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CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT HOLDS THEMATIC DISCUSSION ON PREVENTION OF AN ARMS RACE IN OUTER SPACE
5 June 2012

The Conference on Disarmament today continued with its schedule of activities to discuss the core issues on its agenda and held a thematic discussion on the prevention of an arms race in outer space.

Ambassador Kari Kahiluoto of Finland, President of the Conference on Disarmament, read out a background note prepared by the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) on the issue of the prevention of an arms race in outer space.  He said there was a vast and growing body of work on prevention of an arms race in outer space and related issues that the Conference could draw upon in future discussions or negotiations.  This was a source for optimism that if the Conference began work on the prevention of an arms race in outer space, progress toward multilateral solutions could be forthcoming relatively rapidly.

In the discussion, Russia and China recalled the draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, and of the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects, which they jointly presented to the Conference on 12 February 2008 (CD/1839).  Denmark, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the European Union had launched in 2008 a proposal on the basis of a preliminary draft for an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities.  A revised draft of this Code of Conduct was being officially presented at a multilateral meeting taking place in Vienna today.  Some speakers said that there were gaps in the framework of instruments dealing with the security of outer space which necessitated a new treaty, while others said that was a complex issue which would take up an extensive amount of time and they should work on something like the Code of Conduct which stressed transparency and confidence building. The importance of ensuring access to space for civilian use was underlined, as well as dealing with the issue of space debris. 

Speaking in the discussion were Russia, China, Canada, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Denmark on behalf of the European Union, Belarus, Republic of Korea, Indonesia, France, India, United States, Pakistan, Iran, Japan, and Algeria.

The next public plenary of the Council will take place on Tuesday, 12 June during which it will hold a thematic discussion on effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.

Statements

Ambassador Kari Kahiluoto of Finland, President of the Conference on Disarmament, read out a background note prepared by the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) on the issue of the prevention of an arms race in outer space.  He said there was a vast and growing body of work on prevention of an arms race in outer space and related issues that the Conference could draw upon in future discussions or negotiations.  This was a source for optimism that if the Conference began work on the prevention of an arms race in outer space, progress toward multilateral solutions could be forthcoming relatively rapidly.

Russian Federation said Russia considered the issue of preventing an arms race in outer space to be a priority item on the agenda of the Conference on Disarmament.  Today, more than 130 States participated in peaceful outer space activities.  At the same time, the scale of use of space systems for military purposes was expanding throughout the world.  The placement on orbit of weapons designed to hit an adversary’s assets in space and on the ground not only would undermine the existing system of agreements on arms limitations, first of all on nuclear missiles, but would incite a new round of arms race on a higher qualitative level.  Transformation of outer space into a potential arena of military combat was fraught with serious threats of disrupting strategic stability and eroding international security.  On the international arena, the Russian Federation had put forward a number of practical initiatives aimed at neutralizing this threat.  The existing international legal instruments on arms control and disarmament related to outer space, including bilateral agreements and legal regimes, played a positive role and should be complied with.  Still, due to limitations, they were not capable of effectively preventing placement of weapons in outer space as well as an arms race.  A new international legal instrument to prevent this threat was needed.  On that premise, Russia and China had submitted to the Conference on Disarmament the draft of the Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, and of the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects on 12 February 2008 (CD/1839).

The Russian Federation noted with satisfaction that the necessity to develop confidence-building measures in outer space was getting growing understanding by the international community and its support.  Russia considered proposals made by other countries in this regard and took them on board.  In general, Russia appreciated positively the draft Code of Conduct in Space proposed by the European Union and was ready to participate in its finalization on a multilateral basis.  In-depth discussions at the Conference on the issue of prevention of an arms race in outer space should be continued and, as a long-term perspective, should move into a negotiation phrase. 

