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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 56, April 2001

Multilateral Approaches to Preventing the Weaponisation of Space

By Rebecca Johnson

In his first foreign policy statement on May 1, President Bush pledged to deploy missile defences, and referred to the possibility of using land, sea and air-based assets. He made no mention of space. For those who know their Sherlock Holmes, however, the dog that doesn't bark may be the most dangerous. On May 2, Rumsfeld stated: "There is no question but that the use of land and sea and air and space are all things that need to be considered if one is looking at the best way to provide the kind of security from ballistic missiles that is desirable for the United States and for our friends and allies."1 In Rumsfeld's first major policy speech a week later, he announced a new Pentagon post for a four-star Air Force general to take charge of military space programmes. Although Rumsfeld hedged on the details, the message was not lost. Under the headline "Outer Space is Apple of the Pentagon's Eye", the International Herald Tribune reported that Rumsfeld was "sharply elevating the importance of space in US military strategy".2

There is now growing anxiety, not least among America's allies, that in addition to destabilising relations with Russia and China and discrediting treaty-based collective regimes for non-proliferation and security, American plans for ballistic missile defences (BMD) could result in weapons being placed in space. This paper, based on the presentation I made to the Moscow Conference on "Space Without Weapons - Arena of Peaceful Cooperation in the 21st Century" in early April, looks at the evidence fuelling concerns about the future weaponisation of space and proposes that an independent conference be convened to negotiate a new multilateral treaty on the prohibition of space weapons.

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, commonly known as the Outer Space Treaty, has 96 adherents, including the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain, India, Israel and Pakistan. Concluded in the first years of space exploration, after Yuri Gagarin's historic flight and before Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon, the Outer Space Treaty prohibits the stationing of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons in space. It does not cover the transit of nuclear weapons through space or nuclear weapons launched from earth into space for the purposes of destroying incoming missiles, such as some of the early US and Russian missile defence interceptors in North Dakota and around Moscow (Galosh), permitted under the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. It also says nothing about anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) or the placement of conventional weapons in space.

Although Bush gave no specifics, it is now clear that the missile defence plans favoured by his administration are intended to go far beyond the Alaska-based 'Clinton phase-one' interceptors, and perhaps even beyond Richard Perle's vision of sea- and air-based interceptors. Some scenarios hark back to Ronald Reagan's strategic defence initiative (SDI), seeking to provide a future US capability that includes lasers, other directed energy weapons (DEW) and potentially kinetic-energy weapons (KEW) based in space. Under existing international law, two types of space weapon are possible: kinetic energy weapons 'kill' by hitting another object at high speed, although to increase their effectiveness they may also carry chemical explosives; in directed energy weapons, destruction is accomplished by focussing energy beams at the speed of light.3 The deployment of nuclear weapons in space is clearly prohibited by the Outer Space Treaty, but it appears that there are Pentagon advocates for nuclear weapons to be used as part of potential, future BMD scenarios. The cavalier attitude of the Bush administration towards the ABM Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Kyoto Protocol on climate change have shocked and dismayed US allies and the wider international community, who fear that such actions will initiate a general haemorrhaging of support and adherence for the multilateral arms control and non-proliferation regimes, and there are growing worries that no treaty is now safe if this new US attitude is allowed to prevail.

When the US Space Command published its Vision for 2020 in 1997, reassuring voices in the Clinton Administration and armed forces said these ideas were just being floated as part of a future-looking exercise. Phrases like "US Space Command - dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect US interests and investment" and "Integrating Space Forces into warfighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict"4 were portrayed as the hyperbole of marketing, from a small, somewhat peripheral agency seeking to attract funds and support. It was not being taken too seriously by those in charge.

