Space Security

Artist's Representation of Earth's Satellite Population (European Space Agency)
The United Nations General Assembly. Photo: United Nations.

The peaceful use of outer space is a central principle of international space law, set out in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (OST) and reinforced by a specific ban on the placement of weapons of mass destruction in space and on the “militarization” of the Moon or other celestial bodies. The legal regime based on the OST (with its 110 states parties) has allowed for an ever-increasing utilization of outer space free from conflict or state-to-state threats.

The benign environment facilitated by the OST has been supported by a resolution on the “Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space” (PAROS) that is adopted annually and with near unanimity by the United Nations General Assembly. This resolution calls for “further measures” to “consolidate and reinforce” the regime created by the OST and preclude an arms race in space or its weaponization.

Unfortunately, several recent developments could undermine this remarkably successful regime. During the Trump Administration, the United States characterized outer space as a “war-fighting domain”. The testing of anti-satellite weapons, long thought to be a relic of the Cold War, has been revived with China, the United States and India all having conducted destructive test intercepts of their own satellites. Several of these tests have created long-lasting space debris, adding to an already serious problem.

There is an acute need for international leadership on these issues; leadership informed by the kind of transdisciplinary research and analysis conducted by the Outer Space Institute. Some of our Fellows already contribute enormously to this field, and soon, we’ll be launching several exciting new collaborative initiatives.