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

  • plans to deploy attack weapons in space would be inevitably regarded by other space-faring nations as a threat of intentional interference, states would be encouraged to actively seek various kinds of “mirror”, “symmetric” or “asymmetric” responses to emerging threats to their national security and their space activity;• implementation of such plans may well be regarded as an infringement of national security and sovereignty, an attack on space assets would be regarded as an act of direct aggression;
  • development, testing and deployment of anti-missile and anti-satellite assets in space will stimulate use of a variety of protection systems that would greatly raise the cost of already expensive space exploration projects and force a number of nations to abandon or degrade their ongoing space programs.

Placing weapons in outer space could require launching new, multiple spacecraft into low-Earth orbit (400-1,500 km), necessitating intensive maintenance work, which will inevitably lead to a sharp increase in orbit of the amount of “space debris” threatening spacecraft of all countries operating in near-Earth space, including manned missions.

Creating an international legal regime: Initiatives to prevent the weaponisation of space

In the early 1960s there was a bilateral recognition that unimpeded development and deployment of the weapon systems in space was not in either superpower’s best national interest. This slowed down the dangerous trend of turning this type of weaponry into a dangerous and destabilising factor for global security and pushed the Soviet Union and the US to take the first steps in space arms control. This was reflected in multilateral and bilateral legal norms dealing with the weaponisation of space issue directly or indirectly, as topics of discussion or formalised as agreements.

Following the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty, a historic agreement that outlawed nuclear testing in the atmosphere, underwater, and in outer space, the international diplomacy in the course of two decades had successfully created a system of multilateral treaties establishing the international legal regime for outer space, including the celestial bodies. The international space law code comprises five legal instruments25 supplemented by five UN General Assembly resolutions26 that were based on the fundamental rules of space use.

Initially summarised in the 1963 UN “Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space” the principles announced outer space as the common heritage of humankind, open to research and peaceful uses for the benefit of all countries without any discrimination, regardless of their economic and scientific development, and regulated the rights and obligations of participants in space activities. Activities in outer