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

In 1985, the UNCD established an ad hoc committee to identify and examine issues relevant to PAROS such as the legal protection of satellites, nuclear power systems in space, and various confidence-building measures. The US consistently refused to negotiate PAROS in the UNCD. Finally, discussions about PAROS in UNCD came to a standstill in 1995, when China insisted on linking PAROS to the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, which was considered unacceptable by Washington. Soon after that China and the Russian Federation proposed to advance negotiations on a jointly submitted draft treaty on preventing the weaponisation of outer space. Among other multilateral efforts aimed at achieving tangible progress in tackling the PAROS issue was the initiative to adopt measures to improve and ensure transparency and build confidence in outer space activities, put forward by the Russian Federation in UN General Assembly sessions since 2005 that enjoyed support from an overwhelming majority.

In 2004, trying to make progress, Russia undertook a unilateral political commitment not to be the first state to deploy weapons in space. Washington refused to support this step. Further, such commitment has been recorded in the joint communiques of the Russian Federation with various countries demonstrating its adherence to the policies of transparency and mutual trust in space.

In 2010, the UN General Assembly made renewed efforts on PAROS establishing a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Transparency and Confidence Building Measures for Outer Space Activities to conduct a study starting in 2012. In 2017 the GGE was re-established with the mandate to consider and make recommendations on substantial elements of a future international legally binding instrument on the prevention of an arms race in outer space.

Russia and China have, despite the UNCD’s deadlock, continued to push for the UNCD to negotiate measures related to PAROS. In 2002, they submitted a joint working paper on “Possible Elements for a Future International Legal Agreement on the Prevention of the Deployment of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects.” Further on in 2008, both countries officially submitted a draft treaty in Geneva. It was the first “full-size” draft of a legal document of this nature since 1983, called the “Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects” (PPWT). The PPWT explicitly obliged the parties “not to place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying any kind of weapons, not to install such weapons on celestial bodies, and not to station such weapons in outer space in any other manner”. The draft contained basic definitions of “weapons in outer space”, what would be considered as “a weapon ‘placed’ in outer space“, what actions should be considered as “use of force” or “threat of force”, etc. It also reiterated the realisation by the Parties of the sovereign right to self-defense in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter and included a clause on confidence-building measures to “facilitate assurance of compliance with the Treaty provisions and to pro- mote transparency.”31