With the victory of George W. Bush as US President and the appointment of Donald H. Rumsfeld as Secretary for Defense, the minority who were developing plans for America to take military control of outer space may now be in the ascendant. In January 2001, the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organisation, chaired by Rumsfeld before becoming Defense Secretary, issued a report echoing Vision 2020, though in less inflammatory language. The Commission recommended that US national space policy should be brought into the centre of defence planning, encompassing an early review and revision of policy priorities.5 As Defense Secretary, Rumsfeld was required to give the US Government's formal response to the recommendations in the report he had chaired. Not surprisingly, his May 8 speech and the appointment of a four-star general to lead an integrated, better funded military space programme show his desire to implement the Commission's recommendations.6

These plans and ideas have therefore to be taken seriously before it is too late. There are very important international security issues coming to the fore that need to be addressed preventively. The issues raised by national missile defence (NMD) and the weaponisation of space could have a profound impact on global security and on hopes that the weapon states will continue to make progress on nuclear disarmament, as required under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Recognising that the Geneva Conference on Disarmament (CD) remains deadlocked, with no realistic hope of convening any kind of substantive negotiations on its agenda item on Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS), this paper argues the case for separate multilateral negotiations on a treaty to prevent war in space, regulate the non-aggressive, non-offensive and commercial uses of outer space, and provide for a protected 'space sanctuary'.

Full Spectrum Dominance

In the 1980s there were books and proposals on arms control to limit anti-satellite weapons (ASAT), but little happened. More recently, US plans for national missile defence have underlined military dependence on space for surveillance and communications, but it is clear that Rumsfeld would like to go further, putting targetting components and even directed energy or kinetic energy weapons on satellites. Space Command's Vision for 2020, incorporating also Joint Vision 2010, called for 'full spectrum dominance', arguing that "the medium of space is the fourth medium of warfare - along with land, sea and air." In March 1998, US Space Command published its Long Range Plan, complementing and extending the Visions with greater detail.7

Extrapolating lessons from the rise of naval dominance to protect and enhance European commercial interests from the 16th century, US Space Command's Vision for 2020 argued that an increased dependence upon space capabilities for 'commercial, civil, international, and military interests and investments' could lead to increased vulnerabilities: "As space systems become lucrative military targets, there will be a critical need to control the space medium to ensure US dominance on future battlefields...to ensure space superiority". The Long Range Plan was portrayed as US Space Command's "deliberate effort to extend the national defence planning horizon and ensure military space is postured to exploit future opportunities and meet future challenges" out to 2020. US Space Command foresaw a role for itself in "dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect US national interests and investment...[and] integrating space forces into warfighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict." To accomplish these objectives, four operational concepts are envisaged:

  • control of space - the ability to assure or deny access to and freedom of operations within space;
  • global engagement - combining integrated, focussed surveillance and missile defences with a potential ability to apply force from space;
  • full force integration - the integration of space forces and space-derived information with air, land and sea forces and information; and
  • global partnerships - augmenting military space capabilities through exploitation of civil, commercial and international space systems, including bilateral partnerships with US allies in Europe and Asia.8

In articles intended to explain Space Command's vision, its then commander-in-chief, General Joseph W. Ashy (CINCSPACE) talked of "engaging terrestrial targets from space", adding: "We will engage targets in space, from space."9 Space Command wanted the resources to carry out four key missions:

  • space support - launching and operating spacecraft;
  • space force enhancement - providing services and information from space such as navigation and weather, communications and missile launch warning;
  • space control or space superiority; and
  • space force application - applying military force from space to a terrestrial target.

