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United Nations First Committee 2009

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Keeping space peaceful

From Carol Naughton in New York, 20 October 2009

The session this morning, as we move into the third week of First Committee is on Outer Space.

As noted by South Korea, the first launch of a space object was in 1957 and since then dependence on outer space has escalated enormously. Canada described the critical role that space applications have for, 'communications, navigations, environmental monitoring, sustainable development, national security'.

However, outer space is now  'increasingly congested, complex and potentially contested' , as the US described it. Many delegates described Outer Space as a 'common heritage' and stressed the need to ensure space is kept for peaceful use only.

As more and more challenges emerge to the safety, security and sustainability of Outer Space, cooperation and improved communications of all nations is vital.

Many nations noted that the collision in space in February 2009, and the resulting loss of facilities, demonstrates how vulnerable we have become to interruptions of the use of space and how much greater international cooperation on Transparency and Confidence Building Measures (TCBM) is needed.  The US felt that one good thing that had arisen from that was their enhanced monitoring of satellites for risk of collision with other satellites and with space debris and sharing of that information with other governments and commercial satellite operators.

The US statement regarding what they perceived as China's 'increasing counter-space capabilities – including continued development of direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) interceptors ---' drew a sharp Right of Reply from China which said it had already explained its scientific experiment and position in the UN and the CD and would not dignify this statement by a rebuttal.

The UNGA's endorsement of the “Space debris Mitigation Guidelines” and the adoption by the EU Council of Ministers of a draft  “Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities” are seen as concrete efforts to enhance TCBMs. Russia, in introducing the draft resolution on TCBMs, historically co-authored with China, was pleased to note that all the EU states have now co-authored the draft bringing the total to 58. For an outline of the EU's draft code of conduct see:

Sri Lanka pointed out in their statement however that, 'the existing legal instruments fail to unequivocally prevent testing, deployment and use of all kinds of weapons in outer space'. Cuba also stated that 'Transparency and confidence-building measures are not a substitute for arms control and disarmament measures' . They did agree that TCBMs can play an important part in supporting the creation and  implementation of a new treaty.

Brazil and Russia both expressed the hope that the CD would adopt its Agenda and Programme of Work early next year and that this would include a Working Group on the prevention of an arms race in outer space.

Brazil felt that, 'The arguments against the negotiation of legally binding commitments to avoid the placement of any weapons and prevent any acts involving threat or the use of force in outer space are not sustainable' and went on to point out that, 'many of the items on the agenda of First Committee are to reverse or correct dangerous situations that threaten peace and security or even the very existence of the world. The items we are dealing with in this debate --- call for decisions to prevent the breaking of peace in a vast realm while there is still time.'

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