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Key Issues Space Weapons The Basics Introduction, The Weaponization of Space

Weaponization of Space

Outer Space Treaty and military use of space
In 1967, as humanity made great leaps and bounds into outer space, political leaders embraced the notion of the peaceful use of outer space in negotiating the Outer Space Treaty, which affirmed "the common interest of all mankind in the progress of the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes" and provided that "The exploration and use of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind."

However, the treaty did not specifically ban the military use of outer space, other than the placing of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in space.

Since then the military utility of space based technology has increased tremendously. During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, for example, US forces relied heavily on satellites for communication, navigation and information. Warnings of SCUD missile attacks came by missile warning satellites. Ground forces used Global Positioning System receivers for navigation and positioning data. Commanders used weather data broadcast by meteorological satellites and maps derived from other space platforms. Satellites carried 90 percent of the long-distance

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See Also
Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space

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Alsos Digital Library for Nuclear Issues

communications in and out of the Persian Gulf region.

Weaponisation of space
While space has become an increasingly important arena for military operations, countries have not yet placed weapons in space or developed weapons which would fire into space. Thus, for the moment, space is non-weaponised. However, this situation may soon change. A number of countries, including Russia, China and the US, are reported to already be developing anti-satellite weapons.

In January 2001 The Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Managament and Organisation, chaired by Donald Rumsfeld, now US Secretary of Defense, recommended that "the US Government should vigorously pursue the capabilities called for in the National Space Policy to ensure that the President will have the option to deploy weapons in space to deter threats to and, if necessary, defend against attack on US interests."

Even before the Commission had been established, the US was conducting research and development in anti-satellite weapons, space based earth-strike weapons, and deployment of support systems. In preparation for the deployment of anti-satellite weapons, for example, the US has deployed a Space Surveillance Network which detects, tracks, identifies and catalogs all space objects in case the US finds it "necessary to disrupt, degrade, deny or destroy enemy space capabilities in future conflicts"

The US Space Command's plans for the development of space-based and space directed weapons are laid out in its 1998 Long Range Plan. The integrated system of surveillance, navigation, communication, and attack capabilities are being developed in order to "protect military and commercial national interests and investment in space," and "to deny others the use of space, if required."

Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space
The US Space Command notes that space is the new frontier - that "space is a region with increasing commercial, civil, international and military interests and investments." And that "the threat to these vital systems is also increasing." The response of the US is to plan, research, develop and deploy weapons systems to protect US interests and infrastructure in space.

The effect of this approach will likely be an arms race in outer space as other countries move to protect their interests against possible attack from the US. The alternative approach is to develop multi-laterally negotiated controls on weapons in space through a new space treaty. Such a treaty would:
Ban the testing, production, deployment or use of weapons in space;
Ban the testing, production, deployment or use of earth-based weapons which operate into space;
Require the notification of all planned space activities;
Establish monitoring and verification procedures;
Include procedures for resolving conflicts regarding military use of space and enforcement mechanisms for violations of the treaty.

The United Nations has adopted a number of resolutions calling for negotiations to prevent an arms race in outer space. China has proposed the establishment of an ad hoc committee in the Conference on Disarmament to negotiate a treaty prohibiting the weaponisation of outer space.

Other countries, including Pakistan, have supported the proposal, noting that there are plans for space weaponisation, including elements of Ballistic Missile Defense programs, and that prevention of an arms race in outer space through an agreed treaty would be preferable to trying to pull back such developments after they occurred.

The CD, which functions by consensus, has been unable to move forward on China's proposal because of the opposition of some countries, primarily the US which claims that there is not an arms race in outer space and thus there is no need for such negotiations.

Peaceful use of outer space
Technological developments in space have opened opportunities for many benefits to humanity including global communication systems and geological and meteorological information. The global reach of space lends itself to the development of international systems thus increasing global cooperation and decreasing nation-state based systems and nationalism. In addition, the communication and verification capabilities offered by space systems make more possible the negotiation of verifiable disarmament treaties. The view of earth itself from outer space presents a perspective of our planet as a unified, interconnected and unique kernel of life, which like a spaceship, should not be fought over or destroyed by the folly of war. Thus, space in the 21st Century offers an opportunity to move towards a world of common security and disarmament rather than one of conflict and more arms races.

Preserving Space for Peaceful Use: A Case for a New Space Treaty, Robert White, Centre for Peace Studies, University of Auckland, 2001
US Space Command Long Range Plan http://www.fas.org/spp/military/docops/usspac/lrp/cover.htm
US Space Surveillance Network http://www.fas.org/spp/military/program/track/spasur_at.htm

Prepared by Alyn Ware, coordinator of the Parliamentary Network for Nuclear Disarmament, a project of the Middle Powers Initiative.