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Ambassador Robert Wood: Space Security – A Perspective from the United States
August 24, 2015

Remarks by Ambassador Robert A. Wood
U.S. Representative to the Conference on Disarmament

“Space Security: A Perspective from the United States of America”

United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) Annual Space Security Conference,

“Space Security 2015: Underpinning Foundations of Space Security”

Panel 1: Conceptual Starting Points: National Approaches to Space Security”

Geneva, Switzerland, Monday, August 24, 2015


Thank you so much for your kind introduction and for having me here today. Over the past five years, the United States has been pleased to co-sponsor these conferences, working closely with the entire United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research team.

It’s a pleasure to be able to join you to share a few thoughts on the approach and commitment to space security and sustainability of the United States. As this year’s conference will focus on the foundations of the regime that underlie the civil, national security-related and commercial aspects of space, I’d like to focus my remarks today on three key themes:

  • The contributions of outer space security activities to disarmament, international security, and sustainable development;
  • Challenges to space sustainability and security; and
  • Progress in implementing voluntary, non-legally binding transparency and confidence-building measures, or TCBMs, to enhance stability in outer space.

First of all, it is important to occasionally take a look back at where we’ve been in order to put where we are today in perspective. Fifty-two years ago, at the beginning of the Space Age, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the “Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Uses of Outer Space.” Resolution 1962, which was adopted by consensus on December 13, 1963, laid out the key principle that outer space is free for exploration and use by all States on the basis of equality and in accordance with international law. Just over three years later, these and other elements of the Principles Declaration formed the core for the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which remains the foundation of the international legal framework for space activities.

While the first commercial use of outer space was in 1962 with the launch of Telstar 1, which transmitted television signals over the Atlantic Ocean, it was not until the 1980s when access to space for commercial and private sector use and benefits became more prevalent.

Several decades later, we find over 60 nations and numerous government consortia, scientists, and commercial firms accessing and operating satellites for countless economic, scientific, educational, and social purposes. This situation has elevated international space systems and activities to a global scale – that is, they are of benefit to not only their immediate users, owners, and operators, but also to the global economy and security environment, as well as individual nations and societies.

Many have observed that the space environment is becoming increasingly congested, contested, and competitive – with threats to vital space services increasing in the coming years as some nations pursue disruptive and destructive counterspace capabilities. As the United States and others have noted repeatedly for nearly a decade, the continued development by some nations of a variety of destructive space capabilities represents a threat to all peaceful space-faring nations. Furthermore, it is inconsistent with the calls by those same nations for the Conference on Disarmament (CD) to negotiate unverifiable agreements to prevent the “weaponization of outer space.”

In this dynamic environment, how do we address the challenges associated with orbital congestion, collision avoidance, and responsible and peaceful behavior in space? How do we make progress in implementing voluntary, non-legally binding transparency and confidence-building measures to enhance stability in outer space? As we saw over the last two weeks in the informal discussions of the CD agenda item on the “Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space” (PAROS), some States would prefer lengthy legally binding approaches while others, including the United States, support pragmatic, near-term, political commitments in the form of TCBMs to address these challenges and to encourage responsible actions in, and the peaceful use of, space.

International cooperation to address the challenges can, and does, occur through practical means such as TCBMs recommended in the July 2013 consensus report of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly’s Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities.

The United States continues to believe the GGE report offers a solid starting point for the pursuit of TCBMs to enhance stability in space in the form of national commitments as well as through bilateral, regional and multilateral cooperation. The GGE report also provides useful criteria for the consideration of new concepts and proposals, noting that a proposed transparency and confidence-building measure should:

“(a) Be clear, practical and proven, meaning that both the application and the efficacy of the proposed measure have been demonstrated by one or more actors;

(b) Be able to be effectively confirmed by other parties in its application, either independently or collectively;

(c) Reduce or even eliminate the causes of mistrust, misunderstanding and miscalculation with regard to the activities and intentions of States.”

As information sharing measures, TCBMs can contribute to building trust and confidence among States by delivering clarity of intent about national space policies and military space activities, exchanging spaceflight safety information, and avoiding possible misunderstandings that in space could prove catastrophic.

The GGE report also endorsed “efforts to pursue political commitments, for example, in the form of unilateral declarations, bilateral commitments or a multilateral code of conduct, to encourage responsible actions in, and the peaceful use of, outer space.”

With regard to a code of conduct, the United States was pleased to participate in the European Union-hosted negotiations of the International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities at the United Nations in New York during the week of July 27-31, 2015. We appreciate the efforts of the European Union, including its role in a series of open-ended consultations as well as the New York negotiating conference. We particularly commend Professor Sergio Marchisio of Italy for his contributions as Chair of the negotiating conference.

In addition to the Code, the United States supports multilateral efforts to translate GGE recommendations into results. In particular, the United States was pleased to co-sponsor UN General Assembly Resolutions 68/50 and 69/38. These resolutions, which were adopted by consensus, encourage Member States to review and implement, to the greatest extent practicable, the proposed TCBMs contained in the GGE report, and to refer the report’s recommendations for consideration by the Conference on Disarmament, the Disarmament Commission, and the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS).

It is worth noting that COPUOS did consider the GGE report’s recommendations during its June 2015 session in Vienna, including a review of submissions by its members.   The United States believes it would be useful to take a similar approach to TCBMs relating to the Conference of Disarmament’s mandate and agenda. Additionally, we have a further opportunity to move forward on the GGE report’s recommendations at the joint ad hoc meeting of the First and Fourth Committees of the UN General Assembly in October. The United States urges the international community to focus on practical and pragmatic forms of international cooperation that advance the GGE report’s recommendations.

Let me conclude by underlining the central assumption that guides U.S. efforts to promote cooperate in outer space – that is, that a secure outer space environment is vital to each of our nations’ securities, foreign policies, global economic interests, and the daily lives of our citizens. The United States has reiterated its commitment to ensuring the long-term sustainability, stability, safety, and security of the space environment many times in many fora. Meeting the challenges of orbital congestion, collision avoidance, and responsible and peaceful behavior in space is the responsibility of all who are engaged in space activities. We must work together to do more to protect our long-term interests by safeguarding against risks that could harm the space environment and could disrupt space-derived services on which the international community depends. I look forward to our discussions today and tomorrow on these important topics.

Thank you very much.