General Ashy explained that the US had development programmes in directed energy and hit-to-kill weapons because "we're going to fight a war in space. We're going to fight from space and we're going to fight into space..."10

The Rumsfeld Space Commission, which included General Howell M. Estes III, a chief architect of Vision for 2020, was couched in less lurid terms than Vision for 2020. It recognised that it was in the US national interest to promote the peaceful uses of space. It concluded that space interests be regarded as a top national security priority and that the US must ensure continuing superiority in space capabilities in order "both to deter and to defend against hostile acts in and from space", including "uses of space hostile to US interests".11

The report also recommended that disparate space activities should be merged under a streamlined command structure, that the Secretary of Defense collaborate closely with the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and that sustained government investment in science and breakthrough technologies would be necessary to maintain US leadership in space. The Commission explicitly acknowledged that "sensitivity" surrounds the notion of weapons in space, but argued nevertheless that the US government should pursue the relevant capabilities "to ensure that the President will have the option to deploy weapons in space to deter threats to and, if necessary, defend against attacks on US interests".12 This echoes the Long Range Plan, which stated: "At present, the notion of weapons in space is not consistent with US national policy. Planning for this possibility is the purpose of this plan should our civilian leadership later decide that the application of force from space is in our national interest."13

Raising the spectre of a 'Space Pearl Harbour', the Commission argued that US military capabilities would need to be transformed in the areas of:

  • assured access to space and on-orbit operations
  • space situational awareness
  • earth surveillance from space
  • global command, control and communications in space
  • defence in space
  • homeland defence
  • power projection in, from and through space.14

Rumsfeld's Commission further recommended testing and exercises, including 'live fire' events, to keep the armed forces proficient. In addition to arguing for strengthened intelligence capabilities, investment to advance US technological leadership, the creation of a cadre of space professionals, and a restructuring of the decision-making to bring national security space policy into the mainstream and under the 'deliberate leadership' of the US President, the Commission argued that the US should participate actively in shaping the space legal and regulatory environment. However, this support for legal regulation contained a revealing warning, that the US "must be cautious of agreements intended for one purpose that, when added to a larger web of treaties or regulations, may have the unintended consequences of restricting future activities".

The US NMD proposals, US Space Command publications and Rumsfeld's report and later announcements, have begun to drive international concerns about the risk of a future space arms race. The sombre conclusion, as summed up by one long-time US analyst, is that new technologies will allow the fielding of space-based weapons "of reasonable mass and cost to effect very many kills", and that the United States is gearing up for the "unilateral control of space, which overarches Planet Earth, all occupants, and its entire contents... [with] that vantage position [we] could overpower every opponent".15

Space Sanctuary:
An Alternative US View

Responding to the notion of putting weapons in space, Senator Tom Daschle (Democrat) of South Dakota was memorably direct. He called it "the single dumbest thing I have heard so far from this administration...It would be a disaster for us to put weapons in space of any kind under any circumstances. It only invites other countries to do the same thing."16

Three years earlier, Lt. Col. Bruce M. Deblois of the United States Air Force had come to the same conclusion. Rumsfeld's Commission reported that China was developing methods and strategies for defeating the US military in a high-tech and space-based future war, viewing this as a sign of vulnerability justifying US plans to enhance their military and weapon capabilities in space. Deblois challenges the prevailing assumption underlying US Space Command's mission, i.e. that "space will be weaponised; we only need to decide if the US will take the lead". Despite accepting that the advantages of being the first nation to put weapons into space were "undeniable", Deblois contends that the weaponisation of space is not inevitable and that crossing this threshold would not be the best long term strategy for US national security.17 Arguing that weaponising space would be profoundly destabilising, invigorate a high tech arms race and potentially a new emphasis on mutual assured destruction (MAD) doctrines, and that the US would have the most to lose from such developments, Deblois advocates the pursuit of a policy he calls 'space sanctuary'. Deblois utilises some of the same arguments as US Space Command regarding American dependence on space for intelligence, communication, surveillance, navigation, commercial interests and commercial and military data acquisition, but comes to a very different conclusion.

