June 16, 2024
1 Solar System Way, Planet Earth, USA

Power politics transcends space security

UN Security Council

The UN Security Department deadlocked in a debate on May 20 over a Russian resolution to ban weapons in space, weeks after Russia vetoed a resolution on nuclear weapons in space. (credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elías)

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For some years now, mockery of space security has been exhibited in various international forums, particularly in the United Nations (UN). Recently, the UN Security Council (UNSC) voted against a resolution put forward by Russia and China that would ban member states from placing weapons of any kind in outer space. Prior to this, Russia vetoed in the UN Security Council the resolution between the United States and Japan to specifically prohibit the deployment of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Today, space security is hostage to the policies primarily of the United States, on the one hand, and Russia and China, on the other.

Interestingly, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) managed to adopt a resolution in support of the destructive DA-ASAT (direct accent anti-satellite) testing moratorium in December 2022. There was very good support for this mechanism with 155 states voting in favor, nine voted against and nine abstained. The considerable number of states that voted in favor broadly indicates that there is global acceptance of the idea that the use of space weapons should be a “no-go” option. However, two prominent states that voted against this resolution are Russia and China.

On February 12, 2008, China and Russia jointly submitted to the Conference on Disarmament (CD) the draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and the Threat or Use of Force against Objects in Outer Space. outer space (PPWT) in its plenary session. session. Subsequently, on June 10, 2014, Russia and China presented a second draft of this treaty to the CD. However, the United States (and perhaps some of its allies) are not in favor of any debate on this mechanism.

In short, there are important differences between the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, also known as P5. The current P5 is “P3 plus P2”, with the United States, the United Kingdom and France on one side and China and Russia on the other. Given that these two power blocs (with veto power) are at odds at geopolitical, geostrategic and geoeconomic levels, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to find common ground when it comes to aspects of space security, at least in the near future. .

Faced with this, it could be said with certainty that, today, space security is being held hostage by the policies mainly of the United States, on the one hand, and Russia and China, on the other. It is not the purpose of this article to debate who is right and who is wrong, but rather to simplistically say that the rest of the world is becoming a victim of their differences when it comes to space security.

It is worth mentioning that there are other issues related to space security, such as the policies of states such as North Korea and Iran. Also, Pakistan and China may have their own views on India's conduct of the 2019 ASAT test. On October 31, 2023, an Israeli Arrow-2 missile defense system intercepted a missile launched by Hothi rebels from Yemen. This interception occurred outside the atmosphere at an altitude of approximately 100 kilometers. This could be considered the first instance of any form of space combat.

All of this indicates that challenges to space security will not arise solely from the counterspace programs of states such as the United States, Russia and China. However, if these States, which are members of the P5, continue to disagree, then there can never be any positive movement to start a constructive debate on space security.

Structures such as the Group of Governmental Experts (GGA) and the Open-ended Working Group on Reducing Space Threats through Norms, Rules and Principles of Responsible Behavior are good initiatives for constructive engagement. However, the basic assumption behind these mechanisms is that they allow us to search for low-hanging fruit. Since it is not possible to establish a spatial regime with a legally binding mechanism, they help us look for a soft law option. But even soft options don't work. In the recent past, a sincere approach like the International Space Code of Conduct did not work.

Generally speaking, no agreement (soft or hard law) is possible to establish a reliable space security architecture, at least in the near future. On the other hand, the challenges to space security are increasing and, therefore, it is necessary to promote the establishment of a space security regime. Examples are presented below to highlight why addressing space security issues should be urgent.

Recently, the United States claimed that Russia had launched a “weapon” capable of attacking other satellites in space. According to experts, the launch of Cosmos 2576 on May 16 is equivalent to the launch of a space weapon. It could be an inspection satellite in low Earth orbit and appears to be currently tracking a US spy satellite. There is a possibility that Russia is testing co-orbital ASAT technology. Additionally, there were claims that Russia is developing an ASAT nuclear weapon. Obviously, the Kremlin has refuted the claims of American officials, but in the recent past, the Kremlin also denied that Russia would ever invade Ukraine!

The need of the hour is to have a legally binding instrument for space security, universally acceptable, verifiable and multilaterally negotiated. This issue is too important to be left to the Americans, the Russians and the Chinese.

Going to space is an expensive affair and developing technologies in government laboratories costs more than in the private sector. For many years, the private sector has been directly or indirectly linked to the space programs of various states. Currently, the private sector is increasingly associated with the advancement of the global space agenda. In the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the role played by the private space sector in helping Ukraine is well known. It was reported that during September 2022, Ukrainian forces had planned an attack against the Russian naval fleet based in Sevastopol in Crimea. Ukrainian forces had asked the Starlink network for help. However, since Elon Musk was not interested in expanding the war into Crimea, he refused any help. According to him, he had a conversation with the Russian ambassador to the United States and was warned that any acceleration of the war in Crimea would lead to a nuclear response. Hence he decided to avoid any possible entry of nuclear weapons into the conflict. This could be the first case in history in which a private individual makes a decision on aspects of a possible nuclear conflict!

Mainly due to technological disruption, the extent of space security is increasing. Furthermore, the presence of private actors will create a paradoxical situation for space security. Russia has already stated that commercial satellites could become valid targets for its counterspace capabilities in the future. The question is to what extent would this gradual approach (say, a DA-ASAT ban) ultimately be beneficial to securing space?

What is important today is to comprehensively address the issue of space security and identify a comprehensive approach to address issues related to space security. It is criticized that major space powers first test technologies to their satisfaction and then introduce mechanisms to prevent other states from developing such technologies. Therefore, there could be concern that any internationally agreed upon mechanism for space security could impede the effectiveness of existing missile defense systems.

The challenges associated with space debris are well known. In general, the likelihood of debris impacting active space systems could be higher for countries and agencies that have more active satellites. In recent years, humanity's dependence on space to carry out various activities has accelerated. The United States, Russia and China cannot hold the world hostage just to secure their own interests in space. The need of the hour is to have a legally binding instrument for space security, universally acceptable, verifiable and multilaterally negotiated. This issue is too important to be left to the Americans, the Russians and the Chinese.

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