Conference on Disarmament Discusses the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space
14 August 2019
Tatiana Valovaya, the newly appointed Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament and Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, addressed the Conference on Disarmament for the first time this afternoon, reaffirming her unwavering commitment to supporting the critical work of the Conference and its important mandate.
“I am proud to be the first woman appointed to this position,” she said, stressing that disarmament was a field where more gender balance was needed. While negotiations were indeed the cornerstone of its mandate, the Conference could not be impervious to the geopolitical dynamics of the day, Ms. Valovaya said. But such dynamics only pointed to a bigger-than-ever need for it to succeed as the forum intended to provide collective responses to global challenges to peace and security.
To move forward and get things done to deliver on the important mandate bestowed on this body, Ms. Valovaya said the Conference must do what it was intended to do: negotiate and agree new instruments governing complex, sensitive and urgent issues of national and international security, issues that impacted on every living being on this planet. The Conference had been a key instrument of multilateral disarmament and arms control for 40 years, but its success depended on the will and commitment of its Member States, stressed Ms. Valovaya.
Chile on behalf of the Group of 21, India, China, Zimbabwe, Colombia, Belarus, Finland on behalf of the European Union, Cuba, Pakistan, Algeria, Iran, Peru, Republic of Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Latvia, Brazil, Mexico, Switzerland and Egypt welcomed Ms. Valovaya and assured her of their full support.
The Conference on Disarmament also discussed the prevention of an arms race in outer space, hearing from Gennady Gatilov, Permanent Representative of Russia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, Juan Eduardo Eguiguren, Permanent Representative of Chile to the United Nations Office at Geneva, and Daniel Porras of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research. Also taking the floor were the United Kingdom (joint statement), United States, Belarus, Pakistan, China and Brazil.
The Conference on Disarmament will conclude the discussion on the prevention of an arms race in outer space on Thursday, 15 August at 10 a.m., which will be the last plenary under the presidency of Viet Nam.
Statement by the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva and the Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament
TATIANA VALOVAYA, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva and Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament, in her first address to the Conference, reaffirmed her unwavering commitment to support the critical work of the Conference and its important mandate. “I am proud to be the first woman appointed to this position,” she said, and stressed that disarmament was a field where more gender balance was needed.
While negotiations were indeed the cornerstone of its mandate, the Conference could not be impervious to the geopolitical dynamics of the day, she said. But such dynamics only pointed to a bigger-than-ever need for this Conference to succeed, as the forum intended to provide collective responses to global challenges to peace and security. The current escalation of tensions globally was severely jeopardizing the acquis of disarmament, non-proliferation, and the entire body of the existing instruments, making the need for progress in the Conference all the more urgent, said Ms. Valovaya.
Going forward, she said the Conference should build on the substantive work undertaken in 2018, and encouraged it to consider how to modernize working methods, strengthen inclusiveness, and bring a greater continuity to its work. This year marked the one hundredth anniversary of multilateralism in Geneva, as well as the fortieth anniversary of the Conference on Disarmament. Both presented an additional opportunity to reflect on the past and look towards the future. In this context, the Director-General noted in particular geopolitics and the broader international security landscape, as well as new scientific, technological developments and dynamics that were challenging the international security paradigm, as Secretary-General Guterres and the High Representative Nakamitsu had emphasized on numerous occasions.
To move forward and get things done to deliver on the important mandate bestowed on this body, the Conference must do what it was intended to do: negotiate and agree new instruments governing complex, sensitive and urgent issues of national and international security, issues that impacted on every living being on this planet. The Conference had been a key instrument of multilateral disarmament and arms control for 40 years, but its success depended on the will and commitment of its Member States, stressed Ms. Valovaya.
“All my predecessors called upon the Member States of this Conference to overcome their differences and supported efforts to achieve results despite undeniable political challenges. I intend to continue this path,” she said, and acknowledged the professionalism and dedication of the men and women serving the Conference and the creativity and energy of the community of international partners, think tanks, research centres and civil society partners in Geneva.
In conclusion, the Director-General reiterated the commitment to ensuring that the Conference on Disarmament continued to receive the highest degree of support and to preserving the unique platform for convening the rich and diverse ecosystem that international Geneva offered.
Delegations then took the floor to welcome the new Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament and assure her of their full support. Speaking were
Chile on behalf of the Group of 21, India, China, Zimbabwe, Colombia, Belarus, Finland on behalf of the European Union, Cuba, Pakistan, Algeria, Iran, Peru, Republic of Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Latvia, Brazil, Mexico, Switzerland and Egypt.
Discussion on the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space
GENNADY GATILOV, Permanent Representative of Russia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, recalled that the discussions in subsidiary body 3 in 2018 had aimed to bring States together and avoid a new arms race in outer space, an issue that was in the focus of attention also in the First Committee and the United Nations Disarmament Commission. There was a growing understanding of the risks of an arms race in outer space for regional and international development and security, which was a positive trend that could lead to an agreement to maintaining outer space free from weapons and from becoming yet another arena where an armed conflict might be triggered.
Mr. Gatilov noted with concern the intentions by some States to place offensive and strike weapons in outer space, under various pretexts, such as to protect the vital interests of nations. The launching of weapons into outer space represented a weaponization of outer space and an attempt to gain absolute supremacy which would enable some States to dictate the world order in space and on land. Those States were torpedoing proposals to establish reliable treaty guarantees against the placement of weapons in outer space and yet were unable to put in place effective controls. Russia reaffirmed its openness to discussing those issues but its partners remained silent.
