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United Nations First Committee and the Conference on Disarmament

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UN First Committee 2004

PAROS discussions at the 2004 UN First Committee

Rebecca Johnson, The Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy, October 20, 2004


At the UN First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) in New York, a number of states have highlighted the importance of preventing the deployment of weapons in outer space. At a special session devoted to 'prevention of an arms race in outer space' on Tuesday October 19th, there were further more specific statements. Egypt and Sri Lanka have introduced their traditional Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) resolution.

Of most importance was Russia, which used the occasion to announce a new policy of no first deployment of weapons in outer space and called on all other space-faring and space-using nations to join in this pledge. Russia also joined China in emphasising their joint initiative in the Conference on Disarmament, where they have submitted a draft 'treaty' containing the basic elements of a potential instrument that would prohibit the placement of weapons in space. Here is a summary of the main points made in the interventions. Canada and Sweden both called for a more coordinated approach, involving other bodies such as COPUOS [Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space] and OOSA [Office for Outer Space Affairs] and a range of military and civilian stakeholders, as well as governments. Others spoke to support the Egyptian-Sri Lankan resolution and/or to support or qualify support for the CD to address PAROS.

In detail

In his general statement, Russia's Ambassador Leonid Skotnikov said: "In his address to the current UN General Assembly the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia drew once again attention to the task of keeping outers space weapons-free. As is known, in the interests of achieving this aim, Russia and China in co-authorship with a number of other states submitted to the Conference on Disarmament a draft of basic elements of a comprehensive agreement on non-placement of weapons in outer space. The draft sets forth the following fundamental obligations: not to place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying any kinds of weapons, not to install such weapons on celestial bodies and not to station such weapons in outer space in any other manner; not to resort to the threat or use of force against outer space objects. The conceptual discussion of this issue has advanced over the last year. We hope that the work of the CD will be unblocked and an ad hoc Committee on Outer Space will be reestablished to start multilateral substantive discussion of a draft agreement.

"Russia is pursuing a steady course of preventing the arms race in outer space. Let us recall that as far back as 1983, the Soviet Union assumed an obligation not to be the first in placing any kind of anti-satellite weapons in outer space. We remain committed to this obligation up to the present day. Moreover, we shall not be the first to place any weapons in outer space. We call on all nations with an outer space potential to follow our suit, which will make it possible to maintain a peaceful status of outer space. We are confident that this will benefit all the nations with no exception." [verbatim text from statement]

In the PAROS debate, Russia elaborated a bit on its position: 'The deployment of weapons in outer space and therefore PAROS are one of the most important and urgent tasks facing the international community. Russia traditionally co-sponsors the Egyptian-Sri Lankan PAROS resolution and will do so again this year. The world depends more and more on outer space, and there would be tragic consequences for daily life if satellites were disrupted, as outer space is an important arena for solving many problems of humanity, including development, agriculture, meteorology and communications. The appearance of weapons in outer space would be fraught with international security considerations, which must and can be avoided. Outer space must become a sphere for cooperation and not confrontation. There is a real opportunity still to prevent the development of outer space as a sphere of aggression.

'Today and in the future, the Russian Federation has no plans for development or deployment of weapons and weapons components in outer space. We have consistently complied with our ASAT testing moratorium. In CD/1675, Russia and China elaborated on a treaty to prevent the use of force or threat of use of force with respect to space objects. We have been gratified by the support and constructive discussion of this proposal in Geneva. We are not insisting on the specific aspects contained in this draft but tabled it to be a stimulus to thinking and debate. The CD has experience and is the appropriate international forum to do this work. Russia and China's proposal is that an Ad Hoc Committee in the CD would first have a research and not a negotiating mandate. But we cannot remain as passive bystanders until such a treaty has been concluded.

