- by Vladimir Kozin

Contemporary Situation in Outer Space 

Outer space has been explored for more than fifty-seven years after former Soviet Union launched Sputnik satellite. Since that time, there has been concentrated media exploitation by many states.

Nobody could predict half a century ago that in 2014 there will be more than 1100 active satellites in space according to a report sponsored by the Satellite Industry Association (SIA) in 2014. Of these, 175 were military satellites meant for surveillance and military communications while the rest of the 840 were civilian satellites exploited for various purposes.

Eleven states have acquired a space launch capability, operating 22 launch sites, and have conducted about 70 to 80 launches per year (80 in 2011, 75 in 2012, 78 in 2013). 4994 space launches have taken place from 1957 till the end of 2013. The US Space Surveillance Network has tracked and catalogued about 17,000 objects.

About 60 states and regional governmental organizations operate satellites in earth’s orbit and an increasing number of private companies are operating commercial satellite systems. Approximately, 9,000 satellite transponders that facilitate communication between space and ground-based systems are expected to be active by 2015. 

The economic influence of space activities cannot be ignored. According to the 2014 SIA report, revenues for the satellite industry totaled USD 195.2 billion in 2013. The global satellite industry grew 7 percent in 2012, outpacing both worldwide economic growth rate that was 2.3 percent and the US growth rate of 2.2 percent.

Prospects of Outer Space Militarization 

The world community is happy that outer space has not been militarized yet. However, reification of militarization is a grave issue and unfortunately, such a possibility exists.

Various active international treaties on outer space and recently prepared drafts – while having recognized that outer space is playing an ever-increasing role in the future development of mankind and emphasizing the right to explore and use outer space freely at the same time - have clearly admitted that it is for the common interest of all mankind to explore and use the outer space for peaceful purposes. 

Such provisions have been incorporated in the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies signed on January 27, 1967, and in the draft Treaty on Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and the Threat or use of Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects submitted to the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in 2008. One may find the same clause in the second revised draft of International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities opened for consultations since September 2013, that stated that all states enjoy the freedom, in accordance with international law and obligations, to access, to explore, and to use outer space for peaceful purposes without harmful interference.

It is encouraging to note the global consensus on keeping Earth’s orbit free from any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), including installing such weapons on celestial bodies and stationing such weapons in outer space in any other manner. Likewise, the other positive notion reflected in the Outer Space Principles Treaty is that it forbids testing of any type of weapons and the conduct of military maneuvers on celestial bodies. 

Positives notwithstanding, there are some areas of global concern. While the emplacement of the WMDs in outer space is prohibited, other types of weapons - not referred to as WMDs and functioning on different physical principles like space-based strike weapons capable of destroying man-made space stations and commercial satellites - can be launched into space by space-faring nations that possess relevant launching systems, launching pads and tracking facilities to control the space flights. So far, there are no legal barriers to such hostile actions. Thus, any type of weapon that cannot theoretically be considered a WMD could be placed in outer space and become the weapon of real use on a global scale and possess a capability to be secretly and promptly used. 

The second negative factor is that while it is forbidden to test any type of weapons and the conduct of military maneuvers on celestial bodies, it is not forbidden to do so in outer space per se. Only the draft International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities contains a clause that the states which are parties to the Code undertake not to place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying any kinds of weapons and not to install such weapons on celestial bodies and not to place such weapons in outer space in any other manner. But this Code is only a draft and by the time the agreement enters into force, some more states may have become interested in testing.

The third setback deals with the lack of comprehensive definitions. For instance, in the draft International Code of Conduct what does “harmful interference” or “hostile actions against space objects” in the draft Outer Space Treaty mean? Only Article 1 (c) of the draft Outer Space Treaty contains the term “weapon in outer space” as “any device placed in outer space, based on any physical principle....” The draft catalogues a limited number of such hostile acts like: “destruction, damaging or disrupting the normal functioning of objects in outer space, on the Earth or in the Earth’s atmosphere....”

