the world’s “common home” and that every State was its steward for present and future generations.
Also speaking during the debate on the disarmament aspects of outer space were representatives of the United States, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Nigeria, the Philippines, Ukraine, Pakistan, Brazil, Iran, Algeria, United Kingdom, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Spain, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Kazakhstan, Japan, Cuba, Paraguay, Chile, Belarus, Colombia and Ireland.
Exercising the right of reply were representatives of the United States, the Russian Federation and China.
Speaking during the discussion on the disarmament machinery were representatives of Indonesia (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Iraq (on behalf of the Arab Group) and the Bahamas (on behalf of Caribbean Community (CARICOM)).
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 27 October, to continue its thematic debate on the disarmament machinery.
Outer Space (Disarmament Aspects)
BRUCE I. TURNER (United States) said space provided a lot to humanity, security and threat verification, tracking of weather events, monitoring for water security, access to the Internet and medical research. Those shared benefits, however, were facing growing threats, particularly by the testing of missile-destroying satellites that left behind debris. The United States had announced its commitment to not conduct direct-ascent anti-satellite missile tests and had submitted draft resolution (document A/77/C.1/L.62) on destructive direct-ascent anti-satellite missile testing to complement multilateral efforts and increase transparency in outer space.
He said his proposal did not concern strategic stability, nor did it concern only the developed world. The continuation of tests could decrease the developing world’s access to space. This measure was only a first step, reflecting the international community’s commitment to cooperate, identify norms of responsible State behavior, and preserve peace and security in outer space. Non-legally binding norms would become binding frameworks, he said, expressing his strong support for the open-ended working group space threats. The United States did not support establishing a less inclusive group of governmental experts and he called on delegations to reject the related resolution. He also called on them to vote “no” on the “no first placement resolution” (document A/77/C.1/L.67).
ERIN MORRISS (New Zealand) stated that, in the twenty-first century, all countries had a strong interest in ensuring the safe, responsible and peaceful use of outer space. It was in the collective interest, therefore, to ensure the safe and secure access to and use of space, and a space environment that was sustainable, peaceful and free from conflict. She saw the development of norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviour as a pragmatic first step towards mitigating the risk of escalation of tensions through the perception of threats. The deliberate creation of space debris was an irresponsible act that put both access to space and objects in space at risk. Such testing might also be perceived as a threat that could result in heightened tensions, creating an environment of mistrust. New Zealand’s Minister for Foreign Affairs declared that New Zealand would not engage in testing as it did not have the capability nor was it seeking to acquire it.
ROBERT IN DEN BOSCH (Netherlands), associating himself with the European Union, said it was essential that all States were able to benefit from the economic and societal opportunities, now and for generations to come. Space security governance was falling behind. It was time for an urgently required leap forward to reduce risks and elaborate legally binding instruments, he said, adding that such agreements were only viable if they were supported by monitoring capabilities and verification measures. He opposed the weaponization of space, based on ethical and security concerns, as well as fear of losing access to space. As any space object could be used as a weapon, approaches focusing on capabilities were unfeasible and detrimental to the use of space for technological or socioeconomic development. Instead, he advocated addressing irresponsible behaviours. He welcomed the efforts of the Open-Ended Working Group on space threats and felt it premature to initiate parallel processes.
TANCREDI FRANCESE (Italy) stated that, depending on the area of space in which activities took place, security was gradually becoming more linked to economic and social stability on Earth. The current strategic space environment appeared increasingly congested, contested and competitive. The development and proliferation of new dual-use technologies, capabilities and systems blurred the line between military and civilian use, making it more complicated to protect and defend space assets and identify threats. Security from and in space no longer appeared to be a purely military and national issue, but rather a multisectoral and global issue. Space debris management, the possible effects of the deployment of large constellations on the orbital debris environment, the possible risks imposed on space missions by new applications and emerging threats to the security and resilience of orbital infrastructures required heightened attention. Hybrid space operations spanned an increasing number of sectors, adding an extra layer of complexity to risk and threat assessments.