Where Rumsfeld's Commission argued that the attendant vulnerabilities must be met with aggressive development of military space capabilities, Deblois describes three approaches for defending space assets: i) diplomatic/political defences (agreements aimed at building collective security); ii) passive defences (hide and seek), and iii) active defences (essentially Rumsfeld's option of deploying ground ASAT and space-based weapons). Deblois recommends combining options i) and ii) and the "active, aggressive avoidance of the third".18 Deblois contends that seeking to control Earth from a space-based battle platform would conflict with wider American ideals and objectives, but he focusses most on the military reasons for not weaponising space. In particular, he argues that space weaponisation strategies lack the element of survivability and would be militarily and politically self-defeating; they are expensive, provocative and escalatory; and they maintain a bogus centre of gravity (COG) of vulnerability, for which other strategies might provide better defence and protection. Finally, any initial advantage from being the first to put weapons in space would soon be neutralised as other major powers seek to develop space weapons of their own, while lesser powers could offset them with asymmetric responses.19 It must be recalled that the United States seriously underestimated the speed with which its advantage as the sole nuclear power in 1945 would erode. The heart-stopping near miss of the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred less than 20 years later.

International Agreements and Continuing Concerns

Although weapons have not yet been placed on satellites, space is already substantially militarised. This fact has to be taken into account when looking at the kind of restraints that might be feasible now. US capabilities currently far outweigh the rest, but several countries have satellite-based surveillance and intelligence capabilities. Russia and the United States have for many years been researching and testing ASAT weapons, though not without technical problems. Over the past 30 years, a number of treaties and agreements have been concluded to protect assets in space, but with Washington pressing aggressively ahead with NMD, such measures look increasingly inadequate.

Of the agreements, the Outer Space Treaty is central. While it prohibits the placing or stationing in earth orbit or on celestial bodies of any objects carrying nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, the treaty accepted that "passive military use" such as reconnaissance satellites, surveillance, early warning or communications would be allowed.20 Although military personnel could conduct scientific research, the testing of weapons in space or the holding of military manoeuvres or establishment of military bases was banned. Ballistic missiles carrying nuclear weapons through space were permitted, as were 'conventional' weapons not capable of mass destruction. A further confidence building Treaty was negotiated in 1975, the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space (the Registration Convention). This complemented the 1972 Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects, but neither agreement has received much attention or prompt observance. More than a decade later, the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (the Moon Agreement) was signed in December 1979 and entered into force in 1984. The 1932 International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Convention, as amended in 1992 and 1994, protects civilian satellites from interference.

Space issues are also discussed in the United Nations. There is the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) attached to the General Assembly's Fourth Committee, and UNISPACE, which holds periodic meetings. These provide a useful sounding board for concerns but have no power to regulate activities. The Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva has long had an agenda item on PAROS, although for much of that time the issue failed to get into the CD's annual programme of work. Traditionally, the lead in PAROS in the CD and UN resolutions has been taken by Sri Lanka, together with Egypt. British science fiction writer and long-time resident of Sri Lanka, Dr. Arthur C. Clarke, author of "2001: A Space Odyssey", addressed the CD in 1982 as a member of Sri Lanka's delegation and emphasised the need to prevent nuclear war and war in outer space. In 1985, as pressure increased from US plans for SDI (quickly dubbed 'Star Wars'), Sri Lanka's ambassador to the CD, Jayantha Dhanapala, noted that "we have watched [PAROS] in its transition from what appeared to be a slice of science fiction to being perhaps the single most important development in the arms race today". 21 That was sixteen years ago, and his words are even truer today.

During the ensuing years, PAROS issues were intermittently discussed in CD plenaries and subsidiary bodies. Talks often foundered on a basic conflict between the non-aligned states, who wanted discussions and exploration of the issue to be directed towards negotiations to achieve appropriate agreements, and others - mainly Western states - who were prepared to countenance exploratory discussions only as an end in themselves, ruling out negotiations. Some countries sought the middle ground. Among the working papers issued in 1993, for example, was a call from France for confidence building measures in outer space to enhance the existing treaty regime, strengthen the security of space activities, prevent the aggressive use of space, and promote space cooperation for civil and scientific purposes.22

