13 July 2010
The CD and the new US space policy

Beatrice Fihn
Reaching Critical Will


The Conference on Disarmament (CD) met on Tuesday morning under the new presidency of Bulgaria. Mr. Nikolay Mladenov, Foreign Minister of Bulgaria, delivered a statement. The CD also heard Mr. Frank Rose, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Defense Policy and Verification Operations for the United States, present President Obama�s newly released national space policy. The delegations of Russia, Algeria, Brazil, and Canada addressed comments and questions to Mr. Rose after his intervention.


  • Mr. Frank Rose highlighted the new features in the US National Space Policy, such as that the US will consider space-related arms control concepts and proposals �that meet the criteria of equitability and effective verifiability, and which enhance the national security of the United States and its allies.�
  • The Foreign Minister of Bulgaria, Mr. Nikolay Mladenov, stated that Bulgaria is assuming the Presidency of the CD during a time particularly rich of developments in the area of disarmament and non-proliferation, but despite this, the CD continues to be blocked by extreme precautions and mistrust that put procedural chains on its work.

The new US space policy
The new US space policy, consisting of principles, goals, and guidelines, was released last week. Mr. Rose stated that the new policy takes into account developments that have changed the issues facing the international space community and noted that it places more emphasis on expanding international cooperation; it encourages responsible action in space; it enhances openness and pursues new transparency and confidence-building measures; and protects critical space capabilities.

With regards to the issue on the CD agenda, prevention of an arms race in outer space, the new space policy states that the US shall pursue bilateral and multilateral transparency and confidence-building measures to encourage responsible action in, and the peaceful uses of, space. It also notes that the US will consider proposals and concepts for arms control measures if they are equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhance the national security of the US and its allies. As Mr. Rose noted, this is a significant departure from the 2006 policy and such position is �consistent both with long-standing and bipartisan U.S. space policy as well as with the verification standards that the United States has applied to other arms control agreements.� Mr. Rose also took the opportunity to reaffirm that the US supports the inclusion of a �non-negotiating, or discussion, mandate in any CD program of work� on this subject.

The presentation spurred some delegations to ask questions and make comments on the new space policy. Mr. Vasiliev from the Russian delegation wondered if this new space policy would mean that the US acknowledges that current legal norms and regulations are insufficient. Mr. Rose repeated that the US had not yet seen a space arms control agreement that meet the criteria that outlined in the policy on equitable and effectively verifiable, but emphasized that the US will work with all space faring nations on very effective near-term transparency- and confidence-building measures that would increase the long-term sustainability of space.

Ambassador Jazairy from Algeria questioned if Mr. Rose�s comment on �non-negotiating� was an expressed dissent to the current draft proposal contained in CD/1889, which contains a mandate to discuss substantively the issue of PAROS, �not excluding negotiations�. However, Mr. Rose reiterated the position of the US delegation which was expressed last week, that they do indeed support the language in CD/1889.

Ambassador Macedo Soares from Brazil addressed the two criteria for arms control agreements in space mentioned in the new policy�equitability and effective verifiability�and argued that equitability was difficult to attain. Ambassador Soares noted that if one country is far-ahead of others on both level of technology and science, as well as on volume of utilization of outer space, any commitment would be an equitable burden for that country. And if equitability were pursued, leading countries would never be able to negotiate and be party of an agreement.

Ambassador Grinius from Canada drew attention to the report of the UNIDIR space conference in March 2010, �From Foundations to Negotiations�, which the Canadian delegation had submitted as an official document to the CD. Ambassador Grinius highlighted that such initiatives from UNIDIR and its supporters was a substantive contribution to enrich and educate the delegations in the CD.

Is the CD still capable to do the job?
As new president of the CD, the Bulgarian delegation was joined by its foreign minister, who delivered a statement focusing on the frustrating lack of progress in the CD. Mr. Nikolay Mladenov argued that a world free of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction is a mission above politics and diplomacy, above national ambitions and personal egos. �Nothing, no fear, no suspicion, no perception of a single country or group of states should be in position to prevent us from undertaking most effective possible steps towards the ultimate goal of nuclear disarmament,� he stated. Mr. Mladenov expressed disappointment that developments in the area of disarmament and non-proliferation are taking place in the outside world, while the CD continues to be blocked by �extreme precautions and mistrust that put procedural chains on its work� and argued that the understanding of security have changed immensely in the last 12 years, while the CD and its agenda has remained the same. Mr. Mladenov argued that we should rethink the mechanisms that the CD offers to deal with disarmament and non-proliferation issues, and asked if the CD still is capable of creating and keeping the necessary amount of trust to make delegation sit down together and negotiate. However, he still attached great importance to the work of the CD, but argued for the need of a clear and comprehensive vision on multilateral disarmament machinery.

Notes from the gallery
The changes of the US space policy are significant and a clear improvement from the previous one, developed by the Bush administration in 2006. Instead of placing a narrow emphasis on the US only, the Obama administration policy returns to language used during the Clinton presidency and focuses on the US role in the international space community. It reflects a more pragmatic approach to the challenges facing all current and future space powers and highlights international cooperation as the appropriate way to find solutions. However, placing prerequisites, such as �equitable�, on any future arms control proposals has shown to be problematic for other issues, such as a fissile material (cut-off) treaty. Such concerns are better dealt with in actual negotiations, rather than before. However, if the CD could adopt the current draft programme of work, it is clear that discussions on initiatives and norms such as transparency- and confidence-building measures could start immediately, enabling the member states to pave the way for more concrete efforts in the future. Until then, we hope to see the US and all other delegations contribute to developing acceptable proposal for arms control measures in space in order to help turn another issue �ripe� for negotiations in the CD.

Next plenary meeting
The next plenary meeting, the last of the second session, will be held on Thursday, 15 July at 10:00am.

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