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U.S. Statement to the Open-Ended Working Group on Reducing Space Threats
As Delivered by Ambassador Bruce Turner
August 28, 2023

U.S. Statement to the Open-Ended Working Group on Reducing Space Threats

Delivered by Ambassador Bruce Turner

Thank you, Mr. Chair, for giving me the floor at the beginning of this fourth and final meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on Reducing Space Threats through Norms, Rules and Principles of Responsible Behavior.

I want to start by thanking you and the Secretariat for your hard work, your dedication, your professionalism and support of this process. Since we last met in January, you and the team have done an exceptional job in taking the excellent inputs from our discussions in the OEWG – the conversations, statements, and papers – and weaving those ideas together into the consolidated elements paper and the zero draft of the final report.

We also commend you for the inclusive approach you have taken to this process, making yourself available for bilateral consultations and holding informal consultations with all interested parties. It is clear that you have made substantial efforts to seek comments and inputs and have sought to consider the positions of all countries in your approach to the zero draft.

Mr. Chair,

Before we get into the substance of your excellent draft report, it is useful to step back and take a moment to reflect on the revolutionary, world changing events that are occurring almost daily in outer space. From weather forecasts, to navigation, to communication, space has become an essential tool driving prosperity and security for all States.

For many years the United Nations underpinned the mechanisms of preventing conflict from occurring in outer space. Major steps were taken, such as the establishment of the PAROS agenda item in SSOD-1; the creation of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space; and the four core treaties, notably the Outer Space Treaty, which bans the placement in orbit of the world’s most destructive weapons in outer space.

However, the space domain continues to change, along with increased threats to our collective ability to operate and explore space freely. We must preserve the global benefits that space provides; reduce the threats to the outer space environment from irresponsible actions such as the destructive testing of anti-satellite missiles; and reduce the risks of miscalculation and misinterpretation that could lead to conflict. This OEWG offers an opportunity to take further steps to improve our understanding of the risks from conflict in outer space and take meaningful action toward developing concrete proposals that address these threats.

Mr. Chair, in the view of the United States, the discussions at the OEWG have been constructive, substantive, and focused on fulfilling the mandate set out in UN General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 76/231. We have spent considerable time in extensive conversations regarding the existing legal regime, current and future threats, and ideas for norms, rules and principles of responsible behavior. Your leadership has been essential in guiding this important work.

In the current environment of tension and mistrust, it is important that we take tangible and concrete steps to address the risks of misunderstanding that could potentially lead to conflict or a degradation of the outer space environment. All countries use outer space – whether they launch their own satellites, field their own satellites, or benefit directly from satellites. We must take steps to reduce the various risks to all of us, by using this process to develop norms of behavior that can strengthen peace and stability for all of us.

As we discussed at the last session of the OEWG, the United States believes that the most urgent threat to space systems comes from destructive testing of Earth-to-space anti-satellite missiles. Reckless destructive direct-ascent anti-satellite missile testing affects all nations, including the developing world, by degrading critical space services like weather, navigation, and communication.

As an urgent, but initial measure to address this issue, last year at the UNGA, the United States introduced what became resolution 77/41 on “Destructive, direct-ascent anti-satellite missile testing.” Operative Paragraph 1 of this resolution called upon all countries to commit not to conduct destructive direct-ascent anti-satellite missile tests.  That is why the United States welcomes the language in paragraph 36 of the draft OEWG report regarding such tests.

The United States welcomes the recent announcement by the European Union that its member States have made national commitments in line with the UNGA resolution. That brings the total number of States worldwide making such national commitments to 35 countries. We encourage other countries to make such a national commitment. It is through all States making and observing these national commitments that this can become an internationally recognized norm of responsible behavior.

Mr. Chair, another tangible step was the convening of this OEWG. The draft report you have prepared reflects difficult debates, which covered complex and technical issues; issues on which not every State agrees.The United States appreciates the inclusion in the draft report of ideas contained in the various papers that we submitted to this OEWG. We recognize that our ideas are just that – ideas from one of many countries. They may not be perfect. They are simply proposals to consider. We recognize that others have differing ideas on what could reduce risks in this domain. In this regard, we welcome the Joint Statement in Support of the OEWG read on behalf of a cross-regional group of States and commend the spirit of cooperation it highlights.

As such, Mr. Chair, the United States also appreciates your crafting of the chapeau language for the section on recommendations. Let me focus for a minute on Paragraph 36 in the draft report. This language is quite clear that the recommendations presented are ideas to which States could give further consideration. They are not – or at least, not yet – agreed proposals, but ones that require further study. The breadth of proposals identified is impressive, and I know that they were drawn from the submissions of multiple countries. Yet, despite the exceptional discussions we have had, there is more work to be done on these proposals so that we can reach consensus on a set of norms, rules and principles.

The United States also takes note of the language in Paragraph 36 that the list of proposals is “without prejudice to the national positions of States participating in the working group.” It is well known that the United States has concerns about some of these proposals. But we agree that they are proposals that some States have raised in the working group – that is a factual matter – and that they should be discussed. We are prepared to make our case regarding the merits of our position on these issues.

Mr. Chair,

For those States that plan to argue that some proposals should not be included in this list of recommendations, I would urge you to find ways to seek compromise so that the interests of all parties can be adequately reflected in the final report. The United States, for its part, will approach our work constructively and cooperatively.

In doing so, it is important to remember that these issues are complex and will require careful and deliberate study. While we all seek to quickly develop norms, rules and principles of responsible behavior — including those that would contribute to a future legally-binding instrument – we must also do so in a thorough, meticulous manner. Rather than rush through recommendations which may result in unintended consequences, or inadvertently constrain new or novel activities, we owe ourselves a thoughtful, deliberative process. Our governments, our people, our industries, and future generations that rely on the work that we do will thank us. That is a demonstration of responsible diplomatic behavior.

Mr. Chair,

It is for this reason, even if we complete this week with a set of consensus recommendations, the United States supports the calls to continue our discussions in another open-ended working group on developing norms, rules and principles of responsible behavior. As the draft paper suggests, there are many ideas that need further consideration by States, and also further input from organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross and from other non-governmental organizations. Their inputs to the OEWG through their participation has provided us with an important perspective on these issues. Given the robust, substantive, and concrete suggestions we have had in this forum, we hope other States will support further work in this area in the future. I thank you very much.