29 March 2012
Space Security 2012: Laying the Groundwork for Progress
Message by Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva
Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament and
Personal Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General to the Conference
“Space Security 2012: Laying the Groundwork for Progress”
Delivered at the opening session on his behalf by Mr. Jarmo Sareva,
Deputy Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament and Director,
United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, Geneva Branch
It is a pleasure to greet all the participants at this annual conference on space security organized by the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research – UNIDIR. I thank the Governments of China, the Russian Federation and the United States for their support for this 10th edition of the conference, which represents a most important feature in the annual disarmament calendar here in Geneva. The support provided by the Secure World Foundation is also highly appreciated. Their involvement shows the importance of integrating civil society actors in multilateral disarmament debates.
This annual conference on one of the core issues on the agenda of the Conference on Disarmament is another demonstration of the value and relevance of UNIDIR in creating a space for disarmament diplomats to engage outside the formal structures. By facilitating research and reflection on all areas of disarmament, UNIDIR not only builds a common knowledge base, but can also contribute to identifying and crystalizing the mutual interests of States and thereby stimulate impetus for substantive work. As the title of this year’s conference signals, these efforts can help lay the groundwork for progress. This progress is urgently needed – on the issue of preventing an arms race in outer space, and on all other items on the agenda of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) – and I commend UNIDIR’s commitment to making a contribution to finding common ground on these fundamental security issues.
Your debates over the coming two days take place shortly before the second International Day of Human Space Flight, which we will celebrate on 12 April. 51 years ago, the first human space flight opened up exploration of space for the benefit of all of humankind. These benefits have since increased to the point where space science and technology have become indispensable in our daily lives. Space-based assets are in integral part of our critical international and national infrastructure, delivering essential broadcasting and monitoring services. From telecommunications, navigation and banking transactions to warnings of natural disasters, recovery activities, agricultural planning and forecasting, and natural resources protection, we all depend on the support of either space-based systems or technology derived from space exploration. The potential for scientific and socio-economic progress, and commercial gain, through sustainable use of space is undeniable.
As the central role of space in our everyday lives continues to expand, the need for ensuring adequate, long-term protection of space resources becomes ever-more pressing. The rapid advances in space technology compound this challenge. Few environments demonstrate as clearly as space the interconnection across our actions: whatever one actor does in space inevitably affects others – for better or for worse. Our dependence on space brings a shared vulnerability and a collective responsibility to ensure the continued peaceful use of outer space.
Space is a fragile environment, and the number of actors with access to space is on the rise, with some 60 nations operating satellites, including 11 States with dedicated military or dual-use satellites. Yet, no comprehensive regime has been developed for outer space that protects space systems in orbit from harm. Dangers such as hostile actions from State or non-State actors, continued growth in orbital debris and the increased probability of interference or collisions are powerful reminders of this fragility and of the need for common efforts to manage it. We have already witnessed the collision of satellites and uncontrolled spacecraft falling down after the expiry of their lifespan or as a result of a failure at launch. NASA and other sources estimate that over 13,000 satellites orbit earth but fewer than 3,500 of these are both functioning and in their correct orbit. This means that nearly 10,000 satellites are classed as debris but have not yet decayed.
The international community, with the United Nations at the centre, has made considerable progress in strengthening the norms, institutions and legal regimes concerning outer space since the first space flight in 1961, not least through the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which joins together more than 100 countries, provides the principles that govern the activities of States in the peaceful use of outer space. Nevertheless, significant challenges remain to maintain the benefits of space as a common good.
All of the legal instruments concerning space security were agreed and adopted during the Cold War. Apart from weapons of mass destruction, international law does not prohibit deployment of weapons in outer space.
This lack of adequate and comprehensive institutional structures, legal framework and norms may eventually lead some Governments to look to a military approach for the protection of space systems. Given the potential reach and capability of weapons in space, this opens up the possibility of an arms race. We therefore need to update, refine and expand the legal regime for a comprehensive, universal governance structure that can address today’s as well as future challenges adequately.
Common efforts are urgently needed to address the growing risks and challenges in space security, and I believe that we have now a unique opportunity to safeguard the secure and sustainable use of space.
First, we need to build further trust and confidence among the main stakeholders, based on a clear understanding of our interdependence and shared vulnerabilities. This is a fundamental but also a gradual process, due to the gap in the economic and technological capabilities of States in relation to space. The upcoming Group of Governmental Experts on Transparency and Confidence Building Measures, which is to start in July, will provide an important avenue for further consolidating trust and defining the next steps.
Second, we need to intensify efforts to develop and agree upon common legal standards and rules governing pre-launch notifications, space traffic management and manoeuvres in orbit, and communication among between satellite operators.
Third, we need to prevent a weaponization of space. The placement of any type of weapon in space by one State would inevitably trigger a response from others, whether symmetric or asymmetric. In this regard, I note the contribution by the Russian Federation and China, who have jointly proposed a draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects (PPWT).
Therefore, most importantly, we need substantive progress in the Conference on Disarmament. The CD, as the world’s single, standing multilateral disarmament negotiating body, has the primary role in the negotiation of a multilateral agreement, or agreements, on the prevention of an arms race in outer space. Multilateral negotiations in the framework of the CD would contribute significantly to a safer and more secure environment in outer space, and I take this opportunity to reiterate my call to the members of the CD to redouble their efforts to take forward substantive work.
As the human family, we have an obligation to preserve space as a common good. I hope that this conference will contribute new ideas and initiatives that can help us translate that obligation into concrete action.
I wish you all success in your discussions.