Ambassador Robert Wood: Ensuring the Long-Term Sustainability and Security of the Space Enviroment

Ambassador Robert Wood addresses the CD September 9, 2014
Ambassador Robert Wood addresses the CD September 9, 2014

Ensuring the Long-Term Sustainability and Security of the Space Environment

Ambassador Robert A. Wood
Permanent Representative of the United States to the
Conference on Disarmament (CD)

CD Plenary
Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Thank you, Mr. President.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to address some topics raised by other delegations in recent plenary meetings regarding the CD agenda item on the “Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space” (PAROS). As my colleague Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Frank Rose emphasized when he addressed the Conference on June 10, space is becoming increasingly congested from orbital debris and contested from man-made threats that may endanger the space environment. The globe-spanning and interconnected nature of space capabilities and the world’s growing dependence on them mean that irresponsible acts in space can have damaging consequences for all of us. Therefore, it is essential that all nations work together to adopt approaches for responsible activity in space to preserve this domain for future generations.

In this context, the United States is particularly concerned about the continued development and testing by some states of destructive anti-satellite (ASAT) systems. The development of such systems is destabilizing and threatens the long-term security and sustainability of the outer space environment. Debris-generating ASAT weapons present a host of threats to the space environment that threaten all who benefit from outer space. On the security side, ASAT weapons directly threaten satellites and the strategic and tactical information that those satellites provide, and their use could be escalatory in a crisis or conflict. They also pose a direct threat to key infrastructure used in arms control verification monitoring, military command, control and communications, and tactical warning of attack. A debris-generating test or attack may only be minutes in duration, but the consequences can last decades and indiscriminately threaten all the space-based assets of all space faring nations. It is for these reasons that the United States believes testing debris-generating ASAT systems threatens the security, economic well-being, and civil endeavors of all nations. Mindful of this threat, we believe that it is essential that all nations work together to adopt approaches for responsible activity in space to preserve this domain for future generations.

In considering options for international cooperation to ensure space security and sustainability, we acknowledge that some of us would suggest we pursue a new legally-binding arms control agreement. The United States is willing to consider space arms control proposals and concepts that are equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhance the security of all nations. However, we have not yet seen any legally-binding proposals that meet these criteria. This includes the revised draft “Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects” – hereafter referred to as the “PPWT” – presented by Russia and China earlier this year. As Deputy Assistant Secretary Frank Rose noted we would do during his preliminary remarks on the updated draft PPWT on June 10, the United States has completed an in-depth analysis of the draft text. At the request of the U.S. delegation, that analysis has been distributed to all CD delegations as a document of the Conference, as contained in CD/1998.

According to the U.S. analysis, the draft PPWT, like the earlier 2008 version, remains fundamentally flawed. Above all, there is no integral verification regime to help monitor the ban on the placement of weapons in space, and no prospect of achieving a capability to effectively verify an agreement banning space-based weapons with existing technologies and cooperative measures.

Moreover, we would note that, typically, arms control treaties that prohibit the deployment of a class of weapon also prohibit the possession, testing, production, and stockpiling of such weapons to prevent a country from rapidly breaking out of such treaties. The PPWT contains no such prohibitions and thus a Party could develop a readily deployable space-based weapons break-out capability.

Finally, the revised draft PPWT does not address the most pressing existing threat to outer space systems: terrestrially-based ASAT systems. There is no prohibition on the research, development, testing, production, storage, or deployment of terrestrially-based anti-satellite weapons. Thus, under the PPWT, such capabilities could be used to perform the functions of space-based weapons. For example, according to our reading of the text, China’s January 11, 2007, flight-test of a ground-based direct-ascent ASAT against its own weather satellite would have been permitted under both the 2008 as well as the revised 2014 draft PPWT. This would also be the case with China’s July 23, 2014, non-destructive direct-ascent ASAT flight-test using the same interceptor missile type that it used in its 2007 test.

Mr. President,

Notwithstanding the continuing disagreement regarding the utility of a PPWT, there are many ways forward in which we do agree—space faring nations have cooperated in numerous ways since the beginning of the space age. Indeed, the United States is convinced that there are challenges that can and should be addressed through practical, near-term solutions, such as non-legally binding transparency and confidence-building measures (TCBMs) to encourage responsible actions in, and the peaceful use of, space. Such pragmatic, non-legally binding measures exist, have been agreed to by consensus in the past, can be implemented quickly, address the problem of debris, and address the growing potential for actions that threaten the space environment. For example, there is the study of outer space TCBMs by the UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE), whose report was endorsed by consensus on December 5, 2013, by the United Nations General Assembly and referred to the CD and other parts of the UN system for further consideration. The GGE report endorsed voluntary, non-legally binding transparency and confidence-building measures to strengthen stability in space. It endorsed efforts to pursue political commitments – including a multilateral code of conduct – to encourage responsible actions in, and the peaceful use of, outer space.

Mr. President,

The United States will continue to support efforts at the CD and in other multilateral fora to advance the consensus recommendations of the GGE for the pursuit of voluntary and pragmatic TCBMs for outer space activities.
The United States also welcomes proposals for development of additional TCBMs as long as they satisfy the criteria established in the consensus report. Per the GGE consensus report, criteria for non-legally binding TCBMs for outer space activities should:

  • be verifiable by other parties in their application, either independently or collectively;
  • be clear, practical and proven, meaning that both the application and he efficacy of the proposed measure must be demonstrated by one or more actors;
  • and finally, reduce or even eliminate the causes of mistrust, misunderstanding and miscalculation with regard to the activities and intentions of States.

In this regard, the United States believes that European Union efforts to develop an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities can serve as the best near-term mechanism for States to implement many of the GGE’s recommendations.
At the same time, we are compelled to note that some TCBM ideas that have been mentioned in recent CD plenary sessions fail to meet the set criteria for a valid TCBM, as identified in the GGE report. For example, in assessing the Russian initiative for States to make declarations of “No First Placement” (NFP) of weapons in outer space, we conclude that it is neither verifiable, nor does it adequately and satisfactorily define a “space weapon.”

Mr. President,

The U.S. delegation believes that the informal discussions on PAROS held during this session under our agreed Schedule of Activities have been very substantive and constructive in helping to clarify the issues, options, and various positions of Member States. For this we owe a debt of gratitude to my colleague from the United Kingdom, Ambassador Matthew Rowland, who I am pleased to commend for his very professional leadership in organizing our informal discussions as Coordinator for the PAROS agenda item. The United States looks forward to continuing to engage constructively and pragmatically with other Member States in order to strengthen international cooperation to address threats to space security and sustainability.

Thank you, Mr. President