CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT DISCUSSES PREVENTION OF AN ARMS RACE IN OUTERSPACE
Hears Statement from the Group of Governmental Experts on Outer Space
19 March 2013
The Conference on Disarmament today held a thematic discussion on the prevention of an arms race in outer space.
Ambassador Triyono Wibowo of Indonesia, incoming President of the Conference on Disarmament, thanked previous presidents for their efforts and recalled that the remaining two core issues on the Conference’s agenda would be discussed under Indonesia’s Presidency, namely, the prevention of an arms race in outer space and effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons. Ambassador Wibowo also recalled that substantive exchanges of views on core issues should not lose sight of the urgency to adopt and implement a balanced and comprehensive programme of work.
During the discussion, delegates emphasised the importance of an increased reliance on space-based technologies, such as those used for communications, the risks posed by the growing amount of space debris, and the equal and inalienable right of all States to access outer space for peaceful purposes. Speakers recalled a number of existing proposals, such as the draft treaty tabled by Russia and China in 2008, the European Union’s ongoing work on a draft International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, and the activities of the Group of Governmental Experts on Outer Space, Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures. States agreed on the need to strengthen and address gaps in the current framework. Transparency and confidence-building measures could make an important contribution to ensuring the peaceful use of outer space, however, some delegations stressed that multilateral international and legally binding instruments were also necessary. Delegations also noted that the Conference on Disarmament was the forum for their negotiation.
The Conference on Disarmament also heard a statement from Victor Vasiliev, Chairman of the Group of Governmental Experts on Outer Space.
The President of the Conference, summarising the discussion at the end of the plenary meeting, remarked that outer space should be preserved for peaceful uses and existing legal frameworks should be strengthened to this end. Speakers had highlighted the positive contributions that could be made by the adoption of transparency and confidence-building measures, while others had stressed that such measures were not a substitute for the negotiation of legally-binding instruments. The next plenary meeting would be dedicated to a discussion of effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.
Speaking in today’s plenary discussion were Kyrgyzstan on behalf of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, Ireland on behalf of the European Union, Japan, China, United States, Australia, Egypt, Iran, India, Belarus and Algeria.
The next public plenary of the Conference will be held on Tuesday, 26 March, at 10 a.m.
AMBASSADOR TRIYONO WIBOWO of Indonesia, incoming President of the Conference on Disarmament, thanked Ambassador Dékány of Hungary for his efforts in trying to break the impasse in the Conference by proposing a draft programme of work and Ambassador Mehta of India for her dedicated efforts in conducting continued consultations with Member States on how to advance the work of the Conference. As agreed during the Indian Presidency, two core issues of the Conference’s agenda had been discussed in plenary, and the remaining two, namely, the prevention of an arms race in outer space and effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons would be discussed under Indonesia’s Presidency. Indonesia still believed that the Conference was the world’s single multilateral negotiating forum on disarmament. Nuclear disarmament had always been Indonesia’s utmost priority and it remained committed to efforts towards the attainment of a world free of nuclear weapons. Indonesia was aware of the complexity to break the impasse in the Conference and to reach consensus on the programme of work. Indonesia would continue to spare no efforts to consult with Member States in order to find ways and means to unlock the stalemate in the Conference. Obstacles to consensus on a programme of work should be identified, and the ongoing routine substantive exchange of views on core issues should not lose sight of the urgency to adopt and implement a balanced and comprehensive programme of work. While this meeting was dedicated to the prevention of an arms race in outer space, the Presidency would not impose any particular structure to the debate and, in accordance with the rules of procedure, delegations were able to raise any topics they may wish.