MUHAMMAD ZAYYANU BANDIYA (Nigeria), associating with the African Group and Non-Aligned Movement, said the prevention of an arms race in outer space had assumed greater urgency because of the vulnerability of the outer space environment. He recognized the need for a comprehensive legally binding treaty on the placement of weapons in outer space, as well as on armed attacks against outer space objects. He further stressed the importance of a legally binding instrument as a necessary condition for the promotion of international cooperation in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes and preserving international peace and security. Weapons must not be placed in outer space for offensive or defensive purposes, nor must there be any armed attacks or use of force against satellites or other outer space objects, including through the use of missiles, maneuverable satellites or robots. He re-emphasized the urgent need for substantive negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament on a legally binding and multilaterally verifiable instrument on the prevention of an outer space arms race in all its aspects.
DIANE SHAYNE DELA FUENTE LIPANA (Philippines) said that preserving outer space required that it be kept free from weaponization. The Philippines remained driven by the aspiration for legally binding instruments on preventing an outer space arms race. The absence of agreed norms heightened the risks and threats to outer space security. The debate on the start of negotiations for such instruments must not hinder progress on practical consensus measures that would enhance outer space security. Access to outer space was an inalienable right of developing countries. The security of outer space was no longer about maintaining strategic parity among major space-faring Powers, but about securing outer space for the peaceful use by all nations, including developing countries, and by all generations.
She said the Philippines was particularly concerned about deliberate debris-creating behaviours, including kinetic direct-ascent anti-satellite tests and uncoordinated launches and uncontrolled re-entry. She urged all Member States to subscribe to the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation, as well as negotiations on a legally binding and multilaterally verifiable instrument on preventing an outer space arms race. Any initiatives on the subject must take into account the security concerns of all States and their inherent right to peaceful uses of space technology.
ANATOLII ZLENKO (Ukraine) said the Russian Federation used space military technology to achieve its goal of exterminating Ukraine. It had fired more than 3,000 missiles, increasingly indiscriminate, on peaceful cities and towns in Ukraine. The Russian Federation’s space programme had gone from peaceful to aggressive, and its behaviour contradicted international norms on peaceful outer space exploration. Its strategies and actions threatened humanity and long-term safety and required the world’s immediate response. After Ukraine gained its sovereignty, it had discontinued its military space programme. He fully supported developing norms and principles. Regarding the direct-ascent anti-satellite missiles commitments, he said that was an important start towards legally binding instruments. Ukraine had co-sponsored the related resolution (document A/77/C.1/L.62). The Russian Federation’s violation of the global post-Second World War international security architecture necessitated not only norms, but also enforcement mechanisms.
EMMANUEL GUERRA (Argentina) said a conflict in outer space would have disastrous consequences and endanger all uses and users. There were several threats arising from space activity — intentional or not — which could have dire consequences and rapidly escalate into conflict or affect cybersecurity. An example of that was the exponential increase in the number of satellites in orbit and consequently the potential interference with the services they provided, or possible collisions, which generated enormous economic losses. He supported the negotiation, within the framework of the Conference on Disarmament, of a treaty prohibited the placement of weapons in outer space. Pending that, he urged measures to strengthen transparency and confidence-building in activities related to outer space. Verification was a main challenge for the elaboration of a binding instrument, mainly due to the technological difficulty that that entailed, in particular, with increasingly smaller space objects.
Mr. BRUCKLER (Austria) stated that the complexity of security issues in outer space was increasing through an unprecedented advancement in technology, which would continue or even accelerate in the future. New stakeholders, such as commercial actors, had been witnessing a new space era. He was concerned about the possible humanitarian consequences of a conflict in outer space and emphasized that international humanitarian law be fully applied to outer space, including the principles of proportionality and precaution. Security challenges required multilateral answers. The work on such an approach should also not exclude the possibility of a legally binding instrument. He saw a clear need to improve information‑sharing on the purpose of space objects and the intention of operations, as well as the respective mechanisms. Damage to space systems and the disruption services through directed-energy capabilities, electromagnetic interferences, jamming, spoofing or cyberattacks often had an impact beyond the initial target.
