CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT DISCUSSES PREVENTION OF AN ARMS RACE IN OUTER SPACE
31 July 2012
The Conference on Disarmament today held a thematic discussion on the prevention of an arms race in outer space.
Jean-Hugues Simon-Michel, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations Office at Geneva and President of the Conference on Disarmament, welcomed new colleagues to the Conference and bid farewell to those representatives who had left Geneva over the summer. The President also summarized the last discussion the Conference had on the prevention of an arms race in outer space.
Delegates participating in today’s discussion referred to the 2008 draft treaty proposed by Russia and China on Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects, and also gave opinions on the European Union’s draft Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities. The work of the Group of Government Experts on Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities, which recently concluded its first session in New York, was also reported on. States discussed the risks posed by the growing amount of space debris, increasing reliance on space-based technologies such as those used for communications, and the equal and inalienable right of all States to access outer space for peaceful use. Many States agreed that new international binding legal instruments were needed to prevent the militarization and weaponization of outer space, and that the Conference on Disarmament was the forum for their negotiation.
Speaking in today’s plenary discussion were Sri Lanka, Cuba, Russia, United States, Indonesia, European Union, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, China, Chile, Australia, Egypt, United Kingdom, Poland, Belarus and Algeria.
The next meeting of the Conference on Disarmament will be held on Tuesday, 7 August, 2012.
Joint Statement by the Five Permanent Members of the Security Council
United States, speaking on behalf of the five permanent members of the Security Council: United States, China, Russia, United Kingdom and France, commended to all members of the Conference on Disarmament the joint statement agreed on by the five permanent Security Council members at the conclusion of the Washington P5 Conference ‘Implementing the Non-Proliferation Treaty’, held from 27 to 29 June in Washington D.C. The statement would be issued as a Conference document, and all members were urged to read it.
Address by the President
JEAN-HUGUES SIMON-MICHEL, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations Office at Geneva and President of the Conference on Disarmament, welcomed new colleagues to the Conference on Disarmament and bid farewell to those representatives who had left Geneva over the summer. The President noted that, according to its agenda, the Conference would today discuss means of preventing an arms race in outer space. He recalled that the Conference last discussed that topic on June 5 2012, and summarized the discussion. Questions about the use of weapons in outer space, anti-satellite weapons, risks posed by space debris and other issues were raised and various solutions referred to. Many speakers stressed the importance of transparency and confidence-building measures, as well as the concrete proposals made in the European Union’s draft Code of Conduct. A number of countries stressed the need to have a legally-binding instrument and recalled proposals already on the table, and also highlighted that the Conference on Disarmament was the forum where such an instrument should be negotiated, under its programme of work.
Sri Lanka said it stood ready to work within the Conference on Disarmament to achieve the total elimination of nuclear weapons and the common objective of making the world a safer place. Global challenges required global solutions. Sri Lanka supported the use of space-based technologies for peaceful use. Those technologies had become part of daily life, and increasingly communications, banking and navigation technologies were reliant on the use of outer space. All countries should benefit from those technologies, regardless of their economic or developmental status. The growing use of outer space called for the re-doubling of efforts in the field of preventing an arms race in it. Sri Lanka commended Russia and China’s joint draft treaty, as reflected in 2008 document CD/1839, on the use of weapons in outer space, and welcomed it as a basis towards adopting an internationally binding instrument. If barriers against a costly arms race in space were not negotiated now, the international community would be discussing non-proliferation efforts in a few years, which everyone knew would be very difficult. Negative security assurances could provide confidence to non-nuclear weapons States.
Cuba said outer space was the heritage of mankind and should be explored and used only for peaceful reasons. The role of space technology in daily life was increasingly indispensible. Efforts to ensure the peaceful use of outer space went far beyond just the ‘use’ of space. All States had an inalienable right to access outer space for peaceful use. The growth of activities in outer space meant the risk of an arms race was growing. Unfortunately, over the last few years several worrying initiatives had been seen, and a coordinated approach between the Conference on Disarmament, the General Assembly and the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space was needed. The draft treaty CD/1839 presented in 2008 by Russia and China was a good basis upon which to start negotiations. The international Code of Conduct drafted by the European Union was useful, especially if negotiated within the context of the International Telecommunications Union, and would probably contribute to making outer space more secure, but Cuba had serious doubts about the Code with regard to disarmament, particularly concerning the self-defence of States.
Russia said the time was right to begin negotiations on this topic, and said placing weapons in outer space may cause unpredictable consequences for the world. All States had an equal and inalienable right to access outer space for peaceful use, and securing its peaceful use was a common task. States must work together to that end. The draft treaty introduced by Russia and China in May 2008 had already been discussed, as reflected in document CD/1839, and Russia was prepared to discuss any further questions. At the same time Russia was ready to take more steps to adopt confidence-building and transparency measures.
