CD Advisor Michael Aho’s
Remarks to the Informal Consultations to Introduce Draft UN First Committee Resolution
Room XIX of the Palais
Good morning, everyone. Thank you for coming today. The United States proudly presents a draft resolution for this year’s UN General Assembly First Committee that we intend to submit under the agenda item “Prevention of an arms race in outer space.”
Last week, Assistant Secretary of State Mallory Stewart presented this resolution to the UN General Assembly’s Open-Ended Working Group on Reducing Space Threats. We also circulated it and a related aide-memoire to all of you last week.
We view our proposed resolution, titled “Resolution on Destructive Direct-Ascent Anti-Satellite (ASAT) Missile Testing,” as an important first step in the international community’s efforts to shape responsible behavior in outer space. I should add that we will soon have versions of these documents in all official UN languages available for you.
Over the last two decades, the world saw several ground-based anti-satellite missile tests destroying satellites in orbit. One recent destructive, direct-ascent anti-satellite missile test created 1,785 pieces of trackable debris. Undoubtedly, many more pieces created in this test are untraceable, but still dangerous to satellites.
The risk to satellites pales in comparison to the ramifications of debris collisions for those with the courage to engage in human spaceflight. These “envoys of mankind” are extremely vulnerable to space debris and must take major precautions to avoid fatal collisions.
The United States leads by example on this issue – not through words or platitudes, but by making concrete commitments. In April, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris announced the United States commits to not conduct destructive direct-ascent anti-satellite missile tests. So, our proposed resolution calls upon all countries to join us in committing to not conduct destructive direct-ascent anti-satellite missile tests. And that’s why Vice President Harris announced our plans for this resolution at a National Space Council meeting earlier this month.
We view this resolution as meeting three key objectives:
- It meaningfully limits the deliberate creation of new orbital debris beyond what is generated through normal operations;
- It is easily understandable without extensive new definitions; and
- It addressed the greatest near-term threat to space security.
Importantly, the United States believes the language in the voluntary commitment that this draft resolution calls for meets the criteria for a transparency and confidence-building measure (TCBM) as contained in the report of the 2013 Group of Governmental Experts on TCBMs in Outer Space Activities (A/68/189).
We understand that for some countries this resolution may seem too limited, and that the commitment is not contained in a proposed legally binding treaty text. However, we believe this is an important first step we can take right now to rein in the destructive testing of direct-ascent anti-satellite missiles, which have contributed to instability in outer space activities, raised the potential for conflict, and threatened to limit the extraordinary economic potential of human action in space. The resolution before you is indeed fairly short as far as UN resolutions go, and we hope that reinforces our view that this represents just a first step in the process of developing norms and rules of responsible behavior for outer space.
Thank you, colleagues. We look forward to working with the General Assembly to make this resolution successful in the upcoming First Committee. The text remains open and we will also hold consultations in New York during the first week of First Committee on October 4.
With that, we look forward to your questions and your initial thoughts today. I will not move through paragraph-by-paragraph today, so please feel free to offer comments on any of the text.