It was essential to develop risk reduction and confidence building measures, which could be one element of an agreement on the prevention of an arms race in outer space, although such measures alone could not replace a legally binding agreement. Russia was concerned that not one Western State, particularly those with significant space activities, was in favour of Russia’s proposal on such a legally binding treaty, and said that their silence could be a smokescreen to place combat weapons in outer space. The clock was ticking, Russia noted, and said that despite the non-adoption of the final document by the Group of Governmental Experts on the prevention of an arms race in outer space, Governments had still been able to talk and reach agreement on the most difficult issues on the disarmament agenda. For its part, Russia stood ready to join such a dialogue.
JUAN EDUARDO EGUIGUREN, Permanent Representative of Chile to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that social and economic development related to space exploration was particularly important, especially in relation to the definition of outer space as a common good of humanity. Different challenges combined in an exponential manner as far as the prevention of an arms race in outer space was concerned, but there was reason for optimism in the future.
The 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, also known as the Outer Space Treaty, was the basic framework of international law as applied to outer space. Its implementation in the current international context must be discussed, Mr. Eguiguren said, stressing that according to its provisions, the outer space, the moon, and other celestial bodies could not be claimed for any nation.
As the Treaty had stipulated, exploration and the use of outer space must be for the benefit of all mankind, to which all countries must have access. The application of space technologies would play the key role in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals, for space activities had a global impact. International norms and mechanisms must be strengthened to ensure that no one was left behind in accessing the benefits of the use of outer space. New impetus was needed to reach a legally binding agreement to better regulate space security and prevent an arms race in outer space.
Mr. Eguiguren noted specifically the joint Russia-China proposal for a legally binding instrument, other “soft-law” initiatives, the 2007 Group of Governmental Experts, and the 2012 International Code of Conduct proposed by the European Union. Different perceptions existed concerning the initiatives of voluntary nature, he said, from those that viewed such an approach as the best way to achieve concrete and tangible measures to those that considered it only as a placebo that prevented the development of a legally binding instrument.
The prevention of an arms race in the outer space was one of the main issues on the agenda of the Conference on Disarmament and all States had a responsibility to preserve outer space as a heritage of mankind.
DANIEL PORRAS, United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, was pleased to announce the publication of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research 2019 Space Security Conference Report, which had built on the work of several multilateral discussions within the United Nations, including the Conference on Disarmament’s subsidiary body 3.
There were numerous indications that space objects – namely satellites – would increasingly become targets for disruption and destruction in future conflicts. Satellites played a critical role in daily lives, which was even more true for modern military forces, increasingly dependent on satellites. Given the military benefits from space technology, it was not surprising that more States were seeking counterspace and even counter-counterspace capabilities that could deny an adversary’s space benefits through destruction or disruption.
Many States participated in talks to prevent or at least mitigate the effect of conflict in orbit, but one of the divisive issues was verification of compliance. The United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research had conducted research into current and emerging space technologies to understand the extent and limitations of a verification system in space - by understanding the technologies, they might be able to focus discussions on the challenges that were verifiable now, said Mr. Porras. The aim of the survey was to extrapolate what might be the scope of an agreement on the prevention of an arms race in outer space.
It was true that although the space situational awareness technology had developed considerably over the last 10 years – especially in the number and quality of sensors and in computing power – the technology still did not meet the standards required for a comprehensive ban on weapons in space. But there were less ambitious approaches that could be the subject of effectively verifiable agreements today, such as a prohibition of destructive anti-satellite tests or a limit on the number of objects that could approach a single system.
Both of those options could be included in a global space traffic management system that set rules of the road not only for military space actors, but for all. By setting standards of conduct, it would be easier to spot the outliers that posed a particular threat to other space objects, while by making those approaches part of a larger framework, it might be possible to achieve a stronger space security regime without facing many of the polemic issues that often blocked the progress in space security dialogues today, concluded Mr. Porras.
In the discussion that followed, United Kingdom, in a joint statement, highlighted the benefits for humanity of outer space exploration and said that with the increasing democratization of space, all actors – including new spacefaring nations and private companies - must adopt norms of behaviour to mitigate threats and keep space a safe and sustainable environment. United States repeated its concerns about the “fundamental flaws” in the draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, jointly submitted to the Conference by Russia and China, and said that as currently drafted, this treaty would not enhance international peace and security.
Belarus supported active efforts to develop international agreement that would prohibit the weaponization of outer space, and said that the draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space presented by Russia and China could be a good basis to start the negotiations. Pakistan was concerned by the threats posed by anti-satellite capabilities to regional and global stability and to the long-term sustainability of outer space, and stressed the urgency of preventing outer space from emerging as a new realm of conflict and arms race.
China said that it had not used its military force to seek dominance in outer space and urged the international community to negotiate and conclude an international legally binding treaty on the prevention of an arms race in outer space. France noted with concern the intensification of threats in outer space and said that its new strategy for space defence was based, inter alia, on the strengthening of military capacities for strategic monitoring and operations support while diplomatic efforts were an integral part of the strategy.
Brazil said that the world was at the threshold of a new space age, one that could once again inspire generations to explore new possibilities, but this would only be achieved if States were able to secure the collective management of challenges through cooperation
For use of the information media; not an official record