Remarks by Cynthia Plath
Deputy Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament
New York City
November 5, 2018
As Prepared for Delivery
I would like to deliver an explanation of vote on behalf of the United States, France and the United Kingdom on draft resolution L.50, “No first placement of weapons in outer space,” or “NFP.”
The United States, France and the United Kingdom look forward to continuing to engage constructively and pragmatically with other UN Member States in order to strengthen the safety, stability, security, and sustainability of outer space activities. The safety and security of the outer space environment is under threat and all nations must make progress on the development of effective transparency and confidence building measures. Our national experts are contributing to the ongoing work of the Group of Governmental Experts on the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space. We also encourage all countries to take advantage of fora like the UN Disarmament Commission and the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) to make real progress on transparency and confidence-building measures — including the practical implementation of the 21 agreed COPUOS guidelines on the long-term sustainability of outer space activities.
However, we believe that Russia’s NFP initiative contains a number of significant problems and that Russia’s military actions do not match their diplomatic rhetoric. First, the NFP initiative does not adequately define what constitutes a “weapon in outer space.” In space, any object with maneuvering capabilities can in theory be used for offensive purposes. Without a common understanding of what we mean by a space weapon, this resolution would increase mistrust or misunderstanding with regard to the activities and intentions of States.
Second, there are limits to what can be verified once a vehicle has been launched and the NFP initiative contains no features that would make it possible to effectively confirm a State’s political commitment “not to be the first to place weapons in outer space.”
Third, we cannot support the resolution with the reference to “shaping a community of shared future for mankind” in preambular paragraph 4. This phrase has been promoted by China to insert its own view of multilateralism and world geopolitics on the international system. None of us should support incorporating language targeting a domestic political audience into multilateral documents.
Finally, systems in space can also be damaged from earth; this resolution fails to address the near term threat from other types of anti-satellite weapons, for example, lasers or terrestrially-launched systems. These weapons further pose a serious threat to the space environment, perhaps leaving large amounts of dangerous debris in valuable orbits for hundreds of years – as in the case of just one single ASAT test in 2007.
All nations must take concrete steps to strengthen the safety, stability, and sustainability of space. The draft NFP resolution is not the right mechanisms for achieving these goals. Instead, our nations support the development of non-legally binding transparency and confidence building measures. These measures should be clear, practical and confirmable. Therefore, clarifying acceptable and unacceptable behavior would be important.
There are real threats to the outer space environment, but the NFP initiative is not the answer. Therefore, we intend to vote “No” in the full General Assembly.