'Therefore Russia has put forward other proposals. Three years ago, at the 56th UN General Assembly, Russia made a proposal for a moratorium on development and deployment of weapons in space, and promised to undertake this ourselves. Russia also took the initiative in providing detailed launch notification and information with regard to space vehicles and launches. Russia is now making a new, important and far-reaching initiative: Russia will not be the first to deploy weapons of any type in outer space. This is a serious step showing our sense of responsibility, and we call on other states to follow our example. We believe this can be an important confidence-building measure and create an indispensable safety net while negotiations are conducted to get an international legal instrument to prevent and prohibit the deployment of weapons in outer space. We hope that this initiative will be discussed in capitals around the world, and find support, as we also support the work being done by France, Canada and others on PAROS. There are many challenges and risks in the world, but this carries urgency and immediacy while offering practical steps, and we hope all will also support the PAROS resolution.' [notes from the simultaneous translation of the speech by Anton Vassiliev, deputy Perm Rep in Geneva].

Ambassador Hu Xiaodi of China said that the peaceful uses of outer space are important for the whole world, and would benefit all countries, but that there were threats because it was regarded as a 'high frontier', to which military value was increasingly attached. China warned against pursuing space weapons research and development, and argued that 'if we sit on our hands, outer space will be made into the fourth medium of warfare after land, sea and air.' China argued that an arms race in space would break strategic stability, damage relations and international peace and security, and that the testing of weapons in low earth orbit (LEO) would 'aggravate the already acute problem of space debris'. China considered that the existing international regime has shown its limitations and falls short of preventing or prohibiting the use of force with respect to outer space objects, and so China issued two non-papers in the CD this year in order to stimulate substantive discussions on PAROS and verification and hopes that next year it will be possible to take these initiatives further.

Canada asserted that it remained "profoundly opposed to the weaponisation of space. We want space to be considered as a universal good". In the GA, Canadian PM Paul Martin stated "Space is our final frontier. It has always captured our imagination. What a tragedy it would be if space became one big weapons arsenal and the scene of a new arms race. In 1967, the United Nations agreed that weapons of mass destruction must not be based in space. The time has come to extend this ban to all weapons."

Canada was committed to a CD ad hoc Committee "to discuss PAROS in all its aspects and to seeing the Conference eventually undertake the negotiation of a space weapons ban…" In view of the CD impass, Canada suggested that one way to help start the process "might be for the Conference to establish an experts group to explore some of the more technical aspects of space security issues." Canada also wanted more communication between the space related work of the First and Fourth Committees, COPUOS, OOSA etc… Referring to its workshop in Geneva on space security issues, "a clear message… was that there is a need for a more comprehensive and coordinated approach to ensuring space security." Canada welcomed Russia's no-first deployment pledge and encourages "creative thinking and action" for CBMs and measures to enhance space security. Arguing that "this international good is simply too precious to leave unprotected by multilateral action, Canada suggested that the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty should be used as an opportunity to encourage more ratifications and bring about the treaty's universality. Canada also supported the Hague Code of Conduct (HCoC) against ballistic missiles, on which there is a resolution for the first time, and hoped to see expansion of multilateral cooperation on this issue.

On behalf of the EU and a host of associated nations, Chris Sanders of the Netherlands gave a three-point lowest common denominator statement: 1) The EU is conscious of the growing involvement of the international community in outer space activities for development and progress, and is actively cooperating in various space initiatives [which] should be developed in a peaceful environment… 2) it is within the CD that any decision should be taken regarding work on PAROS…3) EU supports establishment of a subsidiary body of the CD to deal with this matter on the basis of a mandate agreed by all.

Sweden supported the EU statement but added some further emphasis: space activities are often dual use and involve cross-cutting issues between civil and military activities and so space "is a powerful tool not only for welfare but potentially also for warfare"; the current legal regime provides fundamental rules on international responsibility and liability for national space activities, and to this should now be added the HCoC. Supporting the establishment of a CD subsidiary body, Sweden suggested "as a first step", informal technical meetings in the CD involving a wider range of actors and stakeholders in the space field, "such as international organisations, space agencies, space law academia and the private sector." Mentioned the importance of linking with COPUOS.

Sri Lanka and Venezuela also spoke, supporting the resolution on PAROS.

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© 2004 The Acronym Institute.