Our Writer of the Week for our week on social science and humanities papers is
Natalie Lall ‘22.
About her: “I am a Junior Theatre Performance and Political Science double major and am from Kenosha, WI. I serve as Community Relations Chair for Carthage’s Model United Nations team and work as a Student Videographer in the Office of Marketing and Communications. Outside of theatre, I enjoy spending time outdoors, doing Zumba, and reading novels by underrepresented authors.”
Her paper is titled “Policy Proposals to the Secretary General of the United Nations to Mitigate the Effects of an International Arms Race in Outer Space” and analyzes the dangers of world powers’ potential use of weapons in space and how the UN might lessen these dangers.
Our fellows thought it had great analysis and support, as well as effective organization and flow.
Ashley G: “The analysis is strongly supported and organized very well, and the ideas presented are unique and enjoyable to read about.”
Jackie: “I thought the ideas were well-explained and supported, and I appreciated how sensible and practical it was about the difficulties of the topic. It’s also concise and has a good flow.”
Natalie said of her paper, “I wrote this position paper for my International Relations class. The assignment was to write a research paper that explores an international issue and proposes creative policy solutions to address the issue. My experience in Model UN inspired me to research how to address the increasing weaponization of space. I wanted to challenge myself to learn more about a topic I was unfamiliar with. I’m proud of the research I did and of the policy proposals I’ve recommended to help mitigate an international arms race in outer space.”
Policy Proposals to the Secretary General of the United Nations to Mitigate the Effects of an International Arms Race in Outer Space
The policy recommendations explored in this paper will be presented to António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, to address how to mitigate an international arms race in outer space. The weaponization of space and member states’ increasing technological developments with regards to instruments in space necessitate multilateral agreements on what constitutes “space weapons” and how to regulate such technologies. The United Nations must organize member states to commit to peaceful missions in space and call for international cooperation to prevent the escalation of conflict in outer space.
Space has no natural boundaries or regions that can be clearly marked, so all of space is international territory (Wolverton 2019). Since the successful launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite launched in 1957 by the Soviet Union, states have had to come to terms with how to regulate the responsible and peaceful uses of space (Harrison 2020a: 1). During the Cold War Sputnik threw the United States and Soviet Union into a space race as both states sought to develop outer space capabilities. As more states began to realize the great opportunities space presented to increase military and civilian capabilities, the use of satellites and space systems became more popular (Schütz 2019: 2). Satellites are used everyday to complete phone calls, connect people to the internet, and to enable GPS systems. Soon enough, space systems had become a critical enabler for military forces as well, being used for reconnaissance, surveillance, intelligence, targeting, communication, and early warning systems. (Landale 2020). Yet, the satellites that enabled these systems are extremely vulnerable to attack by enemy states (Hennigan 2020). Thus emerged the idea of trying to achieve space superiority in order to protect vital assets in space, setting off a new space race, this time an international one. This phenomenon can be seen U.S. with the creation of the Space Force to achieve dominance through a specialized unit devoted to achieving space power (Dolman 2020: 3). Moreover, the growth of space development within the private sector requires increased regulation and oversight by the international community. Does this buildup of technologies designed to protect space assets constitute the militarization of space? Are weapons on Earth that rely on space systems to function categorized as “space weapons?” What is a space weapon?
These questions, while essential to build consensus on international policy regarding the peaceful uses of outer space, have yet to be answered. Despite the lack of a specific definition of “space weapons,” they are generally identified as either kinetic or non-kinetic. Kinetic weapons physically engage with a target in order to effect damage, whereas non-kinetic weapons hinder the ability of a target to function without making physical contact, sometimes via computer systems, microwaves, jammers, or lasers (Harrison 2020a: 6). Among kinetic weapons there is also the distinction between nuclear and conventional weapons. According to Todd Harrison from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, there are six types of space weapons: 1) Earth-to-Space kinetic 2) Earth-to-Space non-kinetic 3) Space-to-Space kinetic 4) Space-to-Space non-kinetic 5) Space-to-Earth kinetic 6) Space-to-Earth non-kinetic (Harrison 2020a: 6). The U.S., Russia, China, and India all have demonstrated direct-ascent ASAT (anti-satellite weapon) capabilities (Earth-to-space kinetic weapons). ASAT weapons are designed to interfere with enemy satellites in space and they are frequently referred to as counterspace weapons (Harrison, Johnson, Roberts, Way and Young 2020b: 21). None of these weapons, in non-nuclear versions, have yet to be banned from outer space.
