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Key Issues Space Weapons Issues Kenneth Hodgkins - Peaceful Uses of Outer Space

Kenneth Hodgkins - Peaceful Uses of Outer Space
U.S. Adviser to the Fifty-sixth Session of the UN General Assembly
Statement to the Fifty-sixth Session of the UN General Assembly On Agenda Item 86: International Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in the Fourth Committee
New York City
October 23, 2001

Mr. Chairman, since last year's session of the General Assembly, the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) has recorded a number of significant achievements in promoting international space cooperation.

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I should like to recall that in 1958 the United States and 19 other states submitted Resolution 1348, which established the Ad Hoc Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. The resolution marked a significant step forward for the world community. Since that time, the Committee has played a crucial role in advancing space cooperation, establishing rules of the road for space activities, and providing a unique opportunity for the exchange of information among developed and developing countries on the latest advances in the use and exploration of outer space.

COPUOS thus became, and remains, the only standing body of the General Assembly devoted to that purpose. Whereas other UN organs hold competence to consider the disarmament aspects of outer space, COPUOS offers us a forum focused exclusively on promoting the cooperative achievement -- and sharing -- of benefits from space exploration.

Before turning to the work of COPUOS, I should like to report on what has been achieved in the Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs. The first 13 flights in the ISS assembly have been completed, marking the end of Phase II of the ISS Program. The International Space Station is now a fully functional operations facility with research capability. Just over a year ago, the first crew arrived at a very modest facility. After seven assembly missions in the last year, the third crew (Expedition 3) is now living, working, and conducting research in the most complex and advanced spacecraft ever built. With the new U.S. Airlock and the new Russian Docking Compartment, Space Station crews are now able to spacewalk directly from the ISS without the Space Shuttle, thereby facilitating construction and expanding research possibilities. Between now and the first part of December, three more spacecraft will visit the International Space Station.

Mr. Chairman, April 12, 2001, marked the 20th anniversary of the flight of Columbia, America's first Space Shuttle. Since 1981, the Shuttle has amassed an amazing array of accomplishments. 

  1. It has launched nearly 1.4 million kilograms of cargo and more than 600 passengers and pilots.

  2. Over 850 payloads have flown, including hundreds of individual experiments.

  3. The Shuttle has deployed more than 60 payloads and retrieved more than two dozen.

  4. Studies of the Earth from the Shuttle have mapped 90% of the surface with greater precision than ever before. Observations by astronauts from the Shuttle have discovered and confirmed ancient impact craters on Earth; tracked deforestation; monitored coral reefs; studied air and water pollution; and documented the effects of droughts, floods, volcanoes, and hurricanes.
  5. Hundreds of investigations have studied the effects of weightlessness on plants, animals, and materials aboard the Shuttle, contributing to our understanding of their basic nature.

In addition to the scientific achievements of the Space Shuttle, NASA and its contractors have made continuous improvements throughout the program's history, making today's Shuttle safer, more capable, and more reliable than when it was new.

  1. Due primarily to weight reductions in the external tank, but also because of performance enhancements and weight reductions in other areas, the Shuttle today can lift almost 12 tons more cargo to orbit than when it first flew.

  2. Since 1992 alone, the cargo capacity of the Shuttle has increased by 8 tons; the annual cost of operating the Shuttle has decreased by 40%, the engine improvements and other upgrades have reduced the estimated risks during launch by 80%, and the number of all problems experienced in flight has dropped by 70%.

  3. The Space Shuttle fleet still has more than three-quarters of its design lifetime ahead of it and will fly for at least another decade, and probably much longer.

Mr. Chairman my delegation has previously noted the positive developments in revitalizing the agendas and methods of work of COPUOS and its subcommittees. One only has to turn to the last session of the Legal Subcommittee to see the encouraging results that have emerged from our efforts. Under the able leadership of Prof. Vladimir Kopal of the Czech Republic, the subcommittee met in its 40th session, marking a significant milestone for COPUOS and the promotion of international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space.

Since its first session in 1962, the Legal Subcommittee has formulated and adopted five major outer space treaties and several sets of international principles, producing a new branch of international law at a pace second to none. These treaties and principles provide the foundation for the orderly use of outer space for the benefit of all countries. Under this legal regime, space exploration by nations, international organizations, and private entities has flourished. As a result, space technology and services contribute immeasurably to peace, security, economic growth, and improvements in the quality of life around the world.

The process by which these groundbreaking legal instruments were adopted is an important example of productive multilateral diplomacy. Throughout its history, the Committee has been characterized by the process of consensus and the desire and interest of member States to develop space law -- which promotes, not hinders -- space exploration. This has led to achievements that are significant for any UN organization responsible for negotiating international law instruments.

