Development of Antiballistic Missile Systems vs. the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space
Wang Xiaoyu

Presentation at the WILPF Seminar "Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space", Geneva, March 10, 1999.

Madame Secretary-General, Ladies and gentlemen,

At the outset, please allow me to ex-press my appreciation to the Women’s Inter-national League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) for organizing this seminar. It has provided us with a good forum to discuss an important issue of common concern: prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS). Last Monday was the International Women’s Day. I would also like to take this opportunity to extend warm congratulations and greetings to all the ladies present. We are glad to see that women are playing an increasingly important role in the field of international peace and security, including arms control and disarmament, and have made valuable contributions to it.

It is a great pleasure for me to have this opportunity today to share views with you on issues relating to the peaceful use of outer space and prevention of an arms race in outer space.

Outer space is the common heritage of the human beings. It should be used entirely for peaceful purposes and for the economic, scientific and cultural development of all countries as well as the well-being of mankind. It must not be weaponized and become another arena of arms race.

Some country insists that at present there is no arms race in outer space and therefore there is no need to discuss the issue of PAROS in any forum, including the Conference on Disarmament (CD). However, the fact is that the same country has over the years continued its efforts in developing space weapons with a view to deploying such advanced weapon systems in outer space in the near future. Huge amount of human, material and financial resources have already been put into relevant plans and programmes. The momentum has recently been greatly intensified. These ominous efforts will bring about the weaponization of outer space and lead to an arms race there. So PAROS has already become a present and pressing issue.

Now, let’s have a close look at some of those plans and programmes.

A Future Oriented Plan to Dominate Space

It is estimated that the space-related industries of the country with the most advanced space technologies are growing 20% annually. The total investment of the country in space has already exceeded $100 billion and is expected to reach $150 billion in the year 2000. Had such investment been used entirely for peaceful purposes and for the well-being of the man-kind, it should have been gratifying. What is worrisome is that, the same country, on the basis of the research and development of its space military technologies over the years, including the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), launched last April its ambitious, 21-century oriented long range plan for space military strategies.

According to the plan, military space capabilities will become the major leverage in implementing national security and military strategies. Therefore, the priority task of the space force of the country in the 21st century is to gain and maintain space superiority. Its Space Command has thus put forward several operational concepts such as Control of Space and Global Engagement. Control of Space is aiming at assuring itself access to space, freedom of operations within the space medium, and denying others the use of space if required. Global Engagement combines global surveillance with the potential for a space-based global precision strike capability. It is projected in the plan that the country will deploy its second generation system for National Missile Defense in the year 2020, with many weapons and sensors moving into space then to improve surveillance and strike capabilities for land, sea and air. It is projected that in the year 2020 the Space-Based Platform and Space Operations Vehicle will be able to engage ballistic missiles in different phases of their flight course as well as cruise missiles at most altitudes.

To put it simply, the country is seeking to deploy in some years from now the Ground-Based Interceptors which use outer space as a battlefield, and strategic defense weapon systems that are directly deployed in outer space, such as the Space Operation Vehicles, Space-Based Plat-forms and Lasers. In order to clear the legal obstacles against the implementation of the above plan, that country believes that "treaties that maintain stability and strategic balance during the Cold War may need to change".

The plan reveals that some of the missile defense weapons, such as the Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC), Theatre High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) and even the limited National Missile Defense, are only a preclude to a long story of Strategic Defense Initiative. Thus people have come to realize that the weaponization of outer space has already become the sword of Damocles.

Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) programs

In 1993, the SDI came to an end and was replaced by BMD. Phase I of BMD is to develop ground-based Theatre Missile Defense (TMD) system and the development of ground-based National Missile Defense (NMD) system is the primary mission of phase II. Phase III is a longer term program named "Advanced Technology" which includes Space-Based Laser and other systems. Recently the program of developing NMD and TMD was announced. Now the green light is on.

