FOURTH COMMITTEE BEGINS DEBATE ON PEACEFUL USES OF OUTER SPACE; MISSILE DEFENCE SYSTEMS, OUTER SPACE LAW AMONG ISSUES ADDRESSED

22 October 2001
GA/SPD/218

FOURTH COMMITTEE BEGINS DEBATE ON PEACEFUL USES OF OUTER SPACE; MISSILE DEFENCE SYSTEMS, OUTER SPACE LAW AMONG ISSUES ADDRESSED

22/10/2001
Press ReleaseGA/SPD/218

Fifty-sixth General Assembly

Fourth Committee

10th Meeting (PM)

FOURTH COMMITTEE BEGINS DEBATE ON PEACEFUL USES OF OUTER SPACE;

MISSILE DEFENCE SYSTEMS, OUTER SPACE LAW AMONG ISSUES ADDRESSED

A few countries were still trying to monopolize the exploration and use of outer space, the representative of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea told the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this afternoon, as it began considering international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space.

He said it was preposterous to describe the space activities of the developed countries as peaceful, while describing the same activities carried out by developing countries as missile tests.  The fictitious theory of a missile threat from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea could not justify a space-based missile-defence system.  His country’s missile programme was of a purely peaceful nature, and an exercise of a legitimate sovereign right.  It threatened nobody he added, and the United States should immediately stop developing a missile defence system.

Belgium's representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said international law placed strict limits on the use of outer space for military purposes.  The Conference on Disarmament and other relevant international bodies must be fully active in examining that question.  The Union supported the development of international outer space law and, where appropriate, international agreements on the various practical and peaceful applications of space science and technology.

Chile's representative, speaking on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) and associated States, said that principles of space law, including the principle of equity, were clearly indispensable in assuring better living conditions through space technology.  Despite progress in the development of such technology, a large percentage of mankind still did not share in its benefits.  Another significant percentage lacked a clear awareness of its great potential. 

Hasmy Agam, (Malaysia), Chairman of the Fourth Committee, noted before the general debate that 40 years ago, Yuri Gagarin became the first human being in space.  Twenty years ago, the first manned reusable spacecraft, the Space Shuttle, was launched, stimulating ordinary people's dreams of voyaging in outer space.  Today, astronauts and cosmonauts worked together on the International Space Station, initially involving 16 nations, by far the largest scientific project ever attempted.  Outer space, once seen as a potential source of conflict, had become a source of cooperation, he added.

Raimundo Gonzalez Aninat (Chile), Chairman of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, introduced that body's report.  Regarding the expansion of the Committee's membership, he said it had agreed to terminate the sharing of rotating seats between Cuba and Peru, as well as between the Republic of Korea and Malaysia.  It had been agreed that those countries, in addition to Saudi Arabia and Slovakia, should become full members.

Other speakers in today's debate were the representatives of Libya and China.

The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. Tuesday, 23 October, to continue its consideration of international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space.

Background

When the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) began its general debate on the peaceful uses of outer space this morning, it had before it the report of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (document A/56/20).  The report summarizes the outcome of the Committee’s latest session, as well as those of its subcommittees -- the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee and the Legal Subcommittee, -- all of which took place during 2001 in Vienna.  Those sessions addressed the promotion of international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space, taking into particular account the needs of developing countries, through the Committee’s scientific, technical, and legal expertise.

The report states that the Committee, in its 2001 meetings, considered strengthening the implementation of the recommendations of the Third United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE III), through the establishment of action teams for priority topics.  Among the recommendations of that conference that had been assigned highest priority by Member States, it identified using space for environmental monitoring, natural resource management, disaster management, universal access to navigation and positioning systems, and research for sustainable development.  It also identified, as a priority, the promotion of awareness of the importance of space activities.

According to the report, the Committee recommended that, at its forty-fifth session in 2002, it should continue its consideration of the agenda item entitled "Ways and means of maintaining outer space for peaceful purposes," on a priority basis.  It also considered the recent work of its subcommittees.

The Scientific and Technical Subcommittee reported on several topics.  Regarding the United Nations Programme on Space Application, the strategy was described as one which would concentrate on a few themes of major importance for developing countries, establishing objectives that could be reached in the short and medium term.  Those themes were:  disaster management; satellite communications for tele-education and tele-medicine applications; monitoring and protection of the environment, including prevention of infectious diseases; management of natural resources; and education and research in the basic space sciences.  The Programme would also promote capacity-building in enabling technologies -- such as the use of Global Positioning Systems -- and other spin-offs of space technology, promoting the participation of private industry in its activities.