The last time a CD ad hoc committee was convened on PAROS was in 1994. The committee considered whether existing space treaties were sufficient and speculated about what kind of legal instrument or measures should be employed or negotiated. The non-aligned states and China took the view that PAROS was still important and urgent, while most Western and Eastern-European countries advocated confidence-building measures instead of treaty negotiations, on the grounds that the end of the Cold War had brought about considerable changes and there was no longer an arms race in outer space.23

With the advent of US plans for ballistic missile defences, that sanguine view has now been revised even by America's allies. In successive years the UN General Assembly resolution on PAROS has garnered increased interest and votes. In December 2000, UNGA resolution 55/32 was introduced by Sri Lanka and co-sponsored by a number of non-aligned countries plus Russia and China. It reaffirmed the importance of the Outer Space Treaty, emphasised the need for consolidation and reinforcement, including verification, of measures to prevent an arms race in outer space, and called on countries with major space capabilities to refrain from acts contrary to maintaining a peaceful outer space. The resolution received 163 votes in favour and none against. The United States, Israel and Micronesia abstained.

Negotiate a New Space Treaty

As Senator Daschle pointed out, turning outer space into a future battleground is demonstrably a mad idea. Unfortunately it is not something we can ignore and hope it will go away. US Space Command has been thinking, researching and planning for the military domination of space for a long time, and with Bush and Rumsfeld in power, they believe their time has come. The sooner the TV, telecom and electronics moguls and the rest of the world wake up to the importance of preventing the weaponisation of space the better, before much more US military commitment, finances and prestige are invested. Recognising the political realities, which mean that PAROS is unlikely to get properly addressed, let alone negotiated, in the CD in the near future, a space-focussed 'Ottawa process' should be considered.

The Ottawa process, whereby civil society and a few conscientious states led the way in getting a worldwide ban on landmines, is not easily reproducible, but space may be one area where the conditions prevail to make it seriously worth considering. In the first instance, the role of NGOs will be crucial. There are already signs in Europe that the peace-movements are experiencing a resurgence of public interest as a result of fears about 'star wars', missile defence and the Bush administration's rejection of the Kyoto protocol and other important agreements. While some NGOs need to take the arguments about weapons and war in space out to schools, churches, parliamentarians, the media and other public opinion shapers, others need to engage quietly with the telecommunications, navigation and entertainment industries. Countries and industries with significant commercial interests in non-military satellites, which include powerful lobbies in the United States itself, have a vested interest in keeping space peaceful.

Think tanks and experts are needed to work out some of the difficult technical and legal definitions and questions that will have to be resolved, such as: whether the production, testing and deployment of anti-satellite weapons can be distinguished from BMD and other ballistic missiles or if a ban is feasible only on the use of ASAT weapons; where to define the boundary between air space and outer space; what constitutes a weapon or a component of a weapon; whether there is a feasible or necessary distinction between low and high altitude ASAT; what constitutes testing of space weapons; and so on.24 Although many continue to speak of the peaceful uses of outer space, that is a misnomer, given the military reliance on space-based intelligence, surveillance and navigation assets. We may not be able to turn the clock back to preserve space for genuinely peaceful purposes, but it is not too late to prohibit weapons and regulate space activities to prevent offensive and aggressive deployments and activities.

As civil society becomes more aware of the dangers associated with US plans for space dominance, it is time for a group of states concerned about keeping space peaceful to take the lead and establish a conference (probably outside Geneva) to look into these issues, with a view to preparing and then negotiating a Treaty to Prohibit Weapons and War in Space.25

Both the 1959 Treaty of Antarctica and the 1971 Seabed Treaty provide good, though not exact, precedents. Since some military activities are already carried on in space, it will be important to agree clear definitions and parameters on what types of activity are to be permitted, regulated or prohibited. While some may wish to demilitarise space altogether, such a radical step would be dependent on a far-reaching and deeper demilitarisation of international relations. Not impossible in the future, but at this stage it is more feasible to concentrate on preventing future weaponisation and on seeking agreement to regulate military activities rather than the purer but considerably more difficult objective of banning military involvement in space altogether. It is also important to recognise that while the majority of satellites do have a military purpose, many also play a role as 'national technical means' for monitoring and verification of arms control and non-proliferation. Space is a fragile environment. The deployment of weapons in space, including the increased likelihood of ASAT retaliation, are unpredictable, but they could be devastating. Already 30 years' worth of space debris have become a worrying hazard for satellites and space exploration.