In 2000, I personally wanted to bring this to the world community’s notice by tabling a draft on immunity of space objects where 14 different hostile acts have been listed, including: 1) their complete destruction, and also eliminating and disabling the crews of manned spacecraft; 2) the partial damage of satellites and other spacecraft; 3) any disruption of their normal functioning; 4) slowing or accelerating their flight; 5) changing their orbits or flight trajectories; 6) their removal from orbit; 7) their replacement with other satellites and other spacecraft; 8) dangerously close maneuvering or approach, and also docking with satellites and other spacecraft; 9) dangerously close to intersection of the orbit or trajectory of satellites and other spacecraft; 10) passage between two satellites or other spacecraft that are following each other along one and the same or an adjacent trajectory; 11) the transmission of knowingly distorted commands to their life support or flight control systems for the collection, processing, coding and transmission of telemetry data, and also carrying out any actions that impede the operation of all of the systems listed above; 12) visual, optical, infrared, electromagnetic and other types of inspection and surveillance from a dangerously close distance; 13) the installation or removal from them of various types of instruments, sensors or other equipment or any installed or technological assemblies whatsoever, or structures with the goal of committing other hostile acts against them in support of the achievement of the goals that are set forth in the paragraphs indicated above; and 14) carrying out other hostile acts which have not been stipulated above, but which could result in fatal or other negative outcomes for the spacecraft.

The fourth negative feature is that any subscribing state to draft International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities can conduct not only scientific, civil and commercial activities, but also any military activity without restriction because there is no proper description as “not to resort to the threat or use of force against outer space objects.”


A Catalogue of Initiatives

Since the time when the first man-made “Moon” – Soviet Sputnik, – was launched in 1957, there have been a plenty of international initiatives aimed at non-militarization of outer space and prevention of the arms race in outer space in general terms. No comprehensive international rules or regulations have been framed since the Outer Space Treaty was concluded in 1967, though several limited measures have come about that address specific concerns regarding outer space activities.

Russia has tabled more than 20 initiatives of various kinds to reach these goals. Amongst these are some ideas of paramount importance, such as: an accord on banning of use of space for military purposes (tabled in 1958), proposals at ASAT or anti-satellite weapons prohibition talks between the USA and the Soviet Union (1979), proposals on non-militarization of space (1983), an appeal to renounce testing of ASAT weapons (1985), proposal to reach agreements during nuclear and space talks (1988), an initiative on banning emplacement of weapons of any kind in space (2001), a draft treaty prohibiting the emplacement of weapons in space (2008), an agreement on banning ASAT weapons in any sphere (2011), and finally, a revised draft treaty prohibiting the emplacement of weapons in space (2014).   

One of the first Soviet proposals that had been put forth in 1958 was a notion to sign international accord prohibiting the use of outer space for military purposes and banning the emplacement of weapons in it. 

Amongst other notions was the idea to conduct anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) talks. ASAT weapons pose a direct threat to any type of satellites – be they civilian or military – and to key infrastructure used in arms control verification monitoring: military C3I systems, and strategic and tactical warning of attack.

In 1985, the Soviet Union declared that it would never be the first nation to place its weapons into the orbits and urged other nations to follow suit. The space-faring nations have not yet positively responded to Russian initiatives. 

On the other hand, the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) Resolution - which the UN General Assembly (UNGA) had adopted annually since the early 1980s - has received universal support. The Resolution’s call for states to take further measures has not been translated into any significant action. But all UNGA resolutions have a recommendation character.

Therefore, unlike nuclear arms control that has already produced seven bilateral Russian and US agreements covering only strategic nuclear arsenals and intermediate nuclear forces (INF), there is very small progress in outer space arms control.


The US Stance

Unfortunately, the US has turned down all these ideas as well as other subsequent proposals to make outer space as a weapon-free medium. Interestingly, America is still ranked as the most powerful space power. Washington also refused to support a joint Russo-Chinese draft treaty (2008) banning the deployment of weapons in outer space and its adapted version citing concerns that it lacked verification, proper definitions, amongst other reasons. These concerns are misplaced. Washington has adopted a similar approach towards the revised draft treaty on banning the deployment of weapons in outer space (2014). Above all, Washington says there is no integral verification regime to help monitor compliance with the ban on the placement of weapons in outer space.

A major inference from American reluctance in banning placement of weapons in outer space is its considerable interest in using outer space for dual peaceful and military purposes, which is potentially destabilizing. Likewise, there is evidence to prove Washington’s intention to use outer space as the area for potential deployment of either “space-to-space” weapons versus various targets orbiting the planet (e.g. ASAT weapons), or “space-to-Earth” weapons (or combat strike weapons) that might be used to hit land-based, air-based and sea-based targets from the space.

