9616th Meeting (PM)

Security Council Fails to Adopt First-Ever Resolution on Arms Race in Outer Space, Due to Negative Vote by Russian Federation

The Security Council today failed to adopt its first-ever resolution on outer space — one that would have affirmed the obligation of all States parties to fully comply with the Outer Space Treaty, including not to place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner.

Had it been adopted, the resolution would have also emphasized the necessity of further measures, including political commitments and legally binding instruments, with appropriate and effective provisions for verification, to prevent an arms race in outer space in all its aspects.

Introducing the draft text, also on behalf of Japan, the representative of the United States said:  “There should be no doubt that placing a nuclear weapon into orbit would be unprecedented, unacceptable and deeply dangerous.”  Thus, the resolution should not be controversial, she added, highlighting that the text allows the international community to address current and emerging threats to help ensure that countries will not deploy nuclear weapons around Earth and pose a grave threat to international peace and security. Her delegation and that of Japan have gone to great lengths to forge consensus, she said, thanking the 62 cross-regional co-sponsors who have joined in support.

The representative of the Russian Federation, noting that the Council is again involved in “a dirty spectacle prepared by the US and Japan”, said:  “This is a cynical ploy.  We are being tricked.”  Recalling that the ban on placing weapons of mass destruction in outer space is already enshrined in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, he said that Washington, D.C., Tokyo and their allies are “cherry-picking” weapons of mass destruction out of all other weapons, trying to “camouflage their lack of interest” in outer space being free from any kinds of weapons.  The addition of the operative paragraph proposed by the Russian Federation and China does not delete from the draft resolution a call not to develop weapons of mass destruction and not to place them in outer space, he emphasized.

China’s representative said the draft amendment provides for the inclusion of all types of weapons and the early elaboration of a legally binding multilateral agreement.  Further, elements in the amendment are derived from a General Assembly resolution supported by over two thirds of Member States.  Adoption of the amendment will make the current draft more complete, comprehensive and balanced, he said, calling on all Council members to vote in favour of the amendment.

By a vote of 7 in favour (Algeria, China, Ecuador, Guyana, Mozambique, Russian Federation and Sierra Leone) to 7 against (France, Japan, Malta, Republic of Korea, Slovenia, United Kingdom and United States), with 1 abstention (Switzerland), the Council rejected the amendment, owing to the failure to obtain the required number of votes.

Japan’s representative said:  “It was unfortunate that Russia and China put forth an amendment that seeks to divide us — an amendment that already eight Council members did not vote in support of during last year’s First Committee.”  The two countries’ proposal is inconsistent with the UN Charter, which permits the use of force for self-defence or where authorized by the Security Council.  About the elaboration of legally binding multilateral agreements in the amendment, he said the Council should not seek to get ahead of ongoing discussion in the General Assembly for a conference on disarmament but rather seek to complement and support it.

By a vote of 13 in favour to 1 against (Russian Federation), with 1 abstention (China), the Council then rejected the draft resolution, owing to the negative vote cast by a permanent member.

Speaking after the vote on the text, the representative of the United States said that this is not the first time the Russian Federation has undermined the global non-proliferation regime.  It has defended — and even enabled — dangerous proliferators.  Moreover, with its abstention, China showed that it would rather “defend Russia as its junior partner” than safeguard the global non-proliferation regime, she added.

Japan’s representative said he deeply regretted the Russian Federation’s decision to use the veto to break the adoption of “this historic draft resolution”.  Notwithstanding the support of 65 countries who co-sponsored the document, one permanent member decided to “silence the critical message we wanted to send to the world”, he stressed, noting that the draft resolution would have been a practical contribution to the promotion of peaceful use and the exploration of outer space.

Among five Council members who voted in favour of both the amendment and the resolution were the representatives of Ecuador, Mozambique and Sierra Leone.  Algeria’s representative said the amendment strengthened the text by advocating for a broader approach that goes beyond weapons of mass destruction.  He voted in favour of both texts as a step towards strengthening the legal regime governing outer space activities, he said.  Guyana’s representative observed that both texts, which her delegation supported, sought to promote peaceful use of outer space and prevent the placement of weapons there.

The representative of Switzerland, which abstained from the contentious amendment but voted for the resolution, reiterated his country’s support for developing legally binding instruments on the prohibition of the placement of weapons — including conventional weapons — in outer space.  This draft resolution “is the step in the right direction”, he said, noting that the prescription of the development of systems specifically designed to be placed in space would have represented an important confidence-building measure.

The representative of the Russian Federation said the only reason Washington, D.C., introduced this amendment is to tarnish the Russian Federation.  Addressing the United States’ delegate and highlighting the thrust of the proposed amendment, he asked:  “If the United States is really so much in favour of using outer space for peaceful purposes, why did you vote against our amendment calling for a ban on weapons of any kind being placed in space, not just weapons of mass destruction?”

Echoing that sentiment, China’s representative said that if the United States and Japan were truly committed to advancing the Council’s constructive deliberations on outer space security, then they unequivocally stand for the prohibition of the placement of all types of weapons, including nuclear weapons in outer space.  The draft resolution is incomplete and unbalanced and does not fully reflect the common interest of 193 Member States, he said, explaining his abstention.

Among five Council members who voted against the amendment and in favour of the resolution were the representatives of France, Republic of Korea and Slovenia.  The representative of Malta, Council President for April, speaking in her national capacity, said the Council missed a “timely opportunity” to adopt its first resolution on outer space.  “These weapons threaten our existence and should be eliminated altogether,” she stressed. In the same vein, the United Kingdom’s representative emphasized:  “There should be no nuclear weapons stationed in space and that is something every Council member should agree on.”

For information media. Not an official record.