In 1959, the UN General Assembly established the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) to address these issues facing the international community (COPUOS). Through this body, member states have agreed to ban nuclear weapons in space and since the Partial Test Ban Treaty was signed in 1963, no nuclear tests have been conducted in space by any state (Harrison 2020a: 9). Another, perhaps more critical treaty, is The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 which prohibits nuclear-armed space-to-space as well as all forms of space-to-space weapons and space-to-Earth kinetic weapons from being tested and used in military maneuvers on other celestial bodies (Johnson 2018). This still does not prohibit conventional weapons. However, the Liability Convention of 1972 made a launching state liable for any damages either intentional or unintentional for space-to-Earth damage or space-to-space damage. The most recent treaty, the Moon Agreement of 1979 (ratified in 1984), emphasizes ideas expressed in the Outer Space Treaty and affirms the peaceful uses of outer space. Moreover, it states that space belongs to all of mankind and that any operations on the Moon or other celestial bodies should be communicated to the United Nations (Johnson 2018). However, this treaty was only ratified by 18 nations not including the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, and Germany.
None of these treaties provide definitions for what constitutes a “space weapon.” It is still disputed whether a space weapon is necessarily an offensive weapon or whether it can be a defensive weapon with offensive capabilities. In 2005 UN member states signed a non-binding document titled the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS), advocating for a ban on the weaponization of space without clear definitions for space weapons. Also in 2005 the General Assembly began a new annual process for exploring and developing transparency and confidence-building measures (TCBMs) in outer space activities (Harrison 2020a: 12). As a result, a group of governmental experts delivered a report that encouraged the free sharing of information among member states with regards to activity in space as well as promoting openness, cooperation, and coordination in space operations (Johnson 2014).
Despite these recommendations, however, several states including the U.S., Russia, and China have continued to develop their space capabilities to enhance civilian as well as military operations. In 2014, Russia and China proposed a treaty titled the “Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects,” otherwise known as PPWT. The PPWT only narrowly defined space weapons and did not include Earth-to-space weapons such as direct-ascent ASAT weapons (Harrison 2020a: 12). Other states did not agree with the PPWT, including many European states, who instead drafted a Code of Conduct for space at the United Nations in 2007 (Harrison 2020a: 13). The EU Code of Conduct would limit weapons stationed on Earth and in space (unlike the PPWT). Several countries, however, including Brazil, disputed the EU Code of Conduct because it justified the use of force in space when used as an act of self-defense. Ultimately, the EU Code of Conduct did not pass and the PPWT has yet to be adopted since its latest draft was proposed in 2014 (Tuma 2019: 6). In December 2015, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 70/27 on weapons in outer space and urged negotiations on the PPWT and encouraged states to not be the first to place weapons in outer space (Harrison, 2020a: 16). However, this assumes that no weapons have already been placed there.
Overall, a lack of consensus on what makes a “space weapon” and how to enforce agreements on uses of outer space have led to little progress in negotiating international agreements that would limit testing and use of weapons in outer space (Harrison 2020a: 22). Another issue compounding disputes over space systems includes limiting the amount of orbital debris certain operations generate and how to hold offending states accountable. Generally, the primary issue with regards to a space race is that most states view it as their right to build up and test defensive capabilities to prepare for a potential attack, but the building up of powerful space defense mechanisms generates fear among other states. At this point, it seems a space race has already begun, or maybe it never came to a halt after the Cold War. It is now the responsibility of the United Nations to facilitate international cooperation and dialogue to mitigate the effects of an increasingly militarized outer space.
Three policy alternatives will be presented and evaluated on how to best mitigate the effects of an international space race. The first option is to create a data and communications platform organized by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) to monitor the behavior of all man-made objects in space to increase transparency and confidence building among member states. This platform would serve as a dynamic database that would provide current updates on the activities of all member states’ space operations and projects including military and non-military technologies. The purpose of this database is to reduce misunderstandings among states to prevent the escalation of conflict in space. A communications platform that is regularly updated would also reduce the likelihood of accidents and miscalculations or misunderstandings among member states or commercial actors that could result in the use of violence against perceived threats (Landale 2020). This data platform would also include registration updates approved by the United Nations Register of Objects Launched into Outer Space to increase awareness of new objects being launched into space. Currently only the U.S. has a “Space Track” program that regularly shares updates of potential collisions with other governments and the private sector (Hitchens, 2019: 13).
However, without creating a legally binding treaty that requires states to share their space operations and activities via this platform, states would continue to be distrustful of one another and their motivations for activities in space. This database would most likely be managed by COPUOS, however, it would require representatives or representative organizations from each member state to update the database. In order to guarantee that states are complying with the sharing of all important information with regards to space operations and systems, careful oversight by COPUOS would be necessary. Perhaps an independent standing committee should be formed consisting of experts from a variety of member states to monitor the database and its proper usage. This would require funding as well as broad support among member states. However, due to the distrust of some member states towards others, it seems that unless COPUOS could guarantee that no secret operations could be hidden from the database, the ability of this platform to increase transparency among member states would be limited.