Treaty to Prohibit Weapons and War in Space

Negotiations on a Treaty to Prohibit Weapons and War in Space would have to cover at least three main components:

i) a ban on the deployment and use of all kinds of weapons in space, thereby extending and strengthening the 1967 Outer Space Treaty's prohibitions on weapons of mass destruction in space so that laser and other directed energy weapons and kinetic energy weapons are also banned, as well as any other potential offensive innovations that military researchers or planners might dream up;

ii) banning the testing, deployment and use of anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons, whether earth-based or space-based; and

iii) establishing a code of conduct for the peace-supporting, non-offensive and non-aggressive uses of space.

Individually, none of these proposals is new. Similar ideas have been put forward on all three components over the past decades. In 1981, 1983 and 1985, the Soviet Union put forward several initiatives, including a draft treaty banning the possession, use and testing of ASAT capabilities. In 1985 Sri Lanka proposed a moratorium on the testing and development of space weapons coupled with multilateral negotiations on a treaty to prohibit the stationing of weapons in space and the prohibition of any weapons (whether deployed on land, air or in space) designed to damage, destroy or interfere with any country's space craft. The United States and the Soviet Union/Russia undertook voluntary restraints on ASAT. The CD discussed space 'rules of the road', a draft code of conduct that encompassed a formal renunciation of actions that might interfere with the operation of space objects, whether civilian (which are in any case protected from interference under the ITU Convention) or military. None of these got anywhere, in part because space was not seen as a priority issue for arms control. What is new is that plans for space weapons are now being taken seriously.

An independent route to start multilateral negotiations on a new space treaty has two major virtues: it removes PAROS from its blocking position in the CD; and it ensures that prevention of the weaponisation of space gets addressed sooner rather than later. Inevitably, the United States (and possibly others) will object and try first to prevent the talks from taking place. That is unavoidable, and advocates of a space treaty must be prepared to start negotiations without the Bush administration on board. As with the Landmines Treaty, the next US tactic if negotiations went ahead would be to evoke the NATO loyalty card, then perhaps to join in the multilateral talks in order to redirect them, and finally to try to scupper any agreements or treaties by refusing to sign.

If indeed the US were to stay completely outside of a treaty and international norm banning weapons in space, and if it were to pursue its Vision for 2020 unhindered, that would undermine the purpose and effectiveness of the measure. But though the current administration seems to care little about international treaties and opinion, President Bush listens to big money. There are very significant US commercial interests in space, not all linked to the military. They include some which are globally integrated with other international commercial interests. If transnational civil society and a strong cross-section of countries were to move forward to establish a treaty and norm against space weapons, and if the companies whose commercial interests would be most jeopardised by an ASAT free-for-all were prepared to lobby from the inside, it would be more difficult for the US government to proceed with space weapons regardless. A US boycott of the treaty would be particularly difficult to sustain if its code of conduct included technology sharing and commercial incentives for countries abiding by rules prohibiting the aggressive or offensive uses of space and loss of trade for enterprises belonging to countries that are not party to the agreements. Such commercial incentives played a part in bringing the United States into the Chemical Weapons Convention just before it entered into force in 1996.

Big money for BMD - some $60 billion and rising - may be dangled in front of US defence firms and their Congressional backers, but it needs to be shown that there is also big money - American and international - with vested interests in keeping space peaceful. If negotiations get underway, it should be a priority to build coalitions, not only among a large group of countries, but between civil society and major commercial enterprises, and even sectors of the military, for whom communications are the Achilles heel of ever more sophisticated, high precision, conventional weaponry. For some, there will be contradictions in dealing with such industries. Nor can it be our intention to make the heavens safe for 'smart' bombs! Nevertheless, a successful strategy to negotiate a new space treaty will require such alliances.