Washington does not want to formulate terminology describing “hostile acts” in outer space. This happened in 1978-1979 when it cancelled ASAT negotiations with Moscow, as well as many other such cases recently. During the presidential campaign in 2008, Mr. Obama promised publicly to start talks on ASAT issues, but he failed to specify with whom, when, and where. 

The US frequently criticized China for destroying its weather satellite in January 11, 2007, by using ASAT technology, but at the same time neglected the fact that on February 20, 2008, it also downed its own failed reconnaissance satellite by its naval-based missile interceptor above the Pacific Ocean. The test proved that the Pentagon had the relevant potential for making advanced ASAT capability. Washington’s use of the BMD assets as ASAT capability renewed the specter of state-conducted attacks against satellites and the possibility of the benign operating environment of outer space being transformed into a battleground with devastating effects on all users.

It is worth noting that the destruction of the US reconnaissance satellite was conducted very successfully – only by one shot – from the US Navy Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Lake Erie that fired a specially modified Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptor, aiming at the national reconnaissance craft that had failed shortly after its launch in late 2006. According to the US Department of Defense, the interceptor succeeded in breaking apart the satellite before its re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. The intercept occurred at an altitude of about 247 km, rupturing its fuel tank that was carrying about 500 kg of hydrazine – a maneuvering fuel that could have posed a serious health hazard if it survived re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. 

Democrats are traditionally against proliferation, but the Obama Administration has embarked upon militarily dominating the outer space. It has propounded its doctrine in a range of documents such as Space Operations (2009), Space Posture Review (2009), and National Space Policy of the USA (2010). The US claims using the freedom of action throughout the entire outer space area without any limitations. The Space Operations doctrine caters for both defensive and offensive operations in outer space. The doctrine prescribes the US Armed Forces to maintain military supremacy in outer space, partly with the help of blocking measures and active countermeasures. The same provision has been included into the US National Space Policy, approved on June 28, 2010.   

The US and its NATO allies are discussing details for the first agreement over promoting combined space operations, the American Forces Press Service has reported. The agreement will be the first step in forging international military-to-military cooperation in space. They say that space is vital to military operations, providing an array of capabilities that give space-faring nations’ forces a military advantage. These include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities that enhance war fighters’ situational awareness, space-based communications that provide them instant global communications, and global positioning systems that deliver highly accurate navigation and targeting positions. 

Of particular concern to military leaders, space is an increasingly contested domain with potential adversaries hoping to level the playing field by denying access to space and space-based capabilities. Another factor that motivates Pentagon is the growing cost of space operations amid tight budget times. By bringing NATO allies under the US Space Command’s direction, the Pentagon has found a way to share costs while still controlling and expanding military space operations. The Pentagon calls this “interoperability”. 

The USA is expanding its close cooperation in improving missile defense interceptors to outer space as well. In a report written by the US-Japanese defense experts, it was stated that the Armed Forces of both countries will “work to ensure the resiliency of relevant space assets and their network and systems… Cooperation on space will include sharing information about actions and events that might impede the safe and stable use of space”.

In 2010, Pentagon successfully conducted tests of “Orbital Test Vehicle-1” (OTV-1) – an unmanned, reusable spacecraft also known as “X-37B” – a 29-foot (8.8 m) shuttle. In March 2011, the US launched OTV-2. In December 2012, Pentagon put onto orbit the other non-piloted military “mini-shuttle” OTV-3. On October 17, 2014, the OTV-3 returned from its third mission and landed at Vandenberg AFB. The spacecraft conducted on orbit experiments for 674 days that have not been specified by the USAF. The USAF plans to launch the fourth X-37B in 2015.

These tests signify that the militarization of outer space has actually started, though currently there are no combat striking weapons in outer space. Various US sources claim that the Pentagon was planning to emplace weapons in space by using their docks and also to use missile defense interceptors to hit space-based assets.

As a US Deputy Defense Secretary puts it: “Hosting military payloads on commercial spacecraft, as we are already doing with a missile warning sensor, is not only cost-effective, it also enables a more diverse, robust, and distributed set of space systems. Finally, the US views free access to space as a vital national interest. Consistent with our inherent right of self-defense, we will respond accordingly to attacks on it, at a time and place of our choosing and not necessarily in space. We can utilize alliances in space to serve the same deterrent function as basing troops in allied countries. They can ensure an attack on one is an attack on all”.   

