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Space Security – An American Perspective
January 30, 2012

Remarks by Frank A. Rose
Deputy Assistant Secretary
Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance

Herzliya, Israel

Thank you for your kind introduction. I am honored to have been invited to speak at this conference, named in honor of the preeminent example of U.S.-Israel space cooperation, Ilan Ramon. I would like to thank the Fisher Institute, the Israel Space Agency, and the Ministry of Science and Technology for the opportunity to present to you an American perspective on space security.

Defining “Space Security”

Each of us here at this conference has a different interpretation of what “space security” means that stems principally from our respective country’s national interests and the contributions that space systems make to our security, economy, and daily lives. Based on the U.S. National Space Policy and other Presidential guidance, as well as our obligations under international law, we in the United States associate “space security” with the pursuit of those activities that ensure the sustainability, stability, safety, and free access to, and use of, outer space in support of the vital interests of all nations. This is reinforced by several other related principles in the U.S. National Space Policy:

  •  It is in the shared interest of all nations to help prevent mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust.
  •  All nations have the right, in accordance with international law, to explore and use space for peaceful purposes, and for the benefit of all humanity. Consistent with this principle, “peaceful purposes” allows for space to be used for national and homeland security activities.
  • The United States considers the space systems of all nations to have the rights of passage through, and conduct of operations in, space without interference. Purposeful interference with space systems, including supporting infrastructure, will be con­sidered, in the U.S. view, an infringement of a nation’s rights.

Past Conversations on Space Security

When this conference was first held under a different name in 2001, a general theme emerged from the international presentations that “a clear ‘race’ for presence in and utilization of space [was] under way, involving many nations around the world—with diverse technological and economic prowess, as well as strategic and political orientation. […] This ‘race’ [bore] only [a] partial resemblance to the ‘race to the moon’ or ‘the U.S.-Soviet space race,’ as it [was] only partly influenced by rivalry and competition between specific rivals or adversaries.” It was noted that the ‘race’ was facilitated by lower barriers to entry, and that while emerging spacefaring nations were lagging behind established space powers in utilizing the opportunities inherent in space, they were becoming ever more determined and competent on harnessing space for a variety of activities.

The Space Environment Today

In many ways, today’s space situation is even more pronounced than it was a decade ago. Today, the benefits derived from space assets permeate almost every aspect of our lives worldwide. Space systems enable personal communications devices; facilitate the operations of global markets; enhance weather forecasting and environmental monitoring; enable global navigation and transportation; expand our scientific frontier; provide national decision makers with global communications, command, and control; and scores of other activities worldwide.

Space is no longer an environment accessed nearly exclusively by two superpowers or a few countries. Barriers to entry are lower than ever, and many countries are enjoying access to and the benefits of space in unprecedented numbers. Today, space is the domain of a growing number of satellite operators; approximately 60 nations and government consortia operate satellites, as well as numerous commercial and academic satellite operators. Paradoxically, while it is becoming increasingly easier to access as well as to benefit from space, space is also becoming increasingly congested and contested. This situation means we need to think carefully through how we can all operate there safely and responsibly. Our goal is to ensure that the generations that follow us can also benefit from the advantages that space offers.

Decades of space activity have littered low Earth orbit with debris, and as the world’s spacefaring nations continue to increase activities in space, the chance for collision increases correspondingly. The U.S. Department of Defense tracks roughly 22,000 objects in orbit, of which only 1,100 are active satellites. While some pieces of debris are simply “dead” satellites or spent booster upper stages still orbiting, and others are the results of accidents or mishaps, such as the 2009 Cosmos-Iridium collision, some debris is the result of intentionally destructive events, such as China’s test in space of an anti-satellite weapon in 2007. Experts warn that the quantity and density of man-made debris significantly increase the odds of future damaging collisions. Threats to the space environment will also increase as more nations and non-state actors develop and deploy counter-space systems. Today space systems and their supporting infrastructure face a range of man-made threats that may deny, degrade, deceive, disrupt, or destroy assets.

The international community is more reliant on space than ever and the long-term sustainability of our space activities are at serious risk from a number of sources such as space debris, as well as from potential mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust, and irresponsible actors and their actions. Irresponsible acts against space systems have implications beyond the space environment, disrupting services upon which civil, commercial, and national security sectors around the world depend, with potentially damaging consequences for all of us and to future generations. Ensuring the long-term sustainability, stability, safety, and security of the space environment—through measures such as providing prior notifications of launches of space launch vehicles, establishing “best practices guidelines,” and warning of risks of collisions between space objects—are in the vital interest of the United States and the entire world community and enhance our mutual security interests.