In those areas, the Committee noted progress made in the preceding years and endorsed a list of conferences, training courses, fellowships and workshops around the world.  It also noted that the Programme had provided technical advisory services involving regional space applications, and had promoted cooperation in space science and technology.  Dissemination of space information and coordination of space activities, regionally and within the United Nations system, were also discussed.  It was noted that the activities of the Programme would support, where feasible, the action teams established by the Committee to implement the recommendations of UNISPACE III.

In other areas of concern to the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee, the Committee considered matters related to the remote sensing of the earth from outer space, the use of nuclear power sources in outer space, strengthening inter-agency cooperation in space applications, implementation of a global, space-based natural disaster management system; space debris, geo-stationary orbit for the benefits of developing countries; and activities to promote education in space science and engineering. 

Obtrusive space advertising, geo-stationary orbit, and mobilization of funds for capacity development in space science and technology were named single issue/items for discussion in the draft provisional agenda for the next session of the Subcommittee.

The Legal Subcommittee reported on its fortieth session, at which it reviewed the status of international treaties governing the uses of outer space and information on the activities of international organizations relating to space law.  It also reported on efforts to delineate concepts for legal address of outer space issues, such as the concept of the "launching state," and the definition and delimitation of outer space itself.  It reviewed work devoted to ensuring the rational and equitable use of the geo-stationary orbit without prejudice to the role of the International Telecommunications Union. 

The Committee agreed that the item "Review and possible revision of the Principles Relevant to the Use of Nuclear Power Sources in Outer Space" should be retained as a single issue/item for discussion at the forty-first session of the Legal Subcommittee, in 2002.  The Committee also agreed to consider the draft convention of the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (Unidroit) on international interests in mobile equipment and its preliminary draft on space property. 

In other matters discussed in the report, the Committee agreed that spin-offs of space technology were yielding substantial benefits for human health, the world environment, natural resource exploration, agriculture, hydrology, disaster monitoring, telecommunications, and transportation.  In promoting spin-off benefits and effective space applications, particularly in the case of developing countries, the Committee agreed that capacity-building was of primary importance.  Finally, the Committee considered membership enlargement, meetings of the near future, and the proposed new agenda item entitled "Space and society."

The Committee also had before it a letter dated 19 July 2001 from the Chairman of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space to the Secretary-General (document A/56/306), recommending that major United Nations conferences should consider the contributions of space science and technology to a greater extent, taking into particular account the needs of developing countries.  By its annex, the letter conveys the subject matter and membership of the 11 action teams, led by governments, which have been established to implement priority recommendations of UNISPACE III.

Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General’s report on implementation of the recommendations of UNISPACE III.

The report (document A/56/394) states that, by its Vienna Declaration on Space and Human Development, the July 1999 UNISPACE III identified common goals to be pursued by the international community in carrying out space-related activities for the benefit of humanity and articulated measures to achieve those goals.  Those measures include actions to be taken by the Secretariat’s Office for Outer Space Affairs, such as strengthening the United Nations Programme on Space Applications.  Others are building partnerships with industry and non-governmental entities, facilitating the participation of young people, establishing World Space Week each year from 4 to 10 October, and enhancing funding methods to support those activities.

According to the report, the Programme on Space Applications was reoriented in conjunction with the recommendations of UNISPACE III, by which it would promote, through international cooperation, greater use of space technologies and data for sustainable development in developing countries.  That effort includes capacity-building to enable developing countries to utilize space technologies, particularly in disaster management, satellite communications (including distance education), positioning and navigation systems, tele-medicine, natural resource management and environmental monitoring.

In that effort, the Office for Outer Space Affairs proposed to launch a series of training modules and to provide assistance to initiate demonstrations or pilot projects.  It also proposed to strengthen technical advisory services in astronomy and the planetary sciences, including support for developing countries to participate in space research and observation.  Many such activities, planned for 2001 or already carried out, are described in Section III of the report.

The report states that the involvement of industry in pursuing the goals of UNISPACE III has begun to be fostered in symposia between representatives of satellite-service industries and the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee, with further symposia planned.  The Office for Outer Space Affairs has also initiated public outreach programmes, including a series of symposia on enhancing the participation of youth in space activities; and World Space Week, the first of which took place in the year 2000, with special events that focused on the use of space technology for the benefit of humanity.