Kyrgyzstan, speaking on behalf of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, said that States of the Organization believed that the prevention of an arms race in outer space constituted one of the priorities of the Conference on Disarmament and was important to ensure predictability and preserve international security. In the view of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, in-depth discussions on this topic should be carried out on the basis of a balanced programme of work leading to negotiations. The proposal for a Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects presented by China and the Russian Federation could serve as a basis. Concerning proposals for work on transparency and confidence-building measures in the context of the Conference and the group of governmental experts on transparency and confidence-building measures, the Organization believed that such measures could make a contribution and urged countries to submit their proposals to the United Nations Secretary-General and hoped that these could also be used in subsequent negotiations. A tangible contribution to ensuring that outer space was freed from weapons could be, in the first place, to commit not to deploy weapons in outer space, as the Member States of the Collective Security Treaty Organization had already done.
Ireland, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the prevention of an arms race in outer space and the need to prevent outer space from becoming an area of conflict were essential conditions for the strengthening of strategic stability. The European Union was particularly sensitive to the issue of the safety of space systems and noted the proposal by the Russian Federation and China for a draft treaty on the prevention of the placement of weapons in outer space, and ideas for a legally binding prohibition on testing and use of anti-satellite weapons. The European Union had launched extensive consultations in order to promote the development of an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities and a formal draft had been presented to the international community in Vienna in June 2012. By pursuing discussions outside the existing international fora dealing exclusively with non-proliferation and disarmament issues or civilian uses, the European Union hoped to broaden international participation, and to include non-Members of these bodies. The European Union wished to contribute to enhancing international space security with this initiative and indicated that the upcoming open-ended consultation on the draft code of conduct, to be held in cooperation with the authorities of Ukraine, in Kiev in May 2013, would provide an opportunity to address all elements of the draft code. The European Union’s aim was to find agreement on a text that was acceptable to all interested States and brought effective security benefits in a relatively short term.
Japan said that due to technological progress the dependence on outer space was growing and enhancing international efforts that aimed to assure peaceful and sustainable use was a matter of significance. Japan was actively contributing to the development of an international code of conduct for outer space activities. The draft proposed by the European Union would regulate both civil and security aspects, including a variety of transparency and confidence-building measures. The second round of meetings of the group of governmental experts on transparency and confidence-building measures would be held in Geneva next month and Japan paid close attention to its work and looked forward to continued constructive discussions. Space debris was an actual threat to any entities conducting activities in the space and this obstacle should be addressed together by the entire international community. Japan would continue to be actively engaged in an international dialogue to establish international norms and was committed to securing a safe space environment.
China said that the prevention of an arms race in outer space involved an important aspect of the maintenance of international peace and security and noted that efforts to address the issue had been pursued along different tracks, including the Conference on Disarmament, the group of governmental experts on transparency and confidence-building measures, and discussions on the code of conduct proposed by the European Union. China advocated for the peaceful use of outer space and opposed the weaponization of an arms race in outer space. The fundamental threat came from weaponization. The outer space constituted a new frontier with important strategic security implications and, therefore, a selective approach on development-related issues would neither be conducive to promoting space security nor bring genuine security. The international community should not lose time in adopting effective preventive measures by negotiating and concluding an international legal instrument on prevention of an arms race in outer space to close existing loopholes and to fundamentally prevent the weaponization. The draft treaty introduced by China and Russia in 2008 was the most mature proposal so far presented to the Conference on Disarmament. Discussions on transparency and confidence-building measures should not undermine the work carried out in the Conference on Disarmament on the basis of the draft treaty submitted by China and the Russian Federation but, rather, the two should complement each other.
United States said that, in accordance with President Obama’s 2010 National Space Policy, the United States was pursuing bilateral and multilateral transparency and confidence-building measures to encourage responsible actions in, and the peaceful use of, space. These transparency and confidence-building measures were pragmatic, voluntary, near-term actions that could be undertaken to increase trust and prevent misperception and mistrust between nations. The European Union’s latest draft on a non-legally binding code of conduct was a useful foundation and constructive starting point for developing a consensus on an international code of conduct, which would be an effective, pragmatic and timely way of strengthening sustainability, stability, safety and security of the space environment. The group of governmental experts offered an opportunity to advance a range of voluntary and non-legally binding transparency and confidence-building measures in space that had the potential to mitigate dangers and risks, and it served as a real opportunity to move forward with pragmatic steps to strengthen stability in space through unilateral, bilateral, and multilateral measures.