China said outer space was the common heritage of mankind and prevention of an arms race in outer space was one of the core issues in the Conference on Disarmament and was an important aspect of maintaining international peace.  China opposed an arms race in outer space and had been trying to work on agreement to start negotiating and concluding an international legal instrument in this regard.  Today, the risk of an arms race in outer space was on the rise.  There was a growing trend towards the weaponization of outer space and some platforms for space-based weapons had reached the status of deployment and operation.  On the other hand, the military doctrines were also taking shape which called for space control and dominance and space warfare.  These developments would have a profound impact on the outer space security and international strategic balance.  The basic conditions were already in place to conclude a treaty on prevention of an arms race in outer space.  Since 1982, the General Assembly had called for starting negotiations on prevention of an arms race in outer space and the majority of countries supported the immediate start of negotiations on such an instrument.  Since 1984, the Conference on Disarmament had established ad hoc committees on prevention of an arms race in outer space.  Many valuable working papers had been submitted on the topic to the Conference, and all these steps created a firm foundation for starting negotiations.  The draft treaty that China and Russia had presented, the “Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of weapons in Outer Space, and or the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects”, was the most mature proposal on prevention of an arms race in outer space.  It clearly banned the placement of any weapons in outer space and prevented the threat.  The treaty would also not affect the peaceful use of outer space for States parties or their legitimate right to self defence.  Transparency and confidence-building measures and the prevention of an arms race in outer space process did not exclude each other and were mutually complementary.  China supported efforts to promote transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space activities.  Initiatives to promote them should not substitute the prevention of an arms race in outer space process or undermine the work of the Conference on the basis of the draft treaty. 

Canada said a growing number of nations considered space assets such as communications, navigation, and disaster response to form part of their critical national infrastructure.  Canada believed that transparency and confidence-building measures among space-faring nations were key steps towards mitigating the risks that all countries faced, including the significant dangers posed by navigational hazards such as space debris.  Momentum was clearly building for the development of international norms for the responsible use of space by all actors.  Canada had consistently opposed the weaponization of space and had proposed measures in this forum on the issue.  Space debris in particular posed a high risk for spacecrafts in orbit today, and was a problem that would get worse.  It was up to each country with a space programme to try to reduce as much as possible space debris and other dangers for navigation resulting from their activities.  It was also time for the international community to think of concrete methods to apply to remove space debris.

Turkey said Turkey attached particular importance to the peaceful use of outer space.  Turkey supported the views and proposals on strengthening the existing international legal framework directed at preventing an arms race in outer space.  For Turkey, protecting the right of unrestricted access to and use of outer space for peaceful purposes was more important than the shape and modalities of the discussion.  Turkey was also sensitive to risks posed by space debris.  This was an area where they all had to work together in order to establish effective international cooperation mechanisms without further delay.  Turkey would closely follow the discussions on the revised draft Code of Conduct, and also believed that the draft treaty on the prevention of the placement of weapons in outer space, the threat or use of force against outer space objects, enriched their discussions on this issue.  The problems they were discussing today also originated from the dual-use nature of space assets as well as the blurred distinction between civilian and military use of outer space.  Effective cooperation and coordination would pave the way for establishing the international legal and regulatory framework to facilitate the peaceful use of outer space.

Kazakhstan said Kazakhstan was ready to work closely towards filling in gaps that existed in the present legal regime.  A legally binding international agreement on prevention of an arms race in outer space would reinforce the existing multilateral instruments.  Kazakhstan’s keen interest in this issue stemmed from its aspiration to explore and use outer space for peaceful purposes only.  Kazakhstan was committed to all existing international documents for peaceful use of outer space.  However, pressing issues and challenges of the contemporary world demanded the international community to act more vigorously and without any further delays.  Immediate resumption of negotiations within the Conference to further develop multilateral instruments to ban the deployment of weapons of mass destruction as well as to prevent any consequences of activities of States in this environment was a matter of paramount significance for Kazakhstan.  Kazakhstan supported the draft Treaty on the Prevention and Placement of Weapons in Outer Space submitted by the Russian Federation and China.

Denmark, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the European Union and its Member States had a long-standing position in favour of the enhancement of the multilateral framework concerning the preservation of a peaceful, safe and secure environment in outer space and its use on an equitable and mutually acceptable basis.  It took note with interest of the proposal for a draft treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, and of the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects in 2008 in the Conference on Disarmament.  While this draft proposal identified itself with the overall goal to preserve outer space as an area free from armed conflict, further reflection and work was required on the elements for an effective international treaty.  For example, it remained a difficult challenge to achieve consensus on the definitions needed for a legally binding instrument.  As a matter of principle, an effective and robust verification system must be an integral part of any future treaty concerned with space security.  They considered it was not sufficient to only refer to a possible future additional protocol.  Also the proposal would need to clearly address the issue of anti-satellite weapons tests.  These difficulties should, however, not prevent them from working on the issues contained in this proposal. 