Mr. Chairman, allow me to call to the attention of delegates two other important milestones in the work of the Legal Subcommittee. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the adoption of the Principles Relating to Remote Sensing of the Earth from Space and the 5th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration on International Cooperation in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space for the Benefit and in the Interest of All States, Taking into Particular Account the Needs of Developing Countries.

The Principles on Space Benefits are particularly noteworthy. They elaborated on the basic concept of Article I of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty; that is, the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development. The Principles have made a lasting contribution to international space cooperation by establishing two basic considerations: 1) States are free to determine all aspects of their international cooperation, whether it is bilateral or multilateral or whether it is commercial or non-commercial and 2) States should choose the most effective and appropriate mode of cooperation in order to allocate resources efficiently.

This year marks the second phase of a 3-year process to examine the concept of the launching State as contained in the Liability Convention and the Registration Convention as applied by States and international organizations. There were substantial discussions on how States implement their responsibilities as launching States and how the concept has evolved since the treaties were negotiated. We look forward to next year's discussion when we will review the Secretariat's report that will contain a synthesis of State practice in applying the concept of the launching State, questions regarding the application of the concept arising from State practice and new developments in space activities, and elements that could be included in national space legislation and licensing regimes.

The Legal Subcommittee also made substantial progress in considering the new convention and protocols for the registration of security interest in high value mobile equipment, including aircraft, rail, and space property, under development at the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT). It should be noted that the Office for Outer Space Affairs and the secretariat of UNIDROIT produced useful reports that contributed to the positive results achieved by the Subcommittee. This is an important international agreement that deserves our full attention. In this regard, we support the recommendation that the item should be retained on the agenda and the agreement to establish a consultative mechanism to review the issues relating to the item. The first consultations were hosted last month by France and the European Space Agency. The meeting was highly productive, and we look forward to the next round of talks to be hosted by Italy early next year.

On behalf of my delegation, I would like to express our deep appreciation for the efforts of Dr. Karl Doetsch of Canada in moving forward the activities of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee. In addition, my delegation commends the extensive work of the Office for Outer Space Affairs, particularly for intersessional work that produced useful documentation for review by the Subcommittee on a variety of topics. Most notable among these was the compilation of information about the use of space technology within the UN system. Also, the office has done a superb job in focusing the attention of member States and non-governmental entities on concrete ways to use the results of UNISPACE III for promoting greater cooperation in space exploration.

This year, we embarked on a multi-year effort to look at the implementation of the results of UNISPACE III and related matters. Emerging from this initial phase was the formation of action teams to deal with specific UNISPACE III recommendations. All of this work will culminate in the preparation by COPUOS in 2004 of a report to the General Assembly on the progress made in implementing the results of UNISPACE III. This work plan is a priority for the committee and we were pleased with the substantial progress made at the last session of COPUOS. More details on what has been accomplished to date are contained in document A/56/394, Report of the Secretary-General on the Implementation of UNISPACE III.

The report of UNISPACE III identified the need to determine precise locations on the ground for use with Earth observation images and ancillary information in geographic information systems. This location information is needed for a large number of remote sensing applications, some of which support strategic areas for development such as disaster management, monitoring and protecting the environment, management of natural resources, and food production. The Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), which include the GPS system of the United States, provide a signal that can serve this purpose and in addition could be used for a range of other applications with economic benefits for users. In this regard, I am pleased to note that the United States has provided $500,000 to the Office for Outer Space Affairs to support up to five regional workshops on the use of Global Navigation Satellite Systems for environmental applications and sustainable development. The first workshop was held in August in Malaysia. Subsequent workshops are planned to take place between now and the end of 2002 in Austria, Chile, and Africa.

My delegation is pleased that informal consultations conducted by the Committee's chairman, Ambassador Raimundo Gonzalez of Chile, have resulted in a consensus agreement on expanding the membership of COPUOS. Ambassador Gonzalez is to be commended for his skill and patience in bringing this matter to a successful conclusion. We welcome Saudi Arabia and Slovakia as new members of the Committee, and we are pleased to see the countries that were rotating seats now join us as full members. We note the Committee's recommendation that each regional group would be responsible for holding consultations among its members who are also members of COPUOS, for the purpose of urging them to participate in the work of the Committee and its subcommittees, and that the regional groups would present a general report to the Committee on the results of their consultations. We anticipate that this recommendation will be fulfilled in time for the next session of COPUOS and suggest that the Secretariat notify the chairs of each regional group of this decision.

Before concluding my remarks, my delegation wishes to exercises its right of reply to a statement made by the delegation of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Let me be clear: we categorically reject the assertions made by that delegation concerning our space activities. Today, we are involved in unprecedented international space cooperation, and there is no arms race in outer space. The U.S. space program has been and will continue to be guided by the fundamental principles of the UN Charter, international law, and the outer space treaties. To argue otherwise, as North Korea has sought to do, is baseless and a distortion of the truth.