The US is not committed to working with the international community to address the challenges of today’s increasingly congested and contested space environment. Washington says that it is willing to consider space arms control proposals and concepts that are equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhance the national security of the United States and our allies – but nobody has yet seen any proposal that meets these criteria. The PAROS treaty resolution submitted in the UN First Committee yearly since 1982 has always been overwhelmingly passed. But the US voted “no” twice and then abstained 21 times each year between 1984 and 2004, when it started voting “no” again (4 times), until abstaining again in 2009. In December 2012, the US abstained from accepting UNGA Resolution 67/30 on PAROS.

In the above context, in order to avoid a direct criticism, the USA recently focused on non-legally binding transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space for outer space activities believing that such arrangements should be “clear, practical, and proven”, meaning that both the application and the efficacy of the proposed measure must be demonstrated by one or more actors; be able to be effectively confirmed by other parties in their application, either independently or collectively; and finally, they should reduce or even eliminate the causes of mistrust, misunderstanding, and miscalculation with regard to the activities and intentions of states. In December 2013, the USA supported UNGA resolution 68/50 “transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space activities” that was adopted without a vote.

At the same time, the US is against making declarations of “No First Placement (NFP)” of weapons in outer space under the pretext that the NFP initiative has three basic flaws:  it does not adequately define what constitutes a “weapon in outer space” (incorrect observation); other parties would not be able to confirm effectively a state’s political commitment “not to be the first to place weapons in outer space”; and finally, that the NFP pledge focuses exclusively on space-based weapons such as the co-orbital ASAT weapon once flight-tested and deployed by the former Soviet Union. It is silent in regard to terrestrially-based ASAT weapons, which, as previously noted, constitute a significant threat to spacecraft. The last notion can be debated; however, there are no relevant arguments.


Russia’s Views 

The Russian Federation believes that: outer space is playing an ever-increasing role in the future development of mankind; the exploration and the use of outer space should be carried on for the benefit of all peoples irrespective of the degree of their economic or scientific development; and, outer space must be used for peaceful purposes. Moscow is interested in preventing outer space from becoming an arena for military confrontation and ensuring security in outer space and the undisturbed functioning of space objects. 

Given the common interest in outer space and the direct or indirect use of outer space by all the countries of the world, any regulation of outer space activities should be carried out by all countries collectively. As a common asset, outer space must remain free of any potential conflict. Rather, it should be recognized as a non-conflict zone and a demilitarized medium. Any regulation should aim at improving the outer space environment for the use of all countries and should not, in any way, aim to limit the full utilization of outer space by any other state.

The Russian Federation is still committed to the idea of keeping outer space as the heritage of the entire world community, for making it totally demilitarized in terms of combat weapons (naturally, non-combat military satellites like meteorological, navigational, reconnaissance should not be prohibited). The Russian foreign policy directive, “The Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation”, enacted in February 2013, contains the formula that Russia is in favor of banning the deployment of weapons in outer space, signing of the respective international treaty, as well as establishing transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space activities. 

China and Russia have been proposing a joint draft treaty for the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space since 2008, at the CD. The US has repeatedly blocked consensus in the CD to move forward on negotiating a treaty to ban weapons in space, saying, at one point, that the proposal was “a diplomatic ploy by the two nations to gain a military advantage”. In June 2014, Russia and China submitted an updated draft treaty, with an accompanying paper explaining what changes they had made since the 2008 draft and used all remarks articulated by the countries concerned. 

In October 2004, Russia assumed an obligation not to emplace any kind of weapon in outer space. In 2005, all member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) subscribed to such a commitment. The support for this notion has been slowly gaining momentum. It has been reflected in joint statements signed by Russia with Brazil (December 2012), Indonesia (July 2013), Sri Lanka (September 2013), Argentina (May 2014), and Cuba (July 2014). Russia and Brazil elaborated a draft resolution for the 69th UNGA First Committee. In a Joint Declaration between Colombo and Moscow it was said that both sides will not emplace any kind of weapon in outer space and will do their utmost to prevent making outer space into the sphere of military confrontation. 

