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

Under the Presidency of George W. Bush, the 2006 US National Space Policy put forward its right to preserve “freedom of action in space and … take those actions necessary to protect its space capabilities, respond to interference, and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to US national interests”. The document also emphasized that “proposed arms control agreements or restrictions must not impair the rights of the United States to conduct research, development, testing, and operations or other activities in space for US national interests.”12

The new National Space Policy released in July 2010 by the Obama administration, suggested that there would be a significant departure from the predecessor’s standpoint. The document renounced the unilateral stance and emphasised international cooperation across a wide range of scientific exploration and national-security projects. It stated that the US would pursue bilateral and multilateral transparency and confidence-building measures (TCBM) and “consider proposals and concepts for arms control measures if they are equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhance the national security of the U.S. and its allies.”13

However, the practical implications of the signalled change were less prominent. In the eyes of the Obama administration, the joint draft treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space (PPWT) introduced by Russia and China in 2008, was “fundamentally flawed” and could not provide any grounds for commencing negotiations. At the same time, the US supported the European Union’s (EU) “Code of Conduct for Activities in Outer Space” advocating TCBMs as a better approach for improving space security. President Donald Trump’s administration has gone further making clear that “any harmful interference with or an attack upon critical components of our space architecture that directly affects this vital US interest will be met with a deliberate response at a time, place, manner, and domain of our choosing.”14

In December 2019, by signing the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, President Trump brought into existence the Space Force as a sixth branch of the US Armed Forces “whose mission will be to organize, train, and equip combat space forces”.15 Speaking on the occasion, Defence Secretary Mark Esper pointed out that “today outer space has evolved into a warfighting domain of its own” and that “maintaining American dominance in that domain is now the mission of the United States Space Force.”16

According to the current US leadership’s perspective, as outer space has become a mostly contested domain, US national security interests in space are facing growing serious challenges. The two major challengers are China and Russia. The Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency report released in February 2019, indicated, that China and Russia have developed counterspace capabilities17 that “threaten others’ ability to use space”, including ground-based missiles aimed at satellites, jamming of signals to or from satellites, ground-based directed energy weapons, kinetic-kill vehicles, and more. Both countries, emphasising the importance of space operations, have developed “robust and capable space services”