It is likely that some will argue for just an ASAT ban as an initial step. Back in 1987, the United States Office of Technology Assessment noted that "there is a strong relationship between ASAT and BMD technologies and the technical, political and diplomatic action taken in one sphere will almost certainly affect the other".26 Because of this complex relationship with BMD, an ASAT ban by itself is now out of reach, requiring that the question of space weapons be addressed comprehensively. In view of the interest some countries are now showing in the development of some limited kinds of missile defence, including land and sea-based, a further complication is that it would be difficult to distinguish between the testing and deployment of ASAT and ballistic missile defences that might be deemed legally acceptable or legitimate.

Since there are significant similarities between the technology and characteristics of forms of ASAT and BMD, two approaches could be considered, depending on feasibility and political conditions. By the more radical approach, a Treaty to Prohibit Weapons and War in Space could be combined with global restrictions on BMD. Alternatively, if the international community ends up accepting some level of missile defences, it might be necessary to focus on explicitly banning only the use of ASAT, thereby creating a norm-based regime with incentives for compliance and very severe penalties for violation. Such questions will need to be considered by technical and political experts during scoping talks at an early stage.


The growing international interest in finding collective ways to prevent space being turned into a battleground is fuelled by US plans to deploy ballistic missile defences and by a lack of clarity from the Bush administration over how far they mean to go. Bush has launched consultations with America's allies and Russia and China. While a number of countries may now be prepared to discuss some aspects of missile defences, there are indications that they want to draw a red line to prevent the weaponisation of space. The difficulties should not be underestimated. But neither should the political and technical complexities be a reason to give up without trying. It is important to engage the United States as much as possible, while recognising that Rumsfeld and Bush seem already to have made up their minds about positioning the United States to weaponise and control space. It is necessary to distinguish between the concept of defending against missile attacks, which is quite understandable, and the context of how such defence is approached. The United States needs to look at how its own security could be harmed if it pushes ahead with BMD plans that turn outer space into a future battleground and destabilise international relations and collective non-proliferation and security arrangements. At the same time, US allies, Russia et al (not forgetting China) have to be prepared to work constructively with Washington to put in place more effective ways to combat missile proliferation and the threat of terrorists (whether state or sub-national) armed with weapons of mass destruction, of which missile deliverable weapons are only a part.

In 1985, Dhanapala noted that preventing an arms race in outer space "is an easier task than attempting to control and decelerate such a race after it has begun". People are beginning to wake up to this fact and realise that the window of opportunity to keep space from becoming the site of the next arms race is fast closing. It is imperative now to translate the growing sense of urgency and the wider level of international commercial and military interests in the non-offensive uses of space into a transnational movement to prevent space from becoming a violent battleground in the future.

It is now clear that the Bush administration believes the United States needs to place weapons in space, to protect not only its military and commercial assets in outer space, but also to dominate and control activities on Earth from space. This paper argues that attempts to dominate space militarily will backfire, and could risk a new arms race and increase the vulnerability of important commercial, communication, verification and intelligence assets in space. Although I have considered proposals put forward by Russian diplomats and others for amending the 1967 Treaty or negotiating an additional protocol to it, I have deliberately not proposed this. I am concerned that any opening of discussion into the scope of the Outer Space Treaty could prompt arguments (particularly in the United States) that this treaty is outmoded and should be abandoned. In my view, therefore, it is vitally important to build on but not to seek to amend that treaty, thereby leaving its core prohibition against WMD in space enshrined in international law. What is needed is a new instrument to prohibit all weapons in space and regulate space-related activities. This will not necessarily exempt the 1967 Treaty from attacks by those who might want to pull out, but it will make it very much more difficult for them to do so.