Another policy alternative is to create a legally binding treaty in which the terms “space object,” “armed attack” (in the context of violence against space objects), and “space weapon” are defined. This treaty would then ban all objects considered space weapons from being placed in outer space. Consensus on these key terms would allow the international community to move forward in creating international policy on acceptable objects or actions in space. It is important that this treaty address non-nuclear space weapons including ASAT technology, which is meant for defense, but can be used as an offensive weapon as well.
Acquiring consensus on definitions for these important terms, however, has proved extremely challenging over the past sixty years. It is unlikely that the entire international community will ever agree on what constitutes a space weapon or when the use of force in space is justified. For this reason, it is perhaps advisable to encourage blocs of states to agree on definitions for these terms so that there are several definitions of each term among the international community. At the very least this would build consensus within at least some groups of member states. Moreover, even with definitions of these terms alongside a clear outline of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors in space, how would states be held accountable for violations of these policies? It’s also possible that states could conceal their inappropriate behaviors and keep them secret from the international community, avoiding consequences for illegal behaviors or operations. Overall, building general support for such a comprehensive treaty would prove difficult.
The final policy that will be reviewed is the creation of a new organization titled the International Space Organization (ISO) to regulate activities in outer space and hold states accountable for violating international law. This organization would be responsible for settling disputes among states with regards to damages caused by objects launched into space as well as to hold states accountable for any violations of internationally approved policy. Similar to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) ability to settle trade disputes among states, this organization would independently evaluate the actions of all member states involved in a dispute and mediate the resolution of any conflicts that cannot be solved through diplomacy, thus preventing the need for military involvement (DeFrieze 2020: 14). States that offend the agreed-upon policies for activities in outer space could be subject to economic penalties such as sanctions or other consequences that would deter states from committing offenses. The ISO would focus on evaluating the behavior of states’ operations in space rather than on the capabilities of their technology in space, which would reduce the reliance on a clear definition of terms such as “space weapon” or “armed attack” to hold states accountable for offenses. This organization would also regulate the long-lasting debris in Earth’s orbit and hold states accountable for violating agreed-upon limits of debris. Like the WTO, the ISO should serve to facilitate multilateral consultations and then move to a dispute settlement panel that will issue a ruling and the subsequent implementation of the ruling (Grozoubinski 2020: 8).
While this organization would help uphold international agreements with regards to space operations, member states would have to enumerate unacceptable behaviors in space. This would require a signed agreement to be put in place before the ISO would have the authority to enforce any policy. As stated above, gaining consensus on appropriate behaviors and definitions on key terms has proven difficult. This agreement would also have to include the amount of debris that would be acceptable after test launches of new defensive technology in space, building off the UN Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines (Hitchens 2019: 9). Moreover, this organization would need the ability to punish states who act out of accordance with international policies as well as establishing the criteria for a “launching state” to easily determine who is accountable for specific actions as more and more states launch space objects on behalf of others (Hitchens 2018: 18). Perhaps violating parties would be barred from access to global space research and potential funding for space programs in addition to violations being grounds for issuing sanctions. Most importantly, the ISO would have to be viewed as legitimate and its authority would need to be respected by member states. Without confidence in the neutrality of this organization, states might not accept the outcomes of dispute settlements. Modeling this organization on the WTO could prove useful in creating a stable and strong organization that helps create an international mechanism for states to settle conflicts that emerge from space operations.
Therefore, with each of these policy alternatives in mind, the recommended policy to the Secretary-General will be a combination of all three possibilities. The creation of a new organization (ISO) will enforce a new international agreement that outlines acceptable and unacceptable behavior in space and will therefore help prevent the escalation of conflict in space among states as well as commercial actors. This organization would moreover have to have the means to punish member states and commercial actors who violate this agreement. Additionally, this organization would oversee the implementation of a data and communications platform that would publicize member states’ space and commercial actors’ operations and activities to increase transparency and confidence building. Experts from space programs in both the private and governmental sectors from across the globe would make up this impartial committee to assess the behaviors of space operations and systems made public through the new and comprehensive database. While the agreement used to assess behaviors in space might not include specific definitions of the terms “space weapon” and “space attack,” the agreement would include a comprehensive overview of inappropriate behavior in space. The successful integration of these policies would allow member states to cooperate and coordinate space missions peacefully and transparently, preventing the escalation of conflict in outer space.
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