Australia said that, along with other nations, Australia had become increasingly reliant on space for critical services and security. Australia had supported the work of the group of governmental experts by providing a paper on the application of international law to international security issues in space, which suggested that there were a number of obligations and principles in existing international law which may be applied to the activities of States in outer space. Proliferating space debris posed an immediate danger to satellites and space-based infrastructure and Australia believed that the proposed international code of conduct was an appropriate means to focus international attention on addressing this problem. Space security was enhanced through the development of space situational awareness capabilities. Concerning the space arms control treaty proposal tabled in the Conference by China and the Russian Federation, Australia continued to see substantial obstacles to the proposal relating to definitions, scope and verifiability. Australia considered that, in contrast, early and effective action could be taken to help address the common problem of space debris; and the international community already shared an understanding for the need to protect space objects and infrastructure. The proposed international code of conduct offered a straightforward means for action and Australia urged states to seize this opportunity.
Egypt said that space applications were essential for modern life and reliance on space and the international community should avoid turning outer space to yet another field of conflict. The cornerstone for dealing with outer space was to recognise it as the common heritage of humankind. Stressing the multilateral nature of these issues was not to dismiss unilateral declarations and bilateral agreements, but to emphasise that these could only contribute to building confidence and did not nullify nor contradict the need for a multilateral legally-binding agreement on the prevention of arms race in outer space. It was clear that the current legal body governing prevention of an arms race in outer space was lacking and this gap could not be filled only through transparency and confidence-building measures, which were to complement legally binding multilateral treaties that must prohibit not only the placement of any kind of weapon, but also prohibit weapons that targeted satellites. Any treaty on the prevention of an arms race in outer space must be universal, verifiable, equitable, and offer the same obligations and benefits to all Member States. Egypt recognised the proposal put forward by China and the Russian Federation and, while it was not perfect, it could serve as a good basis to commence negotiations. It was important to start negotiations on this timely issue.
Iran said that outer space was the common heritage of humankind and should be used by all in a spirit of cooperation and the international community should provide the ground for future generations to be able to make use of outer space to fulfil development goals. Technology played an indispensable role and outer space was indispensable in modern life. All States had the right to access outer space for research and peaceful uses and space security should be a common goal. It was more urgent than ever that activities in outer space remained peaceful; and the development of anti-missile systems and other weapons targeting outer space were among the serious threats to the peaceful use of outer spaces. In particular, weaponization of outer space risked conducing to a chain of escalation and Iran, as a space-faring nation, believed that efforts should be made to prevent weaponization and a possible arms race. While prevention of an arms race in outer space constituted a core issue of the Conference’s Agenda, since 1995 the Conference had been unable to start negotiations. Iran supported the start of negotiations of a legally banning instrument to address the prevention of an arms race in outer space.
India said that the Indian space programme had been a pioneer in harnessing outer space for peaceful uses. Space science and technology had played a vital role in socio-economic development. Given the significant Indian investments in outer space and the proliferation of space-related technologies and assets, priority was accorded to the prevention of an arms race in outer space. Outer space should not become an arena for competitive policies but a new and expanding frontier of cooperative activity. This placed a responsibility on all space-faring nations to contribute to international efforts to safeguard outer space as the common heritage of humankind. The current international legal framework was devised three decades ago and needed enhancing. While universal and non-discriminatory transparency and confidence-building measures could play a useful complementary role, and indeed India was participating in initiatives led by the European Union, among others; nevertheless, these efforts could not substitute the negotiation of legally binding instruments. India supported the substantive consideration of the issue of the prevention of an arms race in outer space in the Conference on Disarmament, where it had been on the agenda since 1982, and there were a number of proposals which could be considered further.
