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Raising Alarm over Possible Space Wars, First Committee Delegates Explore Ways to Build New Order for Preventing Celestial Conflict, Confrontation

To prevent outer space from becoming another military battlefield, delegates today explored ways to establish a rules based order to securely govern that sphere, which they called “a common asset for humanity”, as the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) continued its work.

“Taking into consideration the extreme fragility and volatility of the outer space environment,” Egypt’s representative said, “it must not be allowed to turn into another battlefield or a scene for military conflicts that could have catastrophic implications.”

Echoing the views expressed by the Arab Group, African Group and the Non Aligned Movement, he stressed that outer space is a shared heritage owned equally by all the peoples of the world and a common asset for humanity. Therefore, there is a clear need for a legally binding instrument to prevent an arms race and fill existing legal gaps. Such an instrument should have a comprehensive scope that includes four prohibitions: the placement of any weapons, defensive or offensive; armed attacks against satellites or any outer space assets; intentional, harmful interference that interrupts the normal functioning of such assets; and developing, testing and stockpiling weapons designed to attack outer space assets.

The representatives of China and the Russian Federation highlighted their draft treaty on the prevention of an arms race in outer space, which the delegations submitted to the Conference on Disarmament in 2008 and again in 2014.

The Conference on Disarmament has been deadlocked for the past two decades and negotiators in Vienna failed to reach agreement on key aspects of the safety of space operations, said the Russian Federation’s delegate. However, the first session of the Group of Governmental Experts held in August gives hope that it will be in a position to prepare recommendations, he added.

While many delegations supported the Chinese Russian draft treaty, some others expressed divergent views on the initiative. Australia’s delegate said the proposal could have counterproductive consequences by allowing an unfettered development of terrestrial and dual use counter space systems. In addition, she said, the proposed definition of a space weapon is unworkable and fails to address the problem of terrestrial, dual use threats and the stockpiling of deployable weapons.

Likewise, the representative of the United Kingdom said the international community must reach a common understanding of what a space weapon is, as any object with manoeuvring capabilities can in theory be used for offensive purposes, he said. While the United Kingdom does not rule out the possibility of agreeing to a legally binding treaty on outer space in the future, he said that before negotiations on such an instrument begin, serious political, technological and practical challenges must be resolved. In addition, any new and binding instrument would also need to be comprehensive, effective and verifiable.

Looking forward, South Africa’s representative said that while his country supports the Chinese Russian draft treaty, it is highly unlikely such an agreement can be reached in the Conference on Disarmament in the near future. Therefore, other avenues, such as the General Assembly, should be explored.

During the discussion, African countries highlighted how space technologies are becoming increasingly vital to meeting their development needs. Malawi’s representative said space technologies are critical to water resource management and climate change responses, recalling how the United Nations helped to provide invaluable satellite images that enabled authorities to plan evacuation routes in 2015 during the country’s worst flood.

In the morning session, the Committee concluded its thematic discussion on other weapons of mass destruction, heard a briefing on the third United Nations Conference to Review Progress Made in the Implementation of the Programme of Action on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons, held in June, and commenced its debate on conventional weapons.

Speaking on the issue of other weapons of mass destruction were the representatives of Turkey, Argentina, Australia, Thailand, Syria, Brazil, Spain, Myanmar, Italy, Bangladesh, China, United Kingdom, El Salvador, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Philippines, Iran, Lithuania, Austria and the Netherlands. France’s delegate spoke on behalf of the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons. The representatives of the Russian Federation, Syria, United States, Israel, Iran and United Kingdom spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

Delivering statements on conventional weapons were representatives of Indonesia (for the Non Aligned Movement), Yemen (for the Arab Group) and Viet Nam (for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations).

Speaking today on outer space were representatives of Cuba, Paraguay, Kazakhstan, Morocco (for the African States), Nepal, France, Algeria, Pakistan, Indonesia, Venezuela, Nigeria, Myanmar, Italy, Republic of Korea, Japan, Sri Lanka, Namibia, Iran, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Ecuador. The Permanent Observer for the Holy See also delivered a statement.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply on that subject were representatives of the Russian Federation, Syria, United States, United Kingdom and France.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 25 October, to continue its work.

[Source: UN, General Assembly First Committee, Seventy-third Session, 16th & 17th Meetings, GA/DIS/3609, 24Oct18]

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