The European Union was committed to the development and implementation of transparency and confidence building measures, as a means to achieve concrete, rapid and enhanced safety and security in outer space.  They were particularly sensitive to the issue of the risks posed by space debris which were detrimental to present and future activities.  In this context, the European Union had launched in 2008 a proposal on the basis of a preliminary draft for an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities.  A revised draft of this code of conduct was being officially presented at a multilateral meeting taking place in Vienna today.  The draft Code of Conduct was based on three principles: freedom for all to use outer space for peaceful purposes; preservation of the security and integrity of space objects in orbit; and due consideration for the legitimate security and defense needs of States. 

Belarus said it regarded the issue of prevention of an arms race in outer space as one of the key agenda items before the Conference on Disarmament.  The core legally binding instruments which regulated the activities of States in space remained the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty, the 1967 Space Treaty, and the 1979 Moon Treaty.  Other important international agreements were the 1968 Treaty on the Rescue of Astronauts and the 1972 Convention of International Liability for Damage caused by Space Objects, among others.  All these agreements played a crucial role in preventing an arms race in outer space.  Belarus favoured the stringent observation by all Governments of the provisions of these agreements and also supported their universalization.  There were certain gaps in the current space laws and Belarus supported proposals aimed at working towards a treaty preventing an arms race in space within the Conference.  The draft treaty presented by Russia and China was among the most acceptable texts.  Adoption of such a treaty would be a contribution to closing the gaps in the existing instruments and addressing unresolved problems.  Belarus believed in a preventive approach.  It also believed that the Conference should not duplicate the efforts made in other fora on measures of transparency and confidence building. 

Republic of Korea said the Republic of Korea believed that the existing outer space framework could be made better by improving the implementation and universalization of the existing international regime; developing transparency and confidence building measures; and by introducing a new legally binding instrument.  These three approaches were not mutually exclusive and needed to be explored in a balanced way.  There had been meaningful progress on all three areas.  As a party to the Outer Space Treaty and other related conventions, the Republic of Korea actively supported the efforts to promote understanding, acceptance and implementation of the existing international regime.  Transparency and confidence building measures were highly important elements in ensuring multilateral cooperation with regard to the peaceful uses of outer space.  The Republic of Korea appreciated the European Union’s endeavours to elaborate on the draft Code of Conduct on Outer Space Activities as a concrete effort to enhance transparency and confidence building measures.  With regard to the efforts to seek a new legally binding instrument, the Republic of Korea took note of the submission of the draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects by China and the Russian Federation.  It may be used as a useful reference in substantive discussions within the Conference adopted a progrmame of work. 

Indonesia affirmed that the Conference on Disarmament, as the sole forum for multilateral negotiations, must discuss the issue of an arms race in outer space and focus on finding ways to avert an arms race in outer space.  The prevention of an arms race in outer space had assumed greater urgency in light of the legitimate concerns that the existing legal instruments were inadequate to deter the militarization and weaponization of outer space.  Indonesia, together with China, Russia, Belarus, Viet Nam, Zimbabwe, and Syria, had presented a working paper CD/1679 on 28 June 2002, which outlined the possible elements for a future international 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.  This working paper still had its relevance.  Indonesia welcomed the joint Russian-Chinese initiative on the draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and of the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects.  All States had a responsibility to refrain from engaging in any activity which could jeopardize the collective goal of maintaining a weapons free outer space.  Indonesia firmly believed that the exploration and use of outer space and other celestial bodies should have solely peaceful objectives and be of benefit to all States.

France said outer space had become essential to modern life and its peaceful uses were numerous.  Space was just as important for international security.  France was attached to the maintenance of peace and security in outer space and it was very concerned about avoiding an arms race in outer space.  France noted carefully the proposal presented by China and Russia and was open to continuing to discuss the prevention of an arms race in outer space within the Conference of Disarmament, within the framework of a programme of work that was agreed upon.  A new legally binding instrument to prevent an arms race in outer space would only be meaningful in terms of international security if it was precise, universal and credible.  Some of the difficulties France had about it were how would one define outer space, what did the concept of weapons in space mean, and how could they put in place a credible verification system.   These questions had no immediate answers, indicating that it would be a very long process to develop such a treaty.  However, pragmatic and swift solutions were needed in the short term.  The use of outer space and space technologies were dual in nature.  They were not limited only to military problems to resolve, but there were also risks stemming from the increase of space debris.  France fully supported the draft International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, launched in 2008, and the revised version which was being presented in Vienna today.  France was attached to three main principles: free access to outer space’s peaceful use; maintenance of security and integrity of spacecraft in orbit; and respect of the legitimate right to self defense of States. 