Belarus regretted the fact that there seemed to be a lack of interest from the part of some delegations to discuss the issue of the prevention of an arms race in outer space seriously. Over the last 10 years the issue had been discussed in detail within the Conference on Disarmament and there had been an understanding that there were some considerable legal gaps with regards to outer space and something had to be done; now, however, some delegations preferred to work in different fora. Ten years ago there had been a greater awareness within the Conference on Disarmament about the work of the group of governmental experts, which was evident even in jokes made by delegations. The prevention of an arms race in outer space was an important issue in the agenda of the Conference on Disarmament and Belarus was ready to start negotiations on a treaty. The proposal put forward by China and the Russian Federation, for a Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects, could contribute to a situation in which the Conference on Disarmament would be able to resume negotiations.
VICTOR VASILIEV, Chairman of the Group of Governmental Experts on Outer Space, noted that the Group had produced a first draft of the report but it was not ready for circulation, however, this presentation should offer an illustration of the work carried out by the group. Over the last 20 years the value of space for international security and cooperation, global economic development and human security had grown exponentially. The political climate regarding the sustainability and security of outer space had also fundamentally changed and various proposals had been advanced, including the draft treaty put forward by China and Russia, and the proposal of the European Union for a code of conduct, among others. Comprehensive transparency and confidence-building measures were needed in order to promote a number of objectives, including disarmament, reducing international tensions, and contributing to safe and sustained use of outer space. Transparency and confidence-building measures should be aimed at increasing security, safety and sustainability of the use of outer space, and should complement the existing international legal framework pertaining to space activities and should not undermine existing legal obligations. While most experts believed that transparency and confidence-building measures should be voluntary, they had also noted that once adopted certain transparency and confidence-building measures could have the force of law, for example, if their implementation required the enactment of national legislation. Furthermore, it had also been noted that transparency and confidence-building measures could be converted into politically or legally binding measures as well as included by legally-binding international instruments.
Algeria said that the prevention of an arms race in outer space and the provision of safety and security in outer space were of utmost importance to the international community. Algeria echoed Egypt in recalling the guidelines of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and stressed the importance of securing the peaceful use of outer space. Algeria noted the European Union’s proposal for a draft international code of conduct and the draft treaty presented by China and Russia to the Conference, and reiterated the need for an international instrument to prevent an arms race in outer space. The proposal presented by China and Russia constituted a good starting point and Algeria hoped that the Conference on Disarmament would be able to agree on a comprehensive programme of work in order to start negotiations on all four core issues in its agenda. Algeria also requested Mr. Vasiliev to clarify the statement that voluntary transparency and confidence-building measures could be transformed into law through national implementation.
VICTOR VASILIEV, Chairman of the Group of Governmental Experts on Outer Space, asked if any other delegations had additional questions regarding his presentation on behalf of the Group of Governmental Expert on Outer Space. Responding to Algeria’s remarks, Mr. Vasiliev stressed that most experts held the view that transparency and confidence-building measures should be voluntary. However, there existed five major Conventions and legal instruments which included obligations for States to introduce transparency and confidence-building measures in their space activities and Member States parties to these legal instruments were obliged to implement these transparency and confidence-building measures. Furthermore, the national implementation of transparency and confidence-building measures could also entail additional legal requirements.
AMBASSADOR TRIYONO WIBOWO, of Indonesia, and incoming President of the Conference on Disarmament, summarising the discussion, remarked that the outer space should be preserved for peaceful uses and existing legal frameworks should be strengthened to this end. Delegations had underlined the need to mitigate risks posed by debris and speakers had stressed the positive contributions that could be made by the adoption of transparency and confidence-building measures, while others had stressed that such measures were not a substitute for the negotiation of legally-binding instruments on the prevention of an arms race in outer space. The next plenary meeting of the Conference on Disarmament would be dedicated to the fourth core item of its agenda, namely, the effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons, commonly referred to as negative security assurances.
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