Moscow is concerned not only about the deployment of NATO offensive missiles in Eastern Europe, euphemistically called “missile defense shield”, but also in particular about the new US hypersonic drones and gliders. Both systems could indeed neutralize Russia’s nuclear defense, which explains why Putin’s Administration has been investing to upgrade its air and space defense. However, this is not, strictly speaking, another “Star Wars” since the armament of the US is offensive, while that of Russia is defensive. Hypersonic pilotless aircrafts are set to become the next phase in the military technical stand-off between Moscow and Washington.

In December 2013, Mr. Putin noted that the advent of hypersonic, pilotless and space strike threats from Washington, and the potential for these weapons to be used, could lead to the instantaneous disabling of Moscow’s defenses. “Effective aerospace defense is a guarantee of survivability for our strategic deterrent forces, and of the country’s protection from aerospace strike threats”, said Putin during a visit to an air defense missile manufacturing plant in June 2013. 

A Scientific Research Institute for Aerospace Defense was set up in Russia. This institute is tasked with developing surveillance and warning system for an aerospace attack, and for striking and jamming aerospace threats, as well as developing control and maintenance systems for the existing Aerospace Defense Forces. The Strategic Aerospace Defense Systems, which brings missile and radar developers together, is responsible for the work on the practical side of this project. 

Russia has already tested a land-based component of its Aerospace Command. The latest Voronezh-DM radar system is being deployed along Russia’s borders. This system is capable of seeing anything happening up to a distance of 6,000 km from the country’s borders and can track about 500 targets. According to Deputy Defense Minister Yury Borisov, by 2018 they will form a defensive radar system encircling the entire Russian landmass.

In response to the advent of America’s doctrine of pre-emptive and preventive strikes, Russia has to develop its own national remedy from the real US “Star Wars” program. Of the 22 trillion rubles (USD 616 billion) allocated to the entire program of rearmament of the Russian Army by 2020, Moscow is to spend around 20 percent of this allocation on its defensive measures in outer space. This amounts to around 3-4 trillion rubles (USD 106 billion). Given this funding, work has already begun on global reinstatement of a unified radar field to provide early warning of missile launches. “In response to the Prompt Global Strike Russia will improve its strategic nuclear forces and its naval component, as well as development of Aerospace Forces according to our plans that have been approved”, said Dmitry Rogozin (Vice Premier) in September 2014. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov, who, in a meeting in September 2014 with the President, stated that Russia could create its own system of Prompt Global Strike, but would reflect on a defensive doctrine.

Russia does not plan to use the International Space Station beyond 2020, casting a shadow on US plans to continue cooperation with the country and extend the life of the orbiting laboratory until at least 2024. Mr. Rogozin told reporters in May 2014 that Russia was looking to redirect its attention to other projects after 2020. His comments came as tensions mounted over US sanctions on Russia for its role in the crisis in Ukraine. One Russian leader suggested the US might try using a trampoline to get to the space station since the US no longer had the capability to get astronauts there. 

Russia is ready to work with China to explore the Moon and Mars. “If we talk about manned space flights and exploration of outer space, as well as joint exploration of the solar system, primarily it is the Moon and Mars, we are ready to go forth with our Chinese friends, hand in hand”, Mr. Rogozin said during the First Russia-China Expo in June-July 2014. Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and its Chinese counterparts also signed a memorandum of understanding “on cooperation in global navigation satellite systems”. Rogozin said that the Russian navigation system, Glonass, and the Chinese Beidou, will very well complement each other.

Amongst latest Russian developments in outer space domain are: commissioning of the Eastern Cosmodrom in June 2015 and the first launch from it, a spacecraft in 2018; Moscow will develop its own outer space segment of the National Strategic EWR system; the land-based component of the Space Forces has been already tested; and, the CIS member states will set up their Joint Institute for Outer Space Research.


Code of Conduct in Outer Space or The Outer Space Treaty

Some assessments should be made on the draft International Code of Conduct in Outer Space initiated by the European Union. 

