CD debates prevention of an arms race in outer space

Gabriella Irsten | Reaching Critical Will of WILPF
5 June 2012

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) met on Tuesday, 5 June, to discuss the topic of prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS). Statements were delivered by the CD President, Russian Federation, China, Canada, Kazakhstan, the European Union (EU), Belarus, the Republic of Korea, Indonesia, France, India, the United States, Pakistan, Iran, Japan, and Algeria.

General thought on PAROS
All delegation that took the floor during the plenary agreed that outer space should be preserved for peaceful uses and that the growing use of space increases the importance of having better regimes and frameworks. China, Belarus, Pakistan, and Iran also pointed to the gaps that exist in the legal framework dealing with outer space. However, not all countries agreed that new legal instruments are warranted or even beneficial. The US delegation stated that it “is willing to consider space arms control proposals and concepts that are equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhance the national security of the United States, partners, and allies. However, we have not yet seen a proposal that meets these criteria.” The French ambassador stated that for a new legally-binding instrument on outer space to be useful it would need to be comprehensive.

Many delegations took the opportunity to discuss already existing resolutions or working papers that could be futher developed or discussed. Pakistan, Russia, and China emphasised that PAROS is their delegations’ priority at the CD.

The Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space Treaty (PPWT)
The PPWT was presented by the Russian Federation and China in 2008 in the document CD/1893. The PPWT was drafted to prevent the threats that the limitation of preventing mesures of placeing wepaons in outer space. The Russian Federation together with China emphasised the imporatnce of this treaty and Ambassador Borodavkin of Russia noted that the draft is not “set in stone,” but is rather an invitation for futher dialogue. China emphasised that the PPWT, together with the treaty on the Threat or Use of Force against outer space objects, are the most evolved proposals before the CD on this topic. The delegation of Turkey also raised the importance of working towards a legal instrument and said that the PPWT is a good example of this.

The EU argued that the PPWT needs further work, in particular on the definitions. “As a matter of Principle, an effective and robust verification system must be an intergralpart of any fuhter Treaty concerning with space security,” argued the Ambassador of Denmark on behalf of the EU. “We consider it is not sufficient to only refer to a possible futhure additional protocol.”

Mr. Mohammed Hassan Daryaei of the Iranian delegation described the PPWT as a good basis for further discussions that could possibly lead to eventual PAROS negotiations.Kazakhstan, Belarus, and the Republic of Korea all supported the PPWT draft treaty.

Transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space (TCBMs)
Many states spoke on the importance of TCBMs. The Russian delegation emphasised that while TCBMs are not a substitute for efforts to prevent weapons in space, they valued the contribution they could make to increasing the transparancy and predictability of outer space activities. Ambassador Wu Haitao of China also emphasised that TCBMs could not substitute legally-binding regimes. The Republic of Korea stated that a combination of TCBMs and legally-binding treaties would enhance the legal framework on outer space. However, the Indian delegation argued that the CD should negotiate legally binding instruments, not TCBMs.

Russia, the Republic of Korea, France, and the United States said that the EU Code of Conduct for Outer Space is a positive step towards transparency and confidence building. The EU outlined the three main principles of the Code of Conduct:

  • the freedom for all to use outer space for peaceful purposes;
  • preservation of security and integrity of space objects in orbit; and
  • due consideration for the legitimate security and defence needs of states.

Mr. Hamza Khelif from the Algerian delegation raised some question concerning the EU Code of Conduct. He asked whether the second principle was in relation to accidents or also deliberate accidents. He also queried how this principle could be reconciled with the third principle on defence.

Japan, the Republic of Korea, the EU, China, Canada, and the United States expressed hope that the Group of Govermental Experts established by UN General Assembly resolution 65/68, “Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities,” will produce effective mesures towards preventing an arms race in outer space.

The delegtions of Canada, the EU, France, and Japan expressed concern at the risk posed by space debris and called for all space faring nation to act in a responsible way to minimize debris. Ms. Kelly Anderson of the Canadian delegation acknowledged that TCBMs are “key steps towards mitigating the risk we all face, including the significant danger posed by navigational hazards such as space debris.” She futher indicated suport for the work of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and in particular their study on how to takle debris.

Anti-satellite weapons and anti-ballistic missile systems

Iran’s delegation stressed the threat of the development of anti-satellite weapons while France raised the question on how to address specific anti-satellite weapons that are ground-based. Mr. Borodavkin from the Russian delegation stated that with the available UNIDIR document and initiative in 1981 from the Western European group they should be able to put forward a proposal.

Working in CD
While many states explicitly called for working on PAROS through adopting a programme of work in the CD, the delegation of Belarus noted that many member states seem to be reluctant to initiate substantive discussions on this issue in this forum. He further commented that there is clear absence of political will to undertake concrete work.

Next meeting
The next plenary meeting will be held on Tuesday, 12 June, at 10:00 on the topic of effective international arrangements to assure non- nuclear weapon states against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.