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 January 2012, the US announced it would work with the EU to advance the Code, considering it as a sufficiently good foundation for developing an international arrangement based on voluntary confidence-building measures helping to prevent accidents and mistrust in outer space. In his abovementioned remarks, Ambassador Wood emphasised the use of nonbinding agreements encouraging transparency and confidence-building mechanisms as a better approach for improving space security.

Significant discussions on the PAROS issue in preceding decades in the UN and other forums have defined areas of controversy, as well as identified common interests on which most states could agree. From Moscow’s viewpoint, the multinational effort towards this goal must be continued in encouraging political momentum to support the joint efforts of politicians, diplomats and military experts to work out an international legal regulation of the remaining “grey” zone of definitions and terminology. Such an approach would have been a more effective and a far less laborious solution compared to lengthy and complex negotiations to reduce and eliminate weapons already deployed.

The above-quoted statement by the US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Ford might suggest a welcome departure from a rather rigid approach demonstrated by the US in the Geneva Conference debates. Ford rather traditionally rejected the Russian-China initiative, branding it a “dangerous and hypocritical” attempt “to constrain the United States and our allies without either Moscow or Beijing having the slightest intention of abiding by the commitments they are proffering.” But he positively evaluated the work on PAROS done by the EU with the Code by the UN Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and the Group of Governmental Experts. Most importantly, according to Ford, “the U.S. diplomats are looking, in other words, to work constructively with their counterparts in other spacefaring nations to develop approaches to outer space norms.”36 Perhaps, opening consultations on space security within the Russian- American Strategic Dialogue between the Russian Ministry of Foreign Relations and the US Department of State, would be a good lead towards resuming mutual effort to prevent an arms race in outer space, no matter how ambitious such assumption might look for the current situation in the Russian-US relations.

In Russia’s opinion, the PPWT draft, or basic elements of it, could serve as a good starting point for developing a future legally binding international norm. Over the years, Russia and China have proposed initiatives to address the issue of PAROS, and the key one is the PPWT draft. Both major spacefaring nations would strongly object to any attempt to off-handedly dismiss it. It has been repeatedly tabled as an official negotiating document on space non-weaponisation and received strong support from a majority of the UN member-states. Once the PPWT becomes the subject of formal discussions, be it in bilateral or trilateral consultations, or within the UN format, it could merge into a commonly acceptable plan or road map for how to move forward towards a future diplomatic solution of the space arms control problem.