The first version of such draft was approved by the EU Council in December 2008 and was widely circulated. The EU was trying to establish norms of behavior for all space activities, both in the civilian and military domains of outer space. But it has been difficult to build consensus around the proposal precisely because it is so comprehensive and covers a great variety of issues. However, the first draft failed to garner international support and was abandoned in 2012. The latest version of the draft was issued in September 2013. The present form of the draft Code has addressed many of the shortcomings and bears little resemblance to its predecessor. The new text is largely a compilation of principles and provisions drawn from existing space-related agreements and declarations. Thus, the Code describes itself (in section 1.3) as “a regime of transparency and confidence-building measures” that is “complementary to the normative framework regulating outer space activities”.

The proposal of the EU to include a reference to the right of self-defense has proven to be one of the most controversial elements of the proposed draft. Two major objections are raised in this regard. First, a number of countries question the prerogative of this Code to deal with the military aspects of outer space, an area that has traditionally been reserved to the Conference on Disarmament that functions as the single multilateral negotiating body on disarmament issues. The inclusion of the right of self-defense in the draft is considered by a number of countries as a “back door” to legitimize weaponization of outer space, which, at the very least, contradicts the objective of the PAROS while the USA as a supporter of its militarization believes that this document was also a “back door” to a future treaty that could potentially limit freedom of US military actions in space.

The US has been participating since 2008 in the European Union initiative proposing a “Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities” to provide a non-binding set of “rules of the road” for a safer environment in space. Washington also insists that the Code’s voluntary promise to “refrain from any action which brings about, directly or indirectly, damage, or destruction, of space objects”, be qualified with the language “unless such action is justified”. One justification given for destructive action is the UN Charter’s right to individual or collective self-defense, thus lending legitimacy and codifying the possibility for warfare in space as part of the Code’s established norm. Although the UN Charter prohibits aggressive action by any nation without the UN Security Council approval, it makes an exception when a nation acts in self-defense.

There is an understanding between Russia and the EU on the difference between the Outer Space Treaty and the Code of Conduct. Around 20 countries are taking active part in improvement of the Code, including Russia and Pakistan. The Code, undoubtedly, has some flaws. It is not intended to be legally binding and does not have legal standing of an in-ternational treaty, executive agreement or any other legally binding instrument nor is the Code intended to become the precursor to any legally binding instrument. 

The Code’s precepts and principles are not intended to become customary international law. Section 8, for example, provides for annual meetings of the subscribing states with a wide mandate “to define, review and further develop this Code and ensure its effective implementation”. At the same time, it stipulates that the decisions at these meetings “both substantive and procedural, are to be taken by consensus”, which carries a strong risk that a dissenting state could block any decision whatsoever. Moreover, draft International Code of Conduct does not strive to prohibit or even limit kinetic ASAT tests. 

The most important point of the draft is that it is voluntary and unenforceable. There is no process to apply or enforce sanctions for conduct that violates the Code. Its success will depend entirely on the extent to which space-faring nations that eventually subscribe to the Code actually abide by its provisions. 


Unresolved Issues: Transparency and Confidence Building Measures, Space Debris, Cyber Activity and Exploitation Claims

The world community is discussing transparency and confidence-building measures to be applied to outer space. So far 21 states plus the EU member states have tabled their proposals for this aim. The 68th UN GA resolution on transparency and confidence building measures has collected 67 co-sponsors; it was adopted by consensus. But these measures cannot replace or substitute the Outer Space Treaty.

The acute issue demanding prompt and universal approach is the issue of removing of debris in space. Currently, more than 16,000 objects, approximately 10 cm in diameter or larger, were tracked and catalogued by the US Department of Defense; about 23,000 such pieces of debris of this size are being tracked but not catalogued. There are over 300,000 objects with a diameter larger than one centimeter and several millions that are even smaller, according to estimates. The issue of space debris is the most serious risk for the further utilization of outer space. There are not enough legal tools for regulating space weapons and space debris. Under such circumstances, the situation will be only deteriorated. 

However, nothing in the widely accepted Outer Space Treaty referred to space debris. And the succeeding treaties, even the 1979 Moon Agreement, have not regulated space debris. There are also no legally binding rules to refrain from creating space debris. The US and former USSR conducted ASAT weapon tests many times and produced significant space debris during the Cold War. The US made 40 ASAT tests from the 1950s through the mid-1970s. 

As such, it needs to deal with the issue of space debris through a proper multilateral forum and to help mitigate future space debris through the provision of international assistance and technology sharing to emerging space-faring nations and developing countries. It also needs to avoid controversial issues that are outside the scope of such a code, such as the issue of self-defense, which may prove to be the stumbling block against a wider adherence to any such code.