Mr. OMAR (Pakistan) said that the line between peaceful and military use of outer space was being blurred further, as non-governmental actors were no longer singularly confined to its peaceful exploration. That underscored the imperative of reinforcing the existing normative legal architecture and security dimension of outer space and enable it to respond to the growing risks. While recognizing the value of transparency- and confidence-building measures in promoting trust among States, such voluntary measures were not a substitute for a legally binding instrument. The primary litmus test for the relevance and value added of any initiative on outer space was whether and to what extent it maintained international consensus on preventing an arms race in outer space and tackled the well-known destabilizing weapons capabilities, as well as threats from their placement in outer space. The cardinal principle of ensuring equal security of all States as well as the agreed global norm on the primary responsibility of States with significant military capability vis-a-vis prevention of an arms race in outer space should remain central to those efforts.
KONSTANTIN VORONTSOV (Russian Federation) said all of his country’s space activities were carried out in compliance with international law. The Russian Federation wanted to keep space an area of exclusively peaceful activities on an equal basis. He warned of a serious threat posed by Western countries, headed by the United States, which were using outer space for military purposes to ensure their dominance, adversely affecting peace and security. He called on Western countries to stop positioning outer space as an area of conflict. He warned that civilian infrastructure in space could become targets, endangering socioeconomic development on Earth.
He said the world could still prevent a fully fledged arms race in outer space. “We have not passed the point of no return,” but the world did need to return to international legal agreements to govern outer space. Outer space weapons could not be deployed and use of threats against outer space objects should be banned, let alone using outer space objects to strike targets on Earth. Without a legally binding agreement, however, it did not look promising. Without duplicating the work of the Open-Ended Working Group, he proposed to renew the Group of Governmental Experts to define specific elements of an agreement (document A/77/C.1/L.70). The Russian Federation also submitted to the Committee a resolution on no first placement of weapons in outer space (document /77/C.1/L.67), for which it welcomed support and co-sponsorship.
LI SONG (China) said that outer space activities should promote development and prosperity. An arms race in outer space was increasingly becoming a reality. Some countries clung to cold war mentalities, pursued space dominance, and saw outer space as a priority domain for military power and strategic advantage. Damocles’ sword was hanging in space. Regarding the United States’ draft resolution on banning anti-satellite testing, he said that he welcomed all initiatives that were conducive to prevention of an arms race in outer space but opposed resolutions that would expand unilateral military advantages. The United States already had conducted those tests in 1959 and should have introduced the resolution back then if it really cared. He called on all Member States to object to that draft resolution.
RAFIQUL ALAM MOLLA (Bangladesh) stressed that armed conflict in space would make the entire domain a battlefield and jeopardize international peace and security. He re-emphasized the urgent need for the commencement of substantive negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament on a legally binding and multilaterally verifiable instrument on the prevention of such an arms race. Noting the launch of the country’s first communication satellite Bangabandhu-I, he stressed “our stake for a secured and peaceful outer space is more than ever before”. He called on space-faring nations to respect applicable laws and norms on the use of weapons in outer space. Underscoring that activities in outer space must not remain the exclusive preserve of a small group of States, he urged the international community to scale up efforts towards capacity-building so that developing countries could contribute to the outer space discourse.
FLAVIO DAMICO (Brazil) stated that satellites were essential components of almost all types of critical infrastructure on Earth. Any conflict in space would seriously endanger the prospects for the sustainable use of Earth’s orbits for peaceful purposes for generations to come. The discussions on prevention of an arms race in outer space stemmed from the recognition that the existing international regime on space security was insufficient to address current threats, and that its further development was an urgent task. Erosion of mutual trust among major space Powers was a key ingredient to that collective failure. Against that background, Brazil decided to support a “bottom-up” approach: gradual development of voluntary norms, rules and principles to strengthen the basis for a deeper conversation on normative elements. A most pressing initiative was a ban on all destructive anti-satellite tests. The testing, development and use of destructive anti-satellite weapons was the most serious threat to the security and sustainability of outer space. Such weapons were a key driver of mistrust and instability in space, and their testing generated significant persistent debris, leading to the contamination of the orbital environment and to a heightened risk of collisions.