VICTOR L VASILIEV, Permanent Representative of Russia to the Conference on Disarmament, then reported on the first session of the Group of Government Experts on Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities in July 2012 in New York, of which he had been elected chair. During its first meeting the Group adopted its methods of work and agreed to conduct its work by consensus. To help ensure that the work of the Group was as inclusive as possible, experts from other States and intergovernmental bodies, such as the International Telecommunications Union and the World Meteorological Organization, as well as from civil society, were encouraged to provide written recommendations to the Group. At its final meeting of the first session, the Group adopted an indicative programme of work which included a detailed schedule of activities. The second session of the Group would be held from 1 to 5 April 2013 in Geneva, which would provide a good opportunity for Conference Member States to interact with it.
United States said the indicative programme of work adopted by the Group of Government Experts on Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities provided a solid framework for Experts to conduct a comprehensive review of the role of bilateral and multilateral mechanisms to strengthen stability in space. The report being produced by the Group provided a unique opportunity to explore opportunities for international cooperation on pragmatic, voluntary, effective and timely transparency and confidence-building measures. The United States was currently working closely with the European Union and like-minded nations to develop an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, and welcomed the European Union’s recent initiative of a multi-lateral diplomatic process to negotiate such a Code. The United States looked forward to participating in a multi-lateral experts meeting which the European Union planned to convene in October in New York, on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly First Committee, and strongly supported the European Union’s efforts to pursue outreach on the Code to all United Nations Member States.
Indonesia said today’s thematic debate on prevention of an arms race in outer space caused the permanent representative to recall his early days watching Star Trek and Star Wars movies. A lesson drawn from those films was that an empire relying solely on technology and dominating control over populations was destructive for humankind. With the rapid advancement of technology many achievements had been witnessed in the last 50 years in human space flight and space exploration for peaceful purposes. However, the prevention of an arms race in outer space had assumed greater urgency in light of the legitimate concerns that existing legal instruments were inadequate to deter the militarization and weaponization of outer space. In 2002 Indonesia, together with China, Russia, Belarus, Viet Nam, Zimbabwe and Syria, presented Working Paper CD/1679, a draft legal agreement on the prevention of the deployment of weapons in outer space and the threat, or use of force, against objects in outer space. That was followed by the joint Russian-Chinese initiative contained in document CD/1839, which Indonesia believed deserved further consideration when the Conference on Disarmament adopted a programme of work. The proposed International Code of Conduct on Outer Space, put forward by the European Union, should not replace the need for legally binding instruments.
European Union updated the Conference on Disarmament on the official launch, on June 5 2012 in Vienna, of the multilateral diplomatic process to negotiate its initiative for an International Code of Conduct on Outer Space Activities. Around 110 participants from more than 40 countries gathered for that multilateral meeting, at which the European Union introduced a revised version of its draft Code, based on comments received in various bilateral meetings. The meeting was held in Vienna in order to profit from the presence of members of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space who were present in Vienna for its fifty-fifth session. The European Union decided on an ad-hoc process, open to the participants of all States, in order to develop the Code. The next step would be the first Multilateral Experts Meeting, which would take place in New York in October 2012, where negotiations on the text of the Code would take place. That meeting would be open to participation by all United Nations Member States. The Code was a common project of the countries wishing to work on it. The current text was still a draft and might be dramatically changed in the future, but reflected efforts to strike a balance between a number of stakeholders in the space field, which hopefully would prove ultimately to be agreeable by the majority of space-faring States, and constituted a sound basis in order to enhance security, safety and sustainability of all outer space activities.
Democratic People's Republic of Korea said the twenty-first century was an era of space science, and the peaceful use of outer space was the unanimous desire of the international community. However, the delegate said certain powerful States were misusing outer space for their strategic purposes, and were investing a huge amount of financial resources to that end. A typical example was the Missile Defence System stepped up to a full scale by one State, which was undoubtedly aimed at gaining power supremacy in outer space, thus inciting an arms race in outer space. The power behind that missile shield in Europe was set on building missile defence systems in Northeast Asia and the Middle East. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea appreciated the joint draft treaty by Russia and China on the prevention of the placement of weapons in outer space, and believed it served as a good basis for negotiations. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea remained unchanged in its position to oppose militarization of outer space or its weaponization and said that outer space could not be the field of contest for military supremacy of certain powerful States. Space science and technology should not be developed and used as an instrument to violate security and interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. All States had a legitimate right to develop and use outer space pursuant to their own development strategy, and no one had the right to intervene in that. As a space-faring nation, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea would continue to actively participate in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space and support international initiatives to deter militarization and weaponization of outer space.
