Russia’s Foreign Ministry said for ITAR-TASS on November 4, 2014, that a quite recent Russian initiative – a United Nations General Assembly draft resolution for no-first placement of weapons in the outer space – “is supported by an overwhelming majority of UN member-states”[1]. From a total number of 193 UN member-states, 126 (which means some 60 %) voted for the Russian resolution project. On the other side, only the United States, Israel, Georgia and Ukraine voted against it, the Russian ministry noted[2].

The Treaty on Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and of the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects (PPWT) “was first proposed by China and Russia in February 2008 as an international legally binding treaty that would outlaw the weaponization of space”[3] and a renovated Russian-Chinese draft treaty was submitted for consideration of the Conference on Disarmament in June, 2014.

At the UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security –which took place between October 6 and  November 5, 2014 – Mr. Christopher L. Buck, the representative of the U.S., said “the United States is especially concerned about the continued development, testing, and, ultimately, deployment of destructive anti-satellite (ASAT) systems”, and “the updated draft PPWT distracts attention from terrestrially-based  ASAT systems”[4].

The development of ASAT technology started during the Cold War. “The United States and the Soviet Union tested anti-satellite technology in the 1980s, and the United States shot down one of its orbiting satellites in 1985. Partially as a result of the debris problem, both sides stopped the programs.”[5]

But “the Pentagon’s 2003 report warned that China was developing a ‘direct-ascent ASAT system’ that could be fielded between 2005 and 2010”[6] and in 2007 that country “used a ballistic missile to destroy a orbiting satellite”[7], the episode actually being an ASAT test which created a mess of fragments fluttering through space in low orbit[8]. Soon after that, in 2008, the U.S. destroyed one of its own spy satellites using a missile launched from an Aegis cruiser, and “the operation demonstrated an inherent US capability to conduct such operations even though is not official ASAT program”[9]. Most recently, the U.S. accused China that on July 23, 2014, it conducted a non-destructive ASAT test, while China said it had conducted a missile intercept test[10].

In our opinion, we are facing now the second ‘space race’ – a very intense one – and the tensions regarding PPWT are one of its consequences. Nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction are banned from space under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, but the treaty mentions no restriction on conventional weapons in space. A rapid solution of this issue is in the interest of all actors involved, since the opposite result is likely to be a ferocious race of space weapons. On the other hand, placing potent weapons in the outer space might be a decision able to strongly boost the power status of some actors on the international arena.

[1] “Support grows for Russia’s UN initiative for no-first placement of weapons in space”, Itar-Tass, November 4, 2014, at the Internet address

[2] Idem

[3] “Treaty on Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and of the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects (PPWT)”, Council on Foreign Relations, 2008, at the Internet address

[4] Christopher BUCK, “Statement by Mr. Christopher L. Buck, Alternate Representative, Delegation of the United States of America Sixty-Ninth UNGA First Committee, Thematic Discussion on Outer Space (Disarmament Aspects)”, page 1, United Nations, October 27, 2014, at the Internet address

[5] Marc KAUFMAN and Dafna LINZER,“China Criticized for Anti-Satellite Missile Test”, Washington Post, January 19, 2007, at the Internet address

[6] Shirley KHAN, “China’s Anti-Satellite Weapon Test”, page 3-4, Federation of American Scientists, April 23, 2007, at the Internet address

[7] Richard SPENCER, “Chinese missile destroys satellite in space”, The Telegraph, January 19, 2007, at the Internet address

[8] Risks of space debris orbiting and colliding with a spacecraft were recently illustrated in the movie Gravity (2013).

[9] Marcia S. SMITH, “U.S. Accuses China of Conducting Another ASAT Test”, SpacePolicyOnline, July 25, 2014, at the Internet address

[10] Marcia S. SMITH, op.cit.

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