HEIDAR ALI BALOUJI (Iran) said outer space should be for the benefit of all countries, regardless of their socioeconomic progress. He supported transparency and confidence-building measures as auxiliary measures, not as a substitute for legally binding instruments. The United States consistently prevented consensus on outer space issues. The only effective and practical option was a specialized negotiating body on space issues at the Conference of Disarmament. Long-term stability could only be achieved when the militarization of outer space was ensured. The United States was building a space army and weaponizing outer space, which must be stopped. Legally binding instruments were needed as the norms mentioned by the United States were completely abstract notions. Moreover, the United States had imposed illegal sanctions against the Iranian space agencies, in violation of international space law by impeding States’ right to the peaceful use of space and space cooperation. The United States could not and would not be able to dominate space. He rejected that country’s export regime by which it restricted developing countries’ right to the peaceful use of science, technology and services.
NADER LOUAFI (Algeria), associating with the Arab Group and Non-Aligned Movement, cited the primacy of preventing an arms race in outer space, applicable to all Member States, especially those with major space capacities. He called for the promotion of international cooperation in the exploration and use of space for peaceful purposes. He welcomed the revised draft treaty co-authored by the Russian Federation and China, and encouraged the start of negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament for an in-depth examination of the issues leading to the adoption of a comprehensive legally binding international instrument. The existing legal regime must be strengthened. The growing use of outer space required that all States take steps to ensure greater transparency, confidence‑building and better dissemination of information. Such voluntary measures, however, were no substitute for the conclusion of a legally binding treaty on preventing an outer space arms race.
Ms. HENDRIKSEN (United Kingdom) said that space technology continued to develop, bringing benefits, as well as challenges. The international security environment was characterized by competition, allowing some capabilities to be within the reach of non-State actors. Regarding the Open-Ended Working Group on space threats, the United Kingdom noted the widespread acknowledgement that international law, international humanitarian law and the Charter applied to space activities. The space environment presented the world with unique technical challenges in devising measures to provide transparency and avoid miscalculation and conflict, and in determining whether designs were for military or civilian purposes, or both. Understanding behavioural patterns of satellites was easier than understanding those systems’ capabilities. Rules and norms would complement legally binding measures, and both should be pursued through the Open-Ended Working Group. She raised questions about the Russian Federation’s proposal to reintroduce the Governmental Group of Experts with a limited format of only 25 participations, and with that, its limited inclusivity.
PAHALA RALLAGE SANATHANA SUGEESHWARA GUNARATNA (Sri Lanka) said it was clear that the existing legal framework should be strengthened to respond to unprecedented challenges in outer space caused by such developments as advancement of space technology, proliferation of actors and activities in space, as well as dual-use space infrastructure. A war in space could not be won and must not be fought. The only way to prevent a possible arms race in that domain was to develop comprehensive binding regulations to address current threats to its safety and security. Those regulations should strengthen the existing legal framework. Space debris posed a significant risk to operations in outer space. It was imperative that deliberations lead to the eventual elaboration of a comprehensive international legal instrument, which restricted weaponization of outer space. Norms and responsible behaviours were an interim step.
LUC JOTTERAND (Switzerland) said that armed conflicts should not extend to outer space, which would seriously impact national security and the peaceful exploration of outer space. Placing weapons in outer space would increase the risk of that domain turning into a battlefield, he said, calling for restraint by all. Preventing the development and use of anti-satellite weapons was a priority, and Switzerland would join several countries in their commitment to not conduct those destructive tests. Moreover, adopting transparency and safety measures was key to avoid misinterpretation of unexpected close approaches to foreign satellites without notification as a hostile act. A strict respect for existing obligations under international law was of paramount importance. Welcoming the work of the open-ended working group on space threats, he advised that space acts be assessed, not on the intentions, but on behaviour and consequences. Many challenges could be addressed by respecting existing obligations under international law, by improving transparency measures and notification mechanisms as well as by, among others, enhancing international collaboration.
IGNACIO SÁNCHEZ DE LERIN (Spain), associating with the European Union, cited growing international tensions, said that “space is congested, contested and competitive”. The security aspect was critical, and the international community must speed up and intensify efforts to ensure peaceful, secure exploration and use. Condemning missile attacks on satellites, he welcomed the resolution presented by United States, and expressed hope that it gained traction, including among those wishing to continue discussions on a legally binding instrument. He voiced support for the work of the Open-Ended Working Group, as an opportunity to examine the existing legal framework, to reflect on its shortcomings and its possibilities for development, and to reaffirm the applicability of international law to outer space. The group provides a framework for dialogue and trust in which States could share their concerns and priorities in the field of outer space, which was rapidly evolving. At the national level, he announced the creation of the Agencia Espacial Española [Spanish Space Agency].