China said the deterioration of the environment of outer space and the amount of space debris posed a serious threat to the security of outer space, as well as the increasing threat of the weaponization of outer space. If the international community lost sight of the issue of the weaponization of outer space, efforts to maintain space security could be misled. China took note of questions raised by countries regarding its joint draft treaty CD/1839 with Russia, and noted that that draft treaty was always open for improvement. China looked forward to constructive suggestions from other States to that end, both in formal and informal meetings. China supported efforts towards transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space activities, which were conducive to enhancing mutual trust and regulating space activities and could be complementary to preventing an arms race in outer space. China welcomed the Vienna meeting and thanked the European Union for providing their views on it. There was still a long way to go and China was ready to discuss improvements to the draft Code of Conduct.
Chile stressed the need to reaffirm collective efforts so that human action in outer space was in the best interests of human development. The impact of actions in outer space affected all members of the international community, not just space-faring nations. A multilateral framework that guaranteed fair and equitable benefits of actions in outer space was essential. Chile proposed an advance in space law through legally binding instruments, and noted that the last negotiated treaty on outer space was agreed upon in 1979. Chile was prepared to examine the ideas put forward by the European Union in its draft Code of Conduct. The October meeting in New York of the multilateral Experts would be an opportunity to share opinions on the draft, which had elements that must be examined in a strengthening process. The freedom of access to outer space by all with peaceful objectives must be preserved. Chile would continue to work actively in Geneva, Vienna and New York to ensure outer space benefitted the whole of mankind through peaceful activities and to prevent an arms race in outer space.
Australia said space was of increasing importance to Australia’s economic prosperity, social interaction and national security. Australia noted the draft space arms control treaty currently proposed in the Conference but considered that the approach taken posed considerable technical challenges, particularly its lack of an accompanying proposal for an effective verification mechanism. Australia accorded particularly high priority to international action to prevent the proliferation of long-lived orbital space debris and saw an urgent need to work towards the development of international norms to prevent the deliberate or accidental creation of such debris. Australia believed that the concept of an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, as proposed by the European Union, could provide an important means to address the pressing issue of space debris. Although such a Code would not be a ‘silver bullet’ to solve all issues relating to space security it would be a valuable, practical and achievable step. The Conference on Disarmament had a continuing role in enhancing space security, and should take note of the new momentum for the development of effective transparency and confidence-building measures.
Egypt said a few days ago the entire world came together to witness the opening of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, and the delegate praised the United Kingdom for a job well done. That the world could watch such an event was made possible by technology in outer space. Such possibilities would be threatened by the potential of an arms race in outer space, which must be prevented. The cornerstone of dealing with outer space was to recognize it as the common heritage of mankind. No one country could lay claim to outer space or monopolize it. Egypt encouraged the work of the Group of Government Experts on Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities. The weaponization of outer space was not the same as the multilaterilization of outer space. There may be legitimate uses of the militarization of outer space, such as for communications, but on the issue of verification, many studies showed that verification could be implemented if there was political will to do so. Egypt held that the Conference on Disarmament was the place to negotiate a treaty on the prevention of an arms race in outer space, and while it was not perfect, the text CD/1839 presented by Russia and China was a good basis for the start of negotiations. This year Egypt would present a resolution to the First Committee at the General Assembly relating to disarmament, and it called upon all States to vote for that resolution, which would allow the Conference on Disarmament to commence negotiations.
United Kingdom replied to a comment by Cuba on the European Union draft Code of Conduct, which would hopefully become the International Code of Conduct. Cuba was rightly concerned that that Code should not be seen to endorse the possibility of militarization of outer space, and the United Kingdom delegate said she thought on the contrary that the Code provided reassurances against such that. Regarding the comments by Indonesia, the delegate referenced the United Kingdom’s long-running and highly-regarded television series Doctor Who, and said the Doctor was the embodiment of the peaceful use of outer space and showed the marvels of space travel. The United Kingdom hoped that in the future the international community would be able to look less at the worries of outer space use and more at the possibilities.
Poland agreed that any disarmament or non-proliferation regime should include verification mechanisms, otherwise it would not be viable. Poland was glad that the issues of outer space were being tackled by the European Union, and could see growing support for such multilateral dialogues.
Belarus said the draft proposed by China and Russia was a good basis for negotiations. Belarus believed that with political will a treaty on the prevention of the placement of weapons in space could be agreed upon very quickly, but once again the main condition for that was the existence of political will and the absence of any conditions for the beginning of such negotiations.
Algeria said it noted the statement by the United States on the meeting held by the five nuclear weapons States in Washington, and Algeria hoped the results of that meeting would contribute to the work of the Conference. More definition was needed for any international legal agreements on the use of outer space: the legitimate defence needs of a State, in outer space, needed to be clarified. How could the principle of multilateralism be integrated into negotiation of the Code of Conduct proposed by the European Union, especially as the European Union had already decided upon a deadline of 2013, with a timeframe of three sessions to complete negotiations. Was the Code of Conduct ready, Algeria asked?
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