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Presentation on the International Code of Conduct in Outer Space, 21 November, Bangkok

Beatrice Fihn | Reaching Critical Will

UNIDIR Event: Space Security Challenges for Emerging Space Actors
November 21, 2013

Thank you all for coming, and a big thanks to UNIDIR for not only organizing this dinner but also for its contributions to this entire process. Space is one of few global commons that border every community on earth. It has become an increasingly important factor for economy, communications, and development. As our dependency on space assets has grown, it is becoming increasingly important to address the issue of safety and security in space, and to preserve this unique environment so all can use it responsibly. Debris knows no boarders. It does not take into consideration whose satellite it is, it does not care about strategic balance or military power. Many previous discussions around space issues in multilateral forum have tended to focus on weapons in space or military aspects. The idea of weaponized space is of course very serious and needs to be discussed. 

But for most stakeholders, space is not an issue of self-defense or not. Millions of individuals rely on space applications on a daily basis for functions as diverse as weather forecasting, navigation, communications, and search-and-rescue operations. It is mainly an issue if socio-economic concerns, about humanitarian implications. It's about providing essential services to people. 

Space is truly one of those issues of global concern. One mistake by anyone, affects all of us. Those with assets in space, those that use assets in space, and those that will use such assets in the future. But most of all, it affects people on the ground. Ordinary people, whose lives are dependent on this technology. So as the space sector, and our dependence on it, is evolving rapidly, It is the responsibility of the international policymaking community to adapt fast in order to understand how to deal with space security, as a part of the overall picture of the global security environment.

There have been efforts in other places, like COPUOS, CD, and many more. But these have not yet managed to achieve the results needed. It is therefore important to identify what has succeeded in other areas and look for new ways to achieve results. Previous processes on international issues show that focusing on the consequences that people face on the ground, rather than strategic and security concerns is a successful way to initiate progress.

As a part of such new focus, it is not only important but actual essential to engage a broader spectrum of stakeholders. Such new stakeholders does not only consist of a new group of states that are developing space activities, but also includes other stakeholders, such as international organizations, civil society and the corporations. Together, they can broaden the community of actors that have a direct interest in maintaining space for peaceful uses and provide more incentives for taking action now. 

Making sure that emerging actors in space are included is of utmost importance. These discussions cannot only be held by a small group of governments with developed space capabilities. It is necessary to encourage discussions where a broader diversity of states can participate. This can be done in forums that include all states, open-ended meetings, but also regional initiatives. At the same time, cross-regional groups of like-minded states should be encouraged, as it builds cooperation and trust. It is essential that all states, those with advanced space capacity, those that are emerging space powers and those that could be future users of space technology all have a voice at the table. It is key that international organizations play a role.

UN agencies like ITU, WMO, WHO, and all the humanitarian organizations use space consistently for executing their missions. They use space for things like weather forecasts, disaster recovery, risk reductions, and need to be engage in this topic. Including such actors in a discussion about future rules and guidelines for space behaviors will allow for a more comprehensive view of what priorities the international community needs to address.

Civil society and public opinion is essential for addressing the problems in outer space. There is no lack of urgent issues on government agendas these days; we're struggling with climate change, armed violence, economic downturns and many other challenges. In order for certain items to be prioritized, there needs to be interest and pressure for action from the public.

For a long time, only few NGOs have been involved in space issues, and mainly on an expert level. This means that it has been difficult to translate technical discussions to something that the public can engage in. Especially when the problems are difficult to visualize, and mostly focus on prevention, governments need active civil society that can make sure that the public follows what's going on and demand action. 

As a result of working to develop a public interest in issues, NGOs have an established track record of advancing political efforts – for example, the work carried out by NGOs on issues such as landmines, cluster munitions and most recently, the Arms Trade Treaty, shows how powerful the engagement of civil society can be. These processes were very successful and pushed governments beyond discussion to taking effective action and concluded agreements and even treaties far beyond governments initial expectations.

Aside from a broad and diverse group of states, international organizations, and civil society, discussions on space issues would benefit significantly from including the private sector as well. Satellite companies for example have a vested interest in keeping space safe for future use, and will be able to contribute to discussions on this issue. There is an obvious interest in preventing harm to their assets that should be taken advantage of. 

Together, this kind of broad group of stakeholders can positively change the way we have dealt with this issue and increase the likelihood of success. Because the value of political processes is not limited to the text agreed upon at the end. A political process is also a part of a bigger movement on the issue, where consultations and negotiations in themselves can be confidence building, increase transparency and have a positive impact of a much wider spectrum of issues than the topic of the process.

A political process will also automatically raise the issue on internal agendas and be given more attention and resources. A political process that includes emerging actors will be more likely to achieve this kind of success. These consultations on an international code of conduct are a very positive step forward. It might not be able to solve all the challenges we are facing in space, but it is an achievable goal that can create room needed for the international community, consisting of a broad and diverse group of stakeholders, to start addressing this issue seriously.

The code of conduct can be a very valuable multilateral process, and it can provide that starting platform for discussions on how we protect space for future generations to use peacefully.