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 June 2014 Russia and China re-submitted an updated draft of the Treaty that included the amended definitions of basic terms, and proposals put forward by the interested states that sought to address objections and agree on compromises.32 Discussions on this issue have shown that the majority of countries supported the concept of the PPWT, though its further consideration has been hampered by the negative attitude on the part of the US and a few others. The George. W. Bush administration dismissed the proposal, while the Obama and the Trump administrations have continued to reject this draft treaty as well.

Presenting the US position on the new PPWT draft in August 2014, US Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament Robert Wood cited a number of issues with the draft treaty, that he called “the fundamental flaws in the PPWT’, among them the lack of a verification mechanism and no restrictions on the development and stockpiling of the “terrestrially-based ASAT systems” that are “the most pressing existing threat to outer space systems.”33

Since then, the US approach towards the development of new norms preventing an arms race in space in general, and on the PPWT draft in particular, has basically remained unchanged. Speaking on the PPWT issue in August of 2019, Ambassador Wood repeated that the “fundamentally flawed” PPWT would not be “the solution to the many threats facing the space environment” and that the peaceful uses of outer space should be pursued through bilateral and multilateral transparency and voluntary confidence-building measures, “development and advancement of norms of behavior in outer space and best practices for space operations”. As Wood said in his remarks, “the United States is willing to consider space arms control proposals and concepts that are equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhance the security of all nations… However, we have not yet seen any legally-binding proposals that meet these criteria.”34

Since 2008, in an effort to enhance the safety, security and sustainability of space activities, the European Union has been advancing a draft “International Code of Conduct for Activities in Outer Space” (the Code), as a legally non-binding “soft law” instrument, containing a set of rules for ensuring security of space exploration. The main purpose of the Code is strengthening existing UN treaties, principles and other arrangements and complement them by codifying new best practices in space operations, including notification and consultation. This should consolidate confidence and transparency among the space actors. There is an understanding between Russia and the EU on the distinction between the subject matter and legal status of the Code and the PPWT, since the European initiative does not address the issues of preventing the deployment of weapons in space, which are the subject of the PPWT draft. Despite such divergence, the Code can be seen as an important stepping-stone toward an international treaty.35