India said that India was not in favour of the weaponisation of outer space.  It was imperative to safeguard outer space as the common heritage of humankind and preserve and promote the benefits flowing from advances made in space technology and its applications for all.  Achieving this objective would require a step-by-step process wherein legal measures were complemented by transparency and confidence building measures, as well as arrangements that were non discriminatory and had broad international acceptability.  Space faring nations had a responsibility to contribute to international efforts to advance the step by step process for achieving legally binding measures complemented by transparency and confidence building measures.  While non-discriminatory and universally acceptable transparency and confidence building measures could be useful complementary measures, their objective should be the negotiation of legally binding instruments that enhanced security in space and of all space users.  In Geneva in the Conference on Disarmament, their first priority was to agree on a programme of work that allowed them to commence substantive work, including inter alia in the negotiations on prevention of an arms race in outer space in a subsidiary body of the Conference.

United States said the United States recognized the world’s growing dependence on space based capabilities and the need to ensure the long term sustainability and stability of the space environment.  Each member in the Conference had a slightly different vision of how this goal should be achieved.  Some suggested that the Conference pursue legally binding arms control agreements.  While the United States was prepared to engage in substantive discussion on peace security as par of a consensus programme of work, and it was willing to consider space arms control proposals and concepts that were equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhanced the national security of the United States and its allies, it had not yet seen a proposal that met these criteria.  There were, however, many areas that united all, rather than divided all, and many ways forward in which all did agree.  The United States believed that they should focus on making progress in those areas in the near term.  They could all agree on the need to develop near-term, voluntary, and pragmatic space transparency and confidence building measures.  The United States was actively cooperating on space transparency and confidence building measures through the development and adoption of an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, as were many other countries here today.  In fact, the first Multilateral Experts Meeting for the Code of Conduct was taking place today in Vienna.  The United States looked forward to continuing to engage with the rest of the international community on this initiative in the months to come. 

Pakistan said the pace of technological change was creating serious challenges for the security of outer space.  For developing countries, space security was no longer an esoteric subject removed from their immediate concerns.  Today developing countries were dependent on space technology in diverse areas.  Certain powerful States opposed any meaningful action on the prevention of an arms race in outer space in the Conference might be trying to protect their monopoly on this technology and maintain their “full spectrum dominance”.  But other countries would play catch up.  If they did not cap the possibility of weaponisation of outer space now, it might become extremely difficult to do so in the future.  It was also important to understand that the days of negotiating discriminatory multilateral treaties were gone.  The existing international regime pertaining to outer space had gaps which could only be addressed by a new legal instrument.  In this regard, the Conference on Disarmament, being the sole multilateral disarmament negotiating forum, had the primary responsibility to negotiate and conclude a multilateral treaty or treaties on the prevention of an arms race in outer space.  If they were to begin substantive work on this issue in the Conference, they would not have to start from scratch and substantial work was done in the Conference on it from 1985 to 1992.  The draft text presented by Russia and China also provided a useful basis to commence negotiations.  Therefore, Pakistan saw no impediment in starting substantive work on prevention of an arms race in outer space in the Conference.  Pakistan viewed with interest the various initiatives that had been put forward in the recent past regarding transparency and confidence building measures for activities in outer space.  While such proposals could be useful interim steps, they could not and should not obviate the need and quest for a legally binding treaty on prevention of an arms race in outer space in the Conference.