The need to address outer space stems from the common ownership of humankind of this medium, which is becoming essential for a multitude of applications that have become ubiquitous in modern societies. Indeed, the principle of outer space as a common heritage of humankind, or as a common global good, was one of the bases of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 (with more than 100 countries adhering to and a further nearly 30 countries signing it).

The US is permanently objecting to that treaty, stating that the new draft “does not address the significant flaws” in the older version such as including provisions for effective verification or for dealing with land-based anti-satellite systems. As to a legally binding treaty, the US stated that while it would consider proposals that are “equitable, effectively reliable, and enhance the national security of international participants”, the US has yet to see “any legally binding proposals that meet these criteria” and wants to focus on non-legally binding efforts such as the Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, and some other recent UN initiatives for transpar-ency and confidence building that will not have the force of law. 

There have been numerous occasions where nations bypassed the Security Council to take aggressive action in the name of self-defense. Instead of banning ASAT weapons development and space warfare, this US proposal for the Code would justify such warfare as long as it is done, individually and collectively, under the guise of “self-defense”. Thus despite lacking the force of law that would be established with a legally binding treaty, this new US proposal for the Code would create the possibility for space warfare rather than its prohibition. Because of these new blocks, the negotiations on the Code are now stalled while at the same time the US puts up new resistance to a reasonable proposal from Russia and China to legally ban weapons in space.

Currently, the US is the only state that is against supporting the Russian and Chinese initiative, which prohibits the placement of weapons in space. “All the rest are ready to convert this notion into practical deeds”, said Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, on October 20, 2014, in Moscow. 

The US space policy was defined by the National Space Policy of 2006, which was established during the George W. Bush Administration. This document emphasized that the US “rejects any claims to sovereignty by any nation over outer space or celestial bodies, or any portion thereof, and rejects any limitations on the fundamental right of the US to operate in and acquire data from space”.

A relatively new phenomenon related to outer space activities is the potential cyber interference with outer space activities, which could be a cyber attack that occurs before, during or after a launch of a satellite. Guidance systems could be attacked through jamming and spoofing within that country or region, conducted by anyone ranging from freelance hackers to terrorists and to state-sponsored factions. The latest satellites use large computers for updating purposes and reconfiguration software, which again prove to be vulnerable to cyber attacks. Another method that can be used is “grilling”, remotely changing the position of the solar panels to expose all to the Sun, to re-direct all their power to it and burn it. Moreover, through a cyber attack, a satellite could be brought down from the orbit. The Internet security company McAfee stated in its 2007 annual report that “approximately 120 countries have been developing ways to use the Internet as a weapon and the targets are financial markets, government computer systems and utilities”. To the above-mentioned targets, one could add space systems.

There have been some claims to establish sovereignty over celestial bodies. For example, a Republican, Bill Posey (R-FL), announced in July 2014 that he was introducing a bill in the US House of Representatives called the “American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities in Deep Space Act of 2014” also called “ASTEROIDS Act”. The act is designed to protect the private property rights claims for corporations wishing to mine asteroids. The key part of the legislation states that the resources mined from an asteroid would be the property of the entity undertaking the operation. This language undercuts the draft Outer Space Treaty that states that persons/corporations/nations are forbidden to claim or establish sovereignty over celestial bodies.

The other task the world community has to resolve without any delay is to destroy asteroids coming to the Earth that can hit densely populated areas.



As argued previously, outer space is a common good for all, and as such, it must remain a zone of peace and outside the bounds of conflict. Moreover, the weaponization of outer space for any purpose – whether offensive or defensive, against any space/celestial body or against an Earth-bound target – would effectively turn space objects into potential targets and turn outer space into a potential conflict zone. The Russian Federation, like the former Soviet Union, is still in favor of “Star Peace” rather than “Star Wars”. Moscow will be committed to this notion in the future as well, until proponents for weaponization of outer space prompt it to act differently. The process on non-weaponization of outer space should be accelerated until it is too late to contain it. It must be replaced by effective and real mutually beneficial cooperation in this highly important media. 


Vladimir Kozin is Head of Advisers’ Group at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, Member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences and Professor of the Academy of Military Sciences of the Russian Federation