AZRIL BIN ABD AZIZ (Malaysia) said that against the backdrop of a constantly shifting geopolitical and socioeconomic landscape, it was imperative for the global community to promote the peaceful use of outer space. Malaysia believed in the need for greater transparency and exchange of information among all actors in outer space, with due regard to the legitimate safety and security interests of all States. Malaysia had been consistent in its call for the avoidance of behaviour that could be construed as threats in outer space and believed in the need for greater transparency and exchange of information in that context, with particular attention to the legitimate safety and security interests of all. Malaysia welcomed the establishment of the open-ended working group on reducing space threats through norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviours, and supported its mandate, which could contribute to a legally binding instrument. Malaysia had endorsed its 2030 National Space Policy. He also highlighted the Malaysian Space Board Act 2022, which would ensure that space activities by Malaysia were carried out responsibly, safely, securely and in compliance with international guidelines.
BAE JONGIN (Republic of Korea) said that a lingering sense of distrust and a lack of communication had contributed to a deepening divide between States. Given the dual-use characteristics of space technology, it was not easy for States to be clear about intensions, activities and actions of others, which could lead to escalation and an arms race. The Republic of Korea took part actively in the Open-Ended Working Group on space threats and would continue on the journey towards a legally binding and effectively verifiable space security treaty. As one of the first countries to have committed to refraining from conducting direct-ascent anti-satellite missile testing, he welcomed the United States’ resolution on that topic. Such commitments and support for the relevant resolution was a first step to drawing up norms, rules, and principles of responsible behaviours. A primary role of the Conference on Disarmament was the prevention of an arms race in outer space, he said, welcoming recent debates. Space activities should promote global peace, safety and security, and further improve the lives of all worldwide.
ANEL BAKYTBEKKYZY (Kazakhstan) said that confidence-building measures were essential to formulating measures for preventing the militarization of outer space. Kazakhstan hosted the “Baikonur” space launch site on its territory and actively participated in peaceful space exploration programmes with the Russian Federation, France and other countries. More discussions were vital on preventing an arms race in outer space, with the involvement of international bodies engaged in that issue. She supported the draft treaty co-authored by China and the Russian Federation on preventing the placement of weapons in outer space. She underscored that the proliferation of sensitive missile technology was a serious threat to international peace and security. Presently, several countries possessed sophisticated space programmes or were developing them. It must be ensured that dual-use systems that could be weaponized did not undermine existing arms control accords. That was especially relevant in connection with nuclear missiles.
OGASAWARA ICHIRO (Japan), attaching great importance to open-ended working group on space threats, underscored the need to deepen the discussion on responsible behaviour and to establish a common understanding on patterns of responsible or irresponsible behaviours that could realistically endure in the face of changing circumstances. Japan viewed that working group’s efforts as a practical way forward in advancing the prevention of an arms race in outer space and it stood ready to make proactive contributions to the discussion to uphold outer space as a safe, secure, stable and sustainable environment. He underlined the importance of transparency and confidence-building measures to increase trust and prevent misperception and miscalculations in outer space activities. To pave the way in that direction, Japan has promoted measures contained in the recommendations of the 2013 report of the Group of Governmental Experts, he said, adding that United Nations Disarmament Commission could contribute to this endeavour.
CHRISTIAN PADILLA (Cuba), associating with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that outer space should not be converted in a battlefield. Member States had the duty to promote its strictly peaceful use. He opposed placing weapons or using force in outer space. Space technology also should not be used to violate national sovereignty, he said, underlining that spy satellites were incompatible with peace. The legal framework on outer space urgently needed to be strengthened. He called the earlier Russian Federation and Chinese draft at the Conference on Disarmament a good foundation towards a legally binding instrument. He also supported voluntary measures for transparency and confidence-building, not as a substitute for legally binding measures. He stressed respect for the legitimate right of all States to equal access to space. Current generations had the moral obligation to preserve the next generation’s right to the peaceful use of space, he concluded.