The report concludes that there has been increasing synergy among the efforts of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and its subsidiary bodies towards the goals identified by UNISPACE III.  Those efforts, if supported by all governments, all organizations of the United Nations system and many non-governmental organizations and industries, would make great strides possible, in time for the 2004 General Assembly appraisal. That is, the expanded use of space science and technology will have led to noticeable changes in the human condition and to global recognition of the usefulness of space tools to enhance human development and security.

Statements

HASMY AGAM (Malaysia), Chairman of the Fourth Committee, said 2001 was a special year in the history of space exploration.  Forty years ago, Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to appreciate the beauty of the Earth from outer space.  Twenty years ago, the first manned reusable spacecraft, the Space Shuttle, was launched, stimulating ordinary people's dreams of voyaging in outer space.  Today, astronauts and cosmonauts worked together on the International Space Station, initially involving 16 nations, by far the largest scientific project ever attempted.

History had demonstrated that outer space, once seen as a potential source of conflict, had become a source of cooperation, he said.  Many scientific achievements in outer space were possible because scientists and governments worked together across political borders.  The permanent presence of humans in outer space had become a reality, as nations pulled together to share their expertise and resources.

He said the United Nations had played a pivotal role in promoting cooperation among nations to explore the final frontier.  The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and its Legal Subcommittee continued to play an essential role in the progressive development of international law at a time of rapid developments in outer space.

RAIMUNDO GONZALEZ ANINAT (Chile), Chairman of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space introduced that body's report, saying it had increased the opportunity for developing countries to receive training in space applications through the creation and expansion of the United Nations Programme on Space Applications.  It had also been instrumental in establishing the international legal regime governing outer space activities.

He said the Committee had ensured the successful convening of the UNISPACE III.  That gathering had unanimously adopted the Vienna Declaration as a common global strategy to expand the benefits of space science and technology and their applications to enhance human security and development.  However, the benefits and potential of space science and technology had not been fully taken into account by recent global United Nations international conferences.  The Committee recognized that its challenge was to establish a clear link between space benefits and the priority United Nations goals in human security and development.

Outlining the Committee's work, he said its Scientific and Technical Subcommittee had begun considering a new item:  "Implementation of an integrated space-based global natural disaster management system".  Another new item was entitled "Government and private activities to promote education in space science and engineering".  Regarding the use of nuclear power sources in outer space, the Subcommittee had reviewed national and international processes, proposals and standards relevant to their launch and peaceful use.

He said the Legal Subcommittee had considered a new agenda item entitled "Consideration of the draft convention of the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (Unidroit) on international interests in mobile equipment and the preliminary draft protocol thereto on matters specific to space property".

The Outer Space Committee had reached consensus agreement on terminating the sharing of rotating seats between Cuba and Peru, as well as between the Republic of Korea and Malaysia, he said.  It had been agreed that those countries, in addition to Saudi Arabia and Slovakia, should become members.

CELINE CERVI (Belgium), on behalf of the European Union and associated countries, said that the report of the Outer Space Committee was a valuable tool in its area of competence and commended the Office for Outer Space Affairs for its excellent work during the year.  The Union welcomed the implementation of the recommendations of UNISPACE III, and the pragmatic way that it had been organized.  The vast programme called for a mobilization of energies, so that developing countries could take part and benefit from access to technologies and advances related to outer space.

The Union, he said, was delighted by the progress in the matter of space debris.  A debate on the problems caused by such debris, in international law, deserved to be added without delay to the agenda of the Legal Subcommittee.  The Union’s outer space policy was one of innovations and applications for the good of society.  He mentioned the development, in cooperation with the European Space Agency, of a civilian satellite navigation system and the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES), which provided information and control of climate changes, degradation of natural resources and natural and industrial disasters.

International law, he said, placed strict limits on the use of outer space for military purposes.  The Conference on Disarmament and other bodies concerned must be fully active in examining that question.  The Union supported the development of international space law and, where appropriate, international agreements on the various practical and peaceful applications of space science and technology.  He urged the Committee to promote United Nations space treaties concerning outer space.  In sum, the Union was pleased to see renewed impetus in the Committee’s activities, including cooperation across varied sectors.  Outer space must be used in peace and for peace.

GABRIEL VALDES (Chile), speaking on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) and associated States, said that despite progress in the development of space technology, a large percentage of mankind still did not share in its benefits.  Another significant percentage lacked a clear awareness of the great potential of that technology for present and future generations.  Consequently, the meaning and systematic inclusion of the relevant principles of space law, including the principle of equity, were clearly indispensable elements for assuring better living conditions.

