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Ensuring the Long-Term Sustainability and Security of the Space Environment
August 15, 2014


Frank A. Rose
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance 
U.S. Strategic Command Deterrence Symposium
Omaha, Nebraska
August 13, 2014


Good afternoon. Thank you for your kind introduction, General. I would also like to thank Admiral Haney and his staff for hosting this conference and inviting me to speak today. The topic of this panel speaks to a vital interest of the United States, as well as the entire global community: ensuring the long-term sustainability, stability, safety, and security of the space environment.

This audience is not one that needs to be convinced of the importance of the space environment to our national security. We all know very well that space assets are integral to our national security, as well as that of our allies and coalition partners. While many in the international community understand both the benefits that our space activities bring to our economies and society, and the increasing fragility of the environment due to orbital debris and counterspace threats, our efforts to educate the international community must continue, and must emphasize the importance of supporting initiatives for encouraging responsible behavior that will mitigate these threats.

In my remarks today, I would like to cover three aspects of our work at the Department of State on ensuring the sustainability of the space environment: first, the threat to outer space systems from debris generating Anti Satellite or ASAT tests; second, the importance of continued access to outer space to the international community; and third, the role of international efforts in maintaining the long-term sustainability and security of the space environment.

Threats to Outer Space

When I heard the topic of this panel months ago, I was very glad to speak to the challenges of establishing standards of behavior in outer space. However, in the last month, the topic of this panel became even more important. On July 23, the Chinese Government conducted a non-destructive test of a missile designed to destroy satellites in low Earth orbit. Despite China’s claims that this was not an ASAT test; let me assure you the United States has high confidence in its assessment, that the event was indeed an ASAT test.

And China is not the only one pursuing these capabilities. As Director of National Intelligence James Clapper noted in his February 2014 congressional testimony, “Russian leaders openly maintain that the Russian armed forces have antisatellite weapons and conduct antisatellite research.”

The United States believes that these activities, which include the continued development and testing of destructive anti-satellite systems, are both destabilizing and threaten the long-term security and sustainability of the outer space environment. A previous destructive test of the Chinese system in 2007 created thousands of pieces of debris, which continue to present an ongoing danger to the space systems—as well as astronauts—of all nations, including China.

Debris-generating ASAT weapons present a host of threats to the space environment that threaten all who benefit from outer space: the civil, commercial, military and scientific space endeavors of all nations. On the security side, ASAT weapons directly threaten individual satellites and the strategic and tactical information they provide, and their use could be escalatory in a crisis. They also present a threat to key assets used in arms control monitoring, command and control and attack warning. The destructive nature of debris-generating weapons has decades-long consequences as well: they can increase the potential for further collisions in the future, which only create more debris. A debris forming test or attack may only be minutes in duration, but the consequences can last decades threatening all space systems. It is for these reasons that the United States believes testing debris-generating ASAT systems threaten the security, economic well-being, and civil endeavors of all nations.

Importance of the Space Environment

Since the dawn of the space age, the global community has been inspired by humanity’s space endeavors and reaped the benefits of the use and exploration, of outer space. Many may take these benefits for granted so we must ask ourselves: “What will the consequences be if the space environment were to become unusable?”

The use and exploration of space and the information we derive from these activities permeate almost every aspect of our daily lives. We are safer, healthier, and more knowledgeable—not to mention more connected—due to humanity’s creativity, ingenuity, and willingness to transcend the difficulties mankind faces in harnessing outer space. All nations and peoples have seen a radical transformation in the way we live our daily lives and in our understanding of our planet and the universe. Today there are more than sixty nations and many nongovernmental entities that are space-faring; furthermore, nearly all nations benefit from space capabilities.

But space, a domain that no nation owns but on which all rely, is becoming increasingly congested from orbital debris, and contested from man-made threats—such as debris-generating ASAT systems—that may disrupt the space environment, upon which we all depend. The world’s growing dependence on the globe-spanning and interconnected nature of space capabilities mean that irresponsible acts in space by one entity can have damaging consequences for all. Therefore, it is essential that all nations work together to adopt approaches for responsible activity in space —such as ceasing developing and testing destructive ASAT systems—in order to preserve this domain for future generations.

So, what do we do to ensure the long-term sustainability of the space environment?

Multilateral Efforts toward a Stable and Sustainable Space Environment

Given the current era where dozens of States and nongovernmental organizations are harnessing the benefits of outer space, we have no choice but to work with our allies and partners around the world to ensure the long-term sustainability of the space environment. We also must speak clearly and publicly about what behavior the international community should find both acceptable and unacceptable. Over the past few years, the United States has worked to support a number of multilateral initiatives that seek to establish “rules of the road” for space that are both in the national security interests of the United States, and will further the long-term stability and sustainability of the space environment.

Just last year, I served as the United States expert on a United Nations-sponsored Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) study of outer space transparency and confidence-building measures (TCBMs). The GGE report which was published in July of last year and was agreed to by China and Russia, endorsed voluntary, non-legally binding TCBMs to strengthen stability in space. The GGE recommended that States implement measures to promote coordination to enhance safety and predictability in the uses of outer space. The GGE also endorsed “efforts to pursue political commitments, for example, a multilateral code of conduct, to encourage responsible actions in, and the peaceful use of, outer space.”

This International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities is another important multilateral initiative. Among the Code’s commitments for signatories is to refrain from any action which brings about, directly or indirectly, damage, or destruction, of space objects and to minimize, to the greatest extent possible, the creation of space debris, in particular, the creation of long-lived space debris. The Code could also help solidify safe operational practices, reduce the chance of collisions or other harmful interference with nations’ activities, reduce the rate of growth of debris, contribute to our awareness of the space environment through notifications, and strengthen stability in space by helping establish norms for responsible behavior in space.

Lastly, the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) is also doing important work to move forward in the development of new international long-term sustainability guidelines.

These multilateral diplomatic initiatives contribute greatly to defining acceptable and unacceptable behaviors in space and therefore are key components of the United States deterrence strategy. In addition, if we are serious about maintaining the space environment for future generations, we must support such measures that promote positive activities in space and further the creation of norms which dissuade countries from taking destabilizing actions such as the testing of debris-generating ASAT systems. By working with the international community, we can, and must, advance the long-term sustainability and security of the outer space environment for all nations.

With that, I would like to thank you for your time and stop there in order to leave time for questions.