JOSÉ EDUARDO PEREIRA SOSA (Paraguay), said that Paraguay recognized the rights and obligations that derived from the peaceful use of outer space in accordance with international law and its sustainable use for the benefits of humanity, regardless of economic and technological development. Paraguay was making progress towards becoming a space-faring nation. It abided by the 1967 Treaty and had strengthened its role in the area of international cooperation. Paraguay ratified its position against the arms race in outer space, opposed to it becoming a theatre of conflict, and supported a legally binding regime that covered the aspirations of the international community. Transparency and confidence‑building measures in the context of outer space were also essential. Paraguay supported the open-ended working group on reducing space threats, as a concrete measure towards identifying existing and future threats, as well as activities that could be considered irresponsible. It was also a step towards an international instrument to prevent an outer space arms race.
JORGE VIDAL (Chile), associating with the Non-Aligned Movement, called for consideration of current and future threats to space systems by States, and any irresponsible actions, activities and omissions. He cited of the different perceptions of threats that related to the nature and risk of environmental damage, such as those that might result from the destruction of satellites, including destructive tests of direct anti-satellite missiles. The main threat was the placement of weapons in outer space, which must be avoided, as that realm must not be used as a delivery platform for war. The development and testing of anti-satellite systems and the creation of long-term debris must be prevented. He further expressed concern over malicious cyberactivity directed at navigation and communication satellites. All measures undertaken, however, should not impede developing nations’ full access to the benefits of the peaceful uses of space.
SIARHEI MAKAREVICH (Belarus) said that avoiding an arms race in outer space was of the highest priority. He called for support for the draft resolution prohibiting first placement of weapons in outer space. Universal support for that draft would guarantee that a second placement of weapons in outer space would not happen. The work of the First and Second Committees should be coordinated to avoid duplication and to trim those bodies’ agenda of issues that have no bearing on them. While the world was balancing on the brink of an arms race in outer space, the call for preventative measures was more relevant than ever, particularly to avert the militarization of outer space. Belarus supported the China-Russian Federation draft resolution on prohibiting placing weapons in space. Those efforts were the most acceptable way to start negotiations on developing multilateral binding instruments.
NOHRA MARIA QUINTERO CORREA (Colombia) said that space technology had changed the way of life thanks to its applications, including in research, socioeconomic development and security. At the same time, there were growing concerns about possible threats to national security and interests. Measures were being taken to counter that vulnerability, but it should be ensured that all States benefitted from space technology, for which an international framework was needed. Measures should be adopted to guarantee long-term sustainability. In particular, efforts must be focused on avoiding an outer space arms race and preserving the space environment for future generations. Deliberations should continue in various multilateral forums with the intent of ensuring transparency and building confidence. Voluntary measures on best practices, risk reduction, and norms, rules and principles for responsible behaviour should be developed and adopted.
She said Colombia was pleased that substantive sessions had been convened to implement such transparency and confidence-building measures, with a view to preventing an arms race in space. The Outer Space Treaty and the agreements made pursuant to it must be realized at a multilateral level. There was a legal loophole which needed to be addressed on the use of weapons in space. Political will and joint dialogue would allow preservation of that realm for peaceful purposes.
CONLETH BRADY (Ireland) said that space systems, in particular, navigation and communications satellites, were essential for the proper functioning of critical civilian infrastructure. As the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) rightly pointed out, such systems enabled the provision of essential services on which civilians depended for their survival, such as food supply, water, electricity, sanitation, waste management, telecommunications and health care. Those systems were also essential for combating climate change and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Irresponsible behaviour impacting those systems could cause significant humanitarian impacts and threaten development.
He said that space security threats did not only arise in space, but included Earth-based weapons and capabilities, as well as risks to ground-based infrastructure and datalinks. In addition, non-State actors were also capable of threatening space-based assets and systems, most notably, through cyberattacks. It was clear that space-based risks would continue to grow as orbital congestion worsened. He condemned the Russian Federation’s conduct of a kinetic direct-ascent anti-satellite weapon test against its own satellite, COSMOS 1408, resulting in its destruction by a missile. He was concerned by cyberattacks, jamming and other electromagnetic interferences or direct-energy weapons that could affect the use of space assets, as well as impair services of the targeted satellite for its users and ground stations.