Most importantly, this paper argues that the initiative to begin negotiations on a new treaty to prevent the deployment of space weapons must be taken now, by as large a group of states as possible, backed by a strong international push from civil society. The objective would be to convene preparatory meetings and then full negotiations on a Treaty to Prohibit Weapons and War in Space, to halt further militarisation, prevent weaponisation and a future war in outer space, and to preserve space as a sanctuary for exploration, communication, verification and non-violent purposes of benefit to life on Earth.

Notes and References

1. Secretary of Defence Donald H. Rumsfeld, Bush defense plan stirs critics, Associated Press, May 2, my italics. See Documents and Sources, this issue, on President Bush's statement and US and international responses.

2. James Dao, Outer Space is Apple of the Pentagon's Eye, International Herald Tribune, May 9, 2001.

3. For a fuller discussion of types of space weaponry, see Bhupendra Jasani, 'Emerging Technologies', in Disarmament, vol X number 2, United Nations, 1987.

4. United States Space Command, Vision for 2020, February 1997. Published as a visual presentation of images and slogans rather than in report form.

5. Report of the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organisation, Washington DC (Public Law 106-65), January 11, 2001.

6. 'Secretary Rumsfeld announces major national space management and organizational initiative,' US Department of Defense, May 8, 2001.

7. United States Space Command, Long Range Plan, Executive Summary, March 1998.

8. United States Space Command, Long Range Plan, ibid. p 4.

9. 'USSC Prepares for Future Combat Missions in Space', William B. Scott, Aviation Week & Space Technology, August 5, 1996.

10. Ashy, quoted in 'USSC Prepares for Future Combat Missions in Space', William B. Scott, Aviation Week & Space Technology, August 5, 1996.

11. Commission Report, op. cit., pp 7-10

12. Commission Report, op. cit., p 12.

13. United States Space Command, Long Range Plan, op. cit. p 8.

14. Commission Report, op. cit., p 16.

15. Karl Grossman, Overview of the Current Stage of Militarization of Outer Space, Report of the 1999 International Women's Day Seminar, WILPF, Geneva, March 1999.

16. Peter Grier, The New Nuclear Theology, Christian Science Monitor, May 8, 2001.

17. Lt. Col. Bruce M. Deblois, Space Sanctuary: a Viable National Strategy, (1997), available at http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/apj/apj98/win98.deblois.html.

18. Deblois, p 12.

19. Deblois, pp 18-19.

20. Jozef Goldblat, Arms Control: A Guide to Negotiations and Agreements, PRIO, Oslo, 1994, p 119-124.

21. Jayantha Dhanapala, Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the Conference on Disarmament, CD plenary statement, March 5, 1985.

22. CD/OS/WP.59, March 12, 1993.

23. CD/1271, September 6, 1994.

24. For an excellent analysis of definitional questions and ambiguities, see the many writings of Prof. Bhupendra Jasani on satellites and ASAT, especially 'Peaceful and Non-Peaceful Uses of Space: problems of definition for the prevention of an arms race in outer space', UNIDIR, 1991, and 'Outer Space: A Source of Conflict or Cooperation', United Nations University Press and SIPRI, 1991.

25. In addition to France, Russia and China, whose position as nuclear-weapon states might render them unsuitable for taking the lead although their early support would be essential, Sri Lanka has shown long-time leadership in outer space issues, as have Canada and some of the New Agenda countries, but leadership may also come from unexpected quarters.

26. 'Anti-satellite weapons, countermeasures, and arms control', US Congress Office of Technology Assessment report OTA-ISC-281, September 1985, quoted in Jasani, Emerging Technologies, 1987.

Rebecca Johnson is the Executive Director of the Acronym Institute. This article is based on the paper she gave at the International Space Conference on "Space Without Weapons - Arena of Peaceful Cooperation in the 21st Century", in Moscow, April 11-14, 2001.

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.