Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space

April 30, 2003

By Dave Knight



The weaponisation of space is a clear, immediate and progressing threat to the security of the planet and to the valuable and beneficial peaceful uses of outer space. Advances in communication and observation technology which contribute to developing space user states as well as the major space powers could be attacked physically by, for instance �killer satellites� and �space-based lasers�. Or they may cease to get off the ground for many states, �attacked�, through lack of funding and security due to the weapons in space deployed by one state, or a handful of states. There is a real danger that most states could be denied access to space.

The development and deployment of weapons in space would abuse the spirit of the present Outer Space Treaty, in some cases the word. In addition just the prospect of such deployment is having a detrimental effect on the international nuclear disarmament process and therefore the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The present Outer Space Treaty, while having a significant role, does not guarantee the prevention of an arms race in space. A new treaty is therefore needed with a wider view on the possible weapons and with effective provisions for verification. However since the multilateral negotiation of such a treaty is blocked at the Conference on Disarmament, albeit by less than a handful of states, other practical and intermediate steps need to be considered in order for progress to be made. While not within the Conference on Disarmament this initiative, if only partially successful, could help to dissolve the blockage.

Independent Moratoriums

Clearly, efforts by groups of states to discuss and/or negotiate necessary elements of a PAROS treaty are valuable intermediate steps. However they do not prevent the greatest danger inherent in the delay in the negotiation and entry into force of a treaty. At present there are no offensive weapons in space but by the time that multilateral negotiations are underway that could well not to be the case.

Independent Moratoriums on the Development and Deployment of Weapons in Space by space user states would maintain the option of the non-weaponisation of space and make the negotiation of a PAROS treaty significantly easier.

The aim of the Moratoriums would be to draw a line so that the situation regarding the militarisation of space would not be dramatically worsened by weapons in space. Such an interim step would also have value as a confidence building measure.

The process of developing the Independent Moratoriums would strengthen the work for a PAROS treaty by:

  • creating an opportunity for space user states to act on their support for PAROS
  • drawing out those states which espouse PAROS but are developing the potential to deploy weapons in space
  • enhancing the debate between states within Europe
  • focussing debate within the United States of America
  • refreshing discussion, and building on the support for PAROS, at the UN First Committee

Possible Elements of an Independent Moratorium

The Preamble could contain references to:

  • common interest and benefit in the exploration and use of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, for peaceful purposes
  • the present Outer Space Treaty and the UN Charter
  • the need for transparency and the benefits of confidence building measures
  • the value of the legal regime applicable to outer space
  • the contribution PAROS would make to international peace and security
  • the need for states to refrain from actions contrary to the peaceful use of outer space and to the prevention of an arms race in outer space

The Declaration would commit the state to:

  • ban the development and deployment of offensive weapons in space either in orbit, on celestial bodies or by other means
  • not assist such development and deployment by other states or organisations
  • respect the non-weapon space equipment of other states
  • promote the beneficial peaceful uses of outer space

At present there are no offensive weapons in space. The Independent Moratoriums would maintain that position, thereby giving time for negotiations on a comprehensive treaty with verification procedures to stop the weaponisation and reverse the militarisation of space.

Dave Knight
[email protected]


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