GIUSEPPE QUIRIGHETTI, observer for the Holy See, said outer space was part of the world’s common home, and every State was its steward for present and future generations. To date, outer space had been spared from weapons-stationing. It was essential that it remain non-militarized and preserved for peaceful purposes to the benefit of all. Despite efforts, the international community had not yet succeeded in negotiating an agreement on prohibiting all types of weapons in outer space. He raised the alarm about the expanding resources of various States on orbital and space-based weapons, not only risking an arms race in outer space, but also hampering its peaceful use. The testing of anti-satellite missiles was incompatible with caring for the world’s common home. Accordingly, he welcomed the resolution introducing a moratorium on such tests. However, a multilateral agreement prohibiting direct-ascent tests should be buttressed by other transparency- and confidence-building measures. Those measures and other norms did not preclude, but rather lay the groundwork for a legally binding agreement prohibiting the weaponization of outer space and weapons that threatened space objects.
MARIA BENEDICTA DIAH KRISTANTI (Indonesia) speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said she was concerned at the erosion of multilateralism in the field of disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control. The adoption of disarmament measures should take place in an equitable and balanced manner so as to ensure the right of each State to security and that no individual State or group of States obtained advantage over others. She strongly rejected any politicization of the work of the Conference on Disarmament and calls on all Member States to display the necessary political will and flexibility in order to enable it to agree on recommendations for achieving nuclear disarmament and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.
She called for transparency and the strict application of the principle of equitable geographical representation, including in the composition of any group of governmental experts. She tabled two draft resolutions, for which consensus support was welcome. First, the United Nations Regional Centres for Peace and Disarmament (document A/77/C.1/L.9), and second, the convening of the fourth special sessions of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament (document A/77/C.1/L.6). The increasing trend towards competing proposals, addressing the same topics under the same agenda items, could undermine the credibility and consistency of the disarmament machinery and its functioning.
SARMAD MUWAFAQ MOHAMMED AL-TAIE (Iraq), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group and associating with the Non-Aligned Movement, said his delegation will spare no effort to ensure universalization of the NPT. He eagerly awaited the convening of a fourth special General Assembly session on disarmament, calling for concrete results. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a new source of international law on disarmament, and he stressed that the acquisition, use or threat of use of nuclear weapons was at variance with international humanitarian law. He regrets the breakdown of the tenth NPT Review Conference, the second such failure in a row. The lack of a final document has a negative impact on the non-proliferation regime. Calling for establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, he notes the Conference on Disarmament is the only body for negotiations, but remains deadlocked, owing to the lack of political will of certain States. He urges the international community to focus on new commitments to eliminate nuclear weapons. He meanwhile hails the role played by United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, urging that it not be politicized.
STAN ODUMA SMITH (Bahamas), speaking on behalf of CARICOM, said it was vital to maintain progress in the Conference on Disarmament, for which five subsidiary bodies had been established this year to do so. However, no agreement had been reached on a programme of work, which had held it at an impasse for more than two decades. The Disarmament Commission, after a three‑year hiatus, had started its work this year with good results. Member States showed a will to foster disarmament, despite the international landscape. CARICOM appreciated the work of the United Nations Disarmament Fellowship Programme, from which the region continued to benefit.
He said that disarmament was the bridge to sustainable development. In the last year, CARICOM States benefited from training to restore serial numbers on firearms, as well as training for law-enforcement officers on how to conduct gender-sensitive firearm examinations. CARICOM applauded the IAEA’s leadership, which had allowed States to provide critical infrastructure to Ukraine. CARICOM regarded highly the importance of nuclear-weapon-free zones as means to improve confidence and support disarmament. CARICOM reaffirmed its support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, with 11 of its members being signatories, and 10 being States Parties. CARICOM recognized the work of civil society to foster peace and security, especially in the context of emerging weapons technologies. All Member States should join the collective action to build a safer world.
Right of Reply
The representative of the United States, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, responded to the statements by the Russian Federation and China. Despite what some argued, the United States sought to ensure that outer space remained free from conflict and advocated addressing issues that could lead to conflict. As a first step, it proposed a resolution to address the most pressing issue, namely, anti-satellite missile testing. Yesterday, the Russian Federation’s representative made three comments regarding his country’s November 2021 anti-satellite missile test: one correct, one correct but misleading and one was incorrect.