There was an urgent need to mitigate natural disasters that constantly threatened mankind and which, because of their frequency, had become part of daily reality, he said.  Appropriate technologies must be developed to attenuate their consequences and save lives.  MERCOSUR firmly supported the work to be done by the expert group studying the implementation of a global disaster management system based on the use of space technology.

He stressed the need to promote education in isolated and rural areas by coordinating distance learning programmes via satellites.  In that way equality of access could be provided to the entire population and there would no longer be segments of the population that were more privileged than others.  It would thus be possible to overcome the knowledge and technology gaps separating the developing countries from more developed and dynamic societies.

The development of the Earth's environment, he pointed out, would be impossible without adequate information obtained from the use of satellite technology, such as remote sensing.  For developing countries, information was of the greatest importance in acquiring methods for protecting the environment and promoting sustainable development for all peoples.

He said technology must be made available to people for their happiness, and not to promote hatred, differences and incompatible realities.  Today, the feeling of power and well-being conferred by technological development was very fragile, particularly if the benefits were not shared by all.  Human security could not be reduced to a portion of mankind, but must be seen in its broader sense, incorporating not only the planet's present inhabitants, but also future generations and the environment.

RI KYONG IL (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) expressed appreciation for the Outer Space Committee’s report, but said that in the three years since UNISPACE III no substantial achievements had been made in the implementation of the Vienna Declaration.  A few countries were still trying to monopolize the exploration and use of outer space, while developing countries were further marginalized in those efforts.  The militarization of outer space had been pursued more openly and had drawn the concern of the international community.  The United States’ attempt to establish a missile defence system portended a new arms race in outer space.

If outer space, the common property of humankind, was to be a peaceful place contributing to the welfare of all, then all countries should be able to participate and benefit equally in its exploration he said.  It was preposterous to say that the related activities of the developed countries were peaceful, while the same activities carried out by developing countries were missile tests.  Technologies and information derived through such activities should be shared. 

The militarization of outer space, he said, must urgently be checked.  The United States’ fictitious theory of a missile threat from his country could not justify a space-based missile-defence system.  His country’s missile programme, he said, was of a purely peaceful nature, carried out as a legitimate sovereign right.  It threatened nobody.  The United States wanted to achieve a military monopoly in outer space.  It should immediately stop the establishment of the missile defence system, and the Legal Subcommittee should seriously consider measures to check such militarization.  In addition, the United States should respect the right of developing countries to explore outer space. 

With the launching of its first satellite in August 1998, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea entered into a new stage of its contribution to global science and technology, he said.  On the basis of such achievements, it would push ahead with the further exploration of outer space, for its own economic development and in cooperation with other countries.

SALEH SHEBANI (Libya) said his country paid great attention to the subject of the peaceful uses of outer space, because of the need to harness space science and technology for economic development and to mitigate natural disasters.  Research in that field also helped to improve health and medical services, as well as combat desertification.

He said Libya followed with interest the work of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee on the peaceful uses of outer space.  At UNISPACE III in Vienna, Libya had presented a paper on the establishment of its remote-sensing centre.  The centre had taken part in technical and scientific projects organized by specialized institutions in other States and regions.

Libya emphasized the need to use outer space for peaceful purposes only and called for an end to the arms race there.  Outer space was a common heritage of all mankind and should be used only for humanitarian purposes.  It should be spared the tensions affecting the international scene.

SU WEI (China) said his country noted with the appreciation the accession of the former rotating members of the Outer Space Committee to full membership.

Referring to General Assembly resolution 55/122 of December 2000, he said that the Outer Space Committee, at its thirty-first session, had continued to consider the peaceful uses of outer space as a priority item.  Since the weaponization of outer space was becoming increasingly obvious, concrete actions were needed to prevent an arms race there.  That should be a basic condition for attainment of the common benefits to be gained through the peaceful uses of outer space, as reaffirmed by UNISPACE III.

He said the Vienna Declaration contained many recommendations and had aroused much attention during this year's session of the Committee.  The Committee had decided that those recommendations could be carried out in various stages and had appointed coordinators to report progress in 2002.  That mechanism was conducive to implementing urgent activities in outer space as soon as possible, within existing resources.

China appreciated the expansion of the international regime to cover space property along with the development of the commercial use of outer space, he said.  Owing to legal questions, it was necessary to formulate the necessary legal regulations.  In view of the central role of the Outer Space Committee in the codification of that international legal regime, China endorsed the Legal Subcommittee's role in developing the preliminary draft protocol on space property.

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For information media. Not an official record.