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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 66, September 2002

News Review

Russia and China Introduce Draft Treaty on Space Weapons

On June 27, Russia and China presented a draft outline for a 'Treaty on the Prevention of the Deployment of Weapons in Outer Space, [and of] the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects" to the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva. Moscow and Beijing have long warned that, in the absence of such an accord, US missile defence plans may lead to the development and deployment of space-based weapons.

The rationale behind the submission of the draft - co-sponsored by Belarus, Indonesia, Syria, Vietnam and Zimbabwe - was set out by Russian Ambassador Leonid A. Skotnikov:

"In proposing [the] basic parameters of a possible new agreement in the area of outer space, we have taken into account the experience of nearly nine years work of the CD Ad Hoc Committee on PAROS [Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space]. ... The developments in the world during the last years have only increased the urgency of resolving the issue of PAROS. That is why we support the urgent adoption today of all measures possible in order to prevent the deployment of weapons in outer space, rather than waste subsequently huge efforts and resources to have it 'de-weaponized'. ... I will stress that our principal aim today is to stimulate the early start of substantive discussions in the CD on the issue of PAROS. We do not envisage any tracks parallel to the CD in order to discuss these issues. While elaborating with the People's Republic of China the basic elements of a future agreement, we were taking into account the fact that the existing international legal regime regulating outer space activities contains a serious gap - the absence of a prohibition to deploy in outer space weapons other than weapons of mass destruction. In 1972, Moscow and Washington decided to partially fill [this gap]...bilaterally: the parties included in the ABM Treaty the commitment 'not to develop, test, or deploy ABM systems or components which are...space-based'. Unfortunately, this rule, which significance extended far beyond the framework of Russian-US relations and which had a global strategic dimension, also ceased to exist a few days ago, concurrently with the ABM Treaty. ... In these conditions, we propose to jointly give a thought to establishing international legal restrictions on the deployment of strike weapons in outer space. ... We are looking forward to a constructive dialogue and we are prepared to take into account considerations of all the participants in the CD in order to give a specific substance to the document and achieve a mutually acceptable compromise on its language."

The draft outline would bind states parties to three basic obligations: 1) "Not to place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying any kinds of weapons, not to install such weapons on celestial bodies, or not to station such weapons in outer space in any other manner"; 2) "Not to resort to the threat or use of force against outer space objects"; 3) "Not to assist or encourage other states, groups of states, international organizations to participate in activities prohibited by this Treaty." According to China's Ambassador, Hu Xiaodi (June 27), "all of these basic obligations echo the outcry of the international community for the peaceful use of outer space and [for] nipping the danger of the weaponization of outer space in the bud".

The United States immediately countered by insisting that the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (OST) provides sufficient guarantees against the weaponisation of space. As US Ambassador Eric Javits stated uncompromisingly (June 27): "The United States sees no need for new outer space arms control agreements and opposes the idea of negotiating a new Outer Space Treaty". Article IV of the OST reads that "states parties to this Treaty undertake not to place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner." This central controversy was the subject of an exchange between the Interfax news agency and Alexander Yakovenko, official spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, on July 3:

"Question: 'Why the need for that [proposed new] instrument when there already exists the Outer Space Treaty...banning the placement of weapons in space?'

Yakovenko: '...Indeed, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty did ban placing all the kinds of WMDs in space and on celestial bodies, but today there are no legal barriers whatsoever to the placement in orbit around the Earth of any other weapons. ...'

Question: 'There is information that the US has responded negatively to the Russian-Chinese initiative. Does this mean that negotiations on this question are doomed from the outset?'

Yakovenko: 'The US position is that the Outer Space Treaty...duly protects the interests in outer space of all states and remains a sufficient mechanism for assisting the effective carrying out of peaceful activities there, and that in this field there is no need for any supplementary arms control agreements. As was noted above, this isn't so. In addition, the issue now is not about the start of full-scale negotiations, particularly since the proposed working document is not the text of a treaty but only its main elements. The task is to draw the world community's attention to the problem of preventing the placement of weapons in space, and stimulating the early start of substantive discussions on this theme at the Conference on Disarmament.'"

Note: the third and final part of the CD's annual session is scheduled to conclude on September 13. The next edition of >Disarmament Diplomacy will feature a report from Rebecca Johnson, Executive Director of the Acronym Institute, reflecting on developments at the Conference in 2002.

Related material on Acronym website:

Reports: Possible elements for a future international legal agreement on the prevention of the deployment of weapons in outer space, the threat or use of force against outer space objects, Working paper presented by Russia and China to the Conference on Disarmament, June 27, Russian Foreign Ministry transcript; Statement by Ambassador Leonid A. Skotnikov, permanent representative of the Russian Federation to the Conference on Disarmament, at the plenary meeting of the Conference on Disarmament, Geneva, June 27, 2002, Russian Foreign Ministry transcript; Conference on Disarmament concludes second part of 2002 session, UN Press Release DCF/417, June 27; Russia, China make new push to ban arms in space over US objections, Associated Press, June 27; US spurns Russia, China bid to ban arms in space, Reuters, June 27; On the submission at the Conference on Disarmament of a Russian-Chinese draft working document on the prevention of the placement of weapons in space, Russian Foreign Ministry Statement, Document 1363-02-07-2002, July 2; Alexander Yakovenko, the official spokesman of Russia's Foreign Ministry, answers questions about the submission to the Conference on Disarmament of a working document on the prevention of the placement of weapons in space, July 3, 2002, Russian Foreign Ministry transcript.

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