First, he said that the Russian delegate had said that the test was conducted in compliance with all relevant laws. That is absolutely correct, because there are currently no prohibitions, which is why the United States proposed its resolution and hopes all countries will recognize that the generation of debris generated is in no one’s interest. Second, the Russian Federation mentioned that the United States’ resolution does not cover the development and production of a system. That was also correct, as the resolution’s focus was on testing. However, that statement was also misleading. Last year’s test showed that the Russian Federation was already developing an anti-satellite missile. If it was so concerned about the development and production aspects, he hoped it would provide the international community with assurances that it is not developing or producing those kinds of missiles.
Finally, the Russian Federation said that the debris from that test was not a threat to any satellite, he said. This was very incorrect. Last Monday, 24 October, the International Space Station was forced to manoeuvre out of the way of debris from the November test. Moving the Station was not done lightly, and only happened when there was a significant risk to the lives of the astronauts. This was the second time this year the Station needed to be moved because of that test’s debris.
China, he continued, already had an operational anti-satellite missile system, which they destructively tested in 2007 and whose debris remained in space to this day. That was why the United States with draft resolution “L.62” responded to that threat to avoid more risks in years to come. He encouraged the text’s universal support.
The representative of the Russian Federation, also speaking in exercise of the right for reply, voiced rejection for the numerous unfounded insinuations by Ireland and the United States regarding his country’s space programme. He already gave detailed explanations on the matter yesterday but would repeat them. The activities were conducted in strict conformity with international law and the 1960 Outer Space Treaty. They were not directed against anyone and did not create danger for anyone. Since the 1950s, the United States had consistently pursued a policy of using outer space for combat operations and deployed weapons systems in order to achieve military superiority which would lead to total dominance in outer space.
In 2020, he said, the United States Department of Defence adopted a space strategy which defined space objectives for the next 10 years and ways to achieve them. Outer space was considered a place of warfare. Not only for defence and deterrence purposes, but also for defeating the enemy in the hostile use of outer space. In the document “Space Power”’ prescribed the United States’ space forces to use force and physically destroy the enemy’s capabilities. Similar documents were developed by France, United Kingdom, Australia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in general. Washington, D.C., and its allies were implementing large-scale programmes to use the threat of force in, from or against space, including in an active manner. The topic he was talking about was the creation of a space-based missile defence group as well as a means for unauthorized impact on objects in the orbital space infrastructure.
As part of that activity, said the speaker, Washington, D.C., without any prior warning, tested the latest type of weapons in orbit, including with the destruction of their spacecraft. On 20 February 2008, they used a missile to destroy one of their satellites. In the 1980s, anti-satellite weapons testing took place on an aircraft carried out by the Pentagon. The United States had the potential to produce weapons in space. The Russian Federation’s questions to the United States regarding its goals on the “X37‑B” platform remained unanswered.
In the absence of universal legal regimes and treaties on Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space, the introduction of new concepts would be counter-productive, he said. Questions on how the responsibility of States would be decided remained unanswered. There was a risk of politization and subjective judgements of a manipulative nature in the interests of a certain group of States. He was convinced that negotiations on a legally binding agreement prohibiting weapon placement and the use or threat of use of force in outer space was the surest way to reduce tensions and alleviate States’ concerns about the safety of space activities.
The representative of China stated that the United States’ initiative on anti-satellite missile testing was a very narrow one, which only targeted one specific aspect of space security. It was indeed very necessary, especially for the United States, to join the international community in making general commitments to not place weapons in space and to not use force against space objects. It was not only because the “treaty on the prevention of the placement of weapons in outer space and of the threat or use of force against outer space objects” was proposed by China and the Russian Federation, but because the obligations suggested in that draft treaty would target such behaviours and offer a very general and simple solution for space security. The problem on the part of the United States was that it always rejected this kind of general commitment regarding space security. There was no other country seeking dominance like the United States, the only super-Power with a strategy and programme and manufacturing activities for the purpose of space dominance. The international community should not accept a security situation with United States’ dominance in space. A general commitment was needed to not place weapons in space and to not use force against space objects.