In Search of a Legal Solution to the Weaponisation of Space: A Russian Perspective

Author: Zvedre, Y. K.
Published in National Security Journal, 09 July 2020

Earlier in April, the US Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-Proliferation, Christopher Ford, delivered a keynote address on the military aspects of space exploration, raising a number of complaints against Russia and China, sharply criticising both countries for “irresponsible actions that obviously represent quite a remarkable and provocative escalation of military posture in outer space, … demonstrate the dangerous degree to which Moscow and Beijing have already weaponised the space domain in threatening ways” (emphasis in the original), developing and deploying the latest anti-satellite missiles.23

Responding to the above accusations, Sergei Ryabkov, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, pointed out that the problems arose due to the fact that the US “has been shaking strategic stability in various aspects for a long time and is rapidly preparing to deploy strike assets in outer space, including for missile defense”. Ryabkov, however, assured that “we will continue the work there to bring to our American colleagues the logic according to which space is not a sphere where it is possible to impose your ideas and concepts on the entire international community.”24 Notably, it became known about the same time, that the parties agreed as part of the Russian-American Strategic Dialogue to set up an ad hoc working group on outer space to substantively discuss space security issues. This step looks absolutely reasonable, as the safe and unimpeded use of outer space has become an utmost priority of the international security agenda.

The global community relies ever more on space-based technology for defence, civil, scientific and commercial purposes. Indeed, space is becoming more and more a congested and competitive domain, and the potential threat to space objects is growing. It seems appropriate to briefly dwell here on the character of geopolitical and geo-eco- nomic effect that, from Moscow’s standpoint, may occur should the plans to weaponise space be realised. Certainly, the list of potential consequences and threats is far from exhaustive but the most significant are listed below:

  • the existing international security architecture would be undermined, the world would be pushed towards a new arms race, and not only in outer space, thus ne- gating decades of efforts to reduce confrontation, curb the arms race and prevent proliferation of WMD and rocket means of delivery;
  • any attempt by the US to implement such scenario would represent a deliberate intention to achieve a unilateral military superiority, using a space attack system, if developed, tested and deployed, as a new, extremely de-stabilising type of strategic weaponry;
  • the fundamental principles of the peaceful outer space exploration that have been ruling space activities of all states for six decades would be compromised, outer space would be turned into an arena of military stand-off making useless further dialogue on strengthening space security in the interests of humankind;