Space Security and Sustainability in 2012

Given the increasing threat, we must work with the community of spacefaring nations to preserve the space environment for all nations and future generations. 2012 will be a defining year for advancing this goal, with:

  • Negotiations on an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities;
  • Initial meetings of a U.N.-established Group of Government Experts on Space TCBMs;
  • The introduction of space security in the discussions in the Group of 8 (G8); and
  • The continuing work of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) on the “Long Term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities.”

One of the ways the United States is moving forward with ensuring the long-term sustainability, stability, safety, and security of space in 2012 is through our pursuit of near-term, voluntary, and pragmatic transparency and confidence-building measures (TCBMs). TCBMs are means by which governments can address challenges and share information with the aim of creating mutual
understanding and reducing tensions. Through TCBMs we can address important areas such as orbital debris, space situational awareness, and collision avoidance, as well as undertake activities that will help to increase familiarity and trust and encourage openness among space actors. The United States, as guided by President Obama’s National Space Policy, will work with other space actors to pursue pragmatic, near-term TCBMs to encourage responsible actions in, and the peaceful use of, space.

An International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities

Perhaps one of the most beneficial multilateral TCBMs for ensuring sustainability and security in space could be the adoption of “best practice” guidelines or a “code of conduct.” As many of you are aware, on January 17, the United States announced that it had decided to join with the European Union and other spacefaring nations to develop an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities. In her statement announcing the decision, Secretary Clinton said, “The long-term sustainability of our space environment is at serious risk from space debris and irresponsible actors. […] Unless the international community addresses these challenges, the environment around our planet will become increasingly hazardous to human spaceflight and satellite systems, which would create damaging consequences for all of us.” The United States views the European Union’s draft Code of Conduct as a good foundation for developing a non-legally binding International Code of Conduct focused on the use of voluntary and pragmatic TCBMs to help prevent mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust in space. As more countries field space capabilities, it is in all of our interests that they act responsibly and that the safety and sustainability of space is protected. An International Code of Conduct, if adopted, would establish guidelines to reduce the risks and dangers of debris-generating events and increase the transparency of operations in space to avoid the danger of collisions.

The Obama Administration is committed to ensuring that an International Code enhances national security and maintains the United States’ inherent right of individual and collective self-defense, a fundamental part of international law. The United States would only subscribe to such a Code of Conduct if:

  • it protects and enhances the national and economic security of the United States, our allies, and our friends, and;
  • it does not hamper, limit, or prevent the United States from using space for peaceful purposes, including national security related activities.

Group of Government Experts on Outer Space TCBMs 

The United States is also anticipating beginning work this year in the Group of Government Experts (or GGE) on Outer Space TCBMs established by UN General Assembly Resolution 65/68. We support the full consideration of all helpful proposals for bilateral and multilateral TCBMs. Such proposals could include measures aimed at enhancing the transparency of national security space policies, strategies, activities and experiments or notifications regarding environmental or unintentional hazards to spaceflight safety. International consultations to prevent incidents in outer space and to prevent or minimize the risks of potentially harmful interference could also be a helpful TCBM to consider. We look forward to working with our international colleagues in a GGE that serves as a constructive mechanism to examine voluntary and pragmatic TCBMs that enhance stability and safety, and promote responsible operations in space.

Space Security and Sustainability in the G8

The United States has also introduced discussions on the long-term sustainability, stability, safety, and security of the space environment in the G8 because we believe that this body, which contains a number of major spacefaring nations, could play a useful role in this field and will draw further attention to the importance of ensuring space for future generations.

UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space

Finally, in addition to “top-down” initiatives, the United States believes that efforts to adopt space TCBMs should also be built upon “bottom-up” initiatives developed by government and private sector satellite operators. Therefore, the United States is taking an active role in the Working Group of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) on long-term  sustainability. The Working Group on the Long-Term Sustainability on Outer Space Activities will be a key forum for the international development of “best practices guidelines” for space activities. We believe that many of the best practice guidelines addressed by this working group are foundational to our efforts to pursue TCBMs that enhance stability and security. In fact, the United States is serving as the co-Chair of the Expert Group on Space Debris, Space Operations and Tools to Support Collaborative Space Situational Awareness showing our commitment to making progress to enhance spaceflight safety and to preserving the use of space for the long-term.

Ensuring Space Security and Sustainability for Future Generations

Looking back at the Cold War space race that began over a half century ago, to the space “race” described at this conference over a decade ago, to the congested and contested space environment we face in 2012, it is clear that the space environment continues to change in dynamic and challenging ways. Today, the world is increasingly inter-connected through, and increasingly dependent on, space systems. The risks associated with irresponsible actions in space mean that ensuring the long-term sustainability, stability, safety, and security of the space environment is in the vital interest of the entire world community. I believe that 2012 will be a defining year for space security, and the work we all will do in responding to the challenges of, and the threats to, the space environment can help us preserve space for all nations and future generations.

Thank you very much.