Both TMD and NMD in the above programs consist of ballistic tracking guidance systems deployed in outer space and interceptors performing intercepting operations in outer space. The Space-Based Laser still under research is a weapon system directly deployed in outer space. According to the current plan, 14-24 Space-Based Lasers would be deployed at an altitude of 1300 kilometers in outer space. In 1997, one country conducted a comprehensive ground test of this weapon system in which laser and some other weapon systems were tested. The plan to finalize their integration into a weapon system is being studied.

The operational principle of NMD is that the space-based sensors would provide global, continuous surveillance and tracking of adversary missiles, then interceptors would intercept them at the altitude of 100 to 500 kilometers which means in outer space.

Haunting Ghost of the Strategic Defense Initiative

Space domination is a hegemonic concept. Its essence is monopoly of space and denial of others’ access to it. It is also aiming at using outer space for achieving strategic objectives on the ground. Therefore, SDI is still a haunting ghost; weaponization of outer space is looming large; and maintaining tranquillity in outer space in the years to come has been called into a big question. The above disturbing developments would lead to either of the following con-sequences: 1. Other countries would accept the status quo and acquiesce in the space power’s privilege to achieve even greater and absolute strategic superiorities on the ground and in the space, in addition to its currently largest and most advanced nuclear and conventional arsenals; 2. Other countries would in response launch their own plan to develop weapons on the ground, in the sea, in the air and in outer space. Both would result in unpredictable consequences. It is my belief that people all over the world would reject either of the above scenarios.

Though the existing international legal instruments concerning outer space, such as Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, prohibit the deployment of weapons of mass destruction in outer space, they do not ban in a comprehensive way the testing, deployment and use of any other kind of weapons or weapon systems, thus inadequate in preventing an arms race in outer space.

A few treaties did set certain very important rules. For example, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) of 1972 prohibits the testing and deployment of strategic missile defense systems in outer space by state parties and also prohibits the development and deployment of national missile defense systems. This treaty has played an indispensable role in maintaining global strategic stability, preventing an arms race in outer space and ensuring gradual nuclear disarmament progress. Regrettably, the ABM Treaty has been seriously weakened through the so-called understanding or re-interpretation. Recently, it has been announced that efforts will be made to amend and even to abolish this Treaty.

After the Cold-War, the rivalry between the two superpowers disappeared and peace and development have become the main theme of the times, reflecting the common aspiration of all peoples. Against this background, arms control treaties like ABM should play an even more important role. Any attempt to breach legal obligations of the treaty or even abolish it at will may set an ominous precedence in the field of arms control and disarmament. It will lead to the weaponization of outer space, undermine global and regional strategic balance and stability, and obstruct or even reverse the nuclear disarmament process.

Against this backdrop, the international community should act without any further delay to take effective measures, with a view to keeping the worst from happening. China believes that, in order to achieve the overall objective of peaceful use of outer space and truly prevent the weaponization of and an arms race in outer space, the international community should

focus on the following aspects:

  1. Ensure the peaceful use of outer space, resolutely oppose an arms race in outer space. At the current stage, the primary objective should be the prevention of the weaponization of outer space, i.e. prohibiting the testing, deployment and use of any weapons, weapon systems and their components in outer space.
  2. Negotiate and conclude as soon as possible international legal instruments on the prevention of an arms race in outer space to supplement the existing ones concerning outer space. In this regard, the Conference on Disarmament, as the single multilateral disarmament negotiation forum, should live up to its obligations. It should establish an ad hoc committee to negotiate and conclude legal instruments banning the test, deployment and use of any weapons, weapon systems and their components in outer space, with a view to preventing the weaponization of outer space.
  3. Countries with most advanced space capabilities, especially those that are currently intensifying their efforts in the development and testing of weapons or weapon systems, should assume special responsibilities and demonstrate genuine political will through undertaking not to research, develop, test, deploy and use any weapons, weapon systems as well as their components in outer space and to destroy all those weapons.
  4. The international community, including all women, should, through joint efforts, strengthen the supervision of and oppose all activities that run counter to the peaceful use of outer space or detrimental to the global and regional peace and security as well as the strategic stability.

Let us work together to maintain a weapon-free and peaceful space for the 21st century.

Wang Xiaoyu is First Secretary of the Delegation of China to the UN.

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