Iran said outer space was a common heritage of mankind and must be used, explored and utilized for peaceful purposes and for the benefit and interest of all mankind in a spirit of cooperation.  All States had an inalienable right to access outer space for research and peaceful use based on the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.  The more they depended on space, the more they needed space security.  Therefore, it was more urgent than ever before that space remained a peaceful domain.  Iran as a space faring nation had consistently supported the prevention of an arms race in outer space and was of the strong view that every effort should be made to keep outer space out of any weaponization or any arms race.  It saw merits in the view that a coherent and coordinated approach between the Conference, the General Assembly, and the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space was required with regards to the peaceful use of outer space.  The goal of space security should be to secure and sustain freedom in space for all.  Weaponization of space would trigger unforeseeable results, similar to those at the beginning of the nuclear era.  Weapons deployment in outer space by one State would unavoidably ignite a chain reaction and risk an escalation of an arms race both in space and on Earth.  In Iran’s view, the current legal framework on this issue at hand was not sufficient to deal with all the security matters related to outer space and there was a need for leally binding arrangements to keep outer space out of any weaponization and arms race. 

Japan said Japan had been supporting the principle of prevention of an arms race in space for many years and had participated in the discussion on this agenda item within the Conference.  While the use of outer space increased, it was necessary to construct further norms, in addition to existing instruments.  Japan welcomed efforts concerning the proposals under discussion today as a positive signal.  As work in the Conference on a treaty would need an extensive period of time, they must forge something practical and universal which satisfied all nations.  Japan was committed to comprehensively examine various issues related to the prevention of an arms race in outer space.  There were a number of issues that needed to be carefully examined in the draft treaty presented by China and Russia.  Against the backdrop of the growing reliance on outer space, space debris was a threat to space activities and effectively could limit development.  The discussion on possible measures for the safe operation of satellites was an issue of further deliberations to prevent further space debris.  Transparency and confidence building measures were also important. 
Japan supported the European Union’s initiative being launched in Vienna today and was willing to enter discussions for a Code of Conduct in Outer Space Activities.

Algeria said it subscribed to all initiatives aimed at ensuring that outer space was set aside for peaceful uses.  In view of the President’s introductory statement on prevention of an arms race in outer space, Algeria wished to highlight some points: the document that was adopted at the first Special Session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament was the legal link which called on the Conference on Disarmament to negotiate and conclude a legally binding instrument to ensure that outer space was not used for weaponisation.  The UNIDIR compilation of the four essential issues, including prevention of an arms race in outer space, provided useful information to see the evolution of each issue.  Also, the spirit governing any outer space activities must be reserved for peaceful activities. 

Russian Federation wished to make comments on the statements by the European Union and France.  Concerning France’s question on how to word specific interdictions for the development of anti-satellite weapons, he wished to respond with a question.  As early as 1981, the Western Group had been putting forward proposals on how to deal with anti-satellite weapons and the Western European Group should be able to put forward proposals on this issue.  As for the question on how could they put in place a credible verification system, could the European Union made a concrete proposal on the development of such a credible verification system.    
The Russian Federation hoped that there would be a more substantive discussion next time, and if delegations had specific proposals they would comment on them and discuss them with pleasure.

France said France had raised these questions because it wanted to show that development of an instrument was a complex subject which would require real negotiations that would take up a lot of time.  That was why France and other countries were committed to swift negotiations on a Code of Conduct. 

Russian Federation said he wanted to share the view that they needed to discuss the issue of the prevention of an arms race in outer space and that was why they wanted to adopt a programme of work and start discussing the core issues.

Algeria said the President had called for an interactive discussion and Algeria wanted to discuss the European Union Code of Conduct and take advantage of the countries present to enlighten them on this issue.  Algeria had not looked into the details of the document but it saw that it rested on three principles.  Discussion on these issues could enlighten the Conference.

Belarus supported the President’s efforts to make their discussions more interactive.  They agreed that the problem of peaceful research and the use of space should be approached in a comprehensive fashion and welcomed other bodies like the meeting in Vienna working on a Code of Conduct on transparency and confidence building.  It also wished to draw attention to the fact that the issue under discussion here in the Conference was prevention of an arms race in outer space.  Many delegations were quoting with enthusiasm what was happening in other fora, but were reluctant to start substantive discussions or delve on the topic of preventing an arms race in outer space here in the Conference.  The discussion today showed the absence of a political will to start concrete work in the Conference.

Ambassador Kari Kahiluoto of Finland, President of the Conference on Disarmament, thanked all for their interactive comments and said that the Conference on Disarmament would take up this issue again on 31 July and States would be able to answer the specific questions raised.  According to the agreed upon schedule of activities, the next plenary would be on Tuesday, 12 June to discuss effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.


For use of the information media; not an official record

DC12/019E