As Fourth, First Committees Hold Joint Meeting, Speakers Stress Need for Holistic Handling of Outer Space Security, Sustainability

GA/DIS/3531
22 October 2015
Seventieth Session, 13th Meeting (PM)

As Fourth, First Committees Hold Joint Meeting, Speakers Stress Need for Holistic Handling of Outer Space Security, Sustainability

Discussion Also Covers International Code of Conduct, Confidence-Building Measures

As major cross-cutting issues, outer space security and sustainability must be addressed in a holistic manner within multilateral forums, senior United Nations officials in the field of outer space affairs emphasized today as they addressed a joint ad hoc meeting of the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) and the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security).

“Today’s meeting proves that we are on the right track,” said Victor L. Vasiliev, Chair of the Group of Governmental Experts on Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities.  Discussing “possible challenges to space security and sustainability”, he said the joint meeting would add to the synergies among different United Nations entities dealing with space security.

Kim Won-Soo, Under Secretary-General and Acting High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said there was growing recognition of the need to comprehensively address the cross-cutting aspects of outer space and disarmament.  The Group of Governmental Experts had been able to achieve consensus on transparency and confidence-building measures as well as increased cooperation among United Nations entities, he said, adding that Member States also continued discussions aimed at finding a way forward.

Agreeing that the challenges to the security of space activities were multilateral in nature, Peter Martinez, Chair of the Working Group on the Long‑Term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, said, via video conference, that the international community now had the chance to work together to preserve and protect the space environment for use by future generations.

Simonetta Di Pippo, Director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, said the Outer Space Committee had positioned itself at the forefront of the overarching global sustainable development process, including by addressing challenges to space security and sustainability.

Taking the floor following those introductory statements, a number of delegations expressed support for the meeting.  “This joint meeting will serve as a starting point to a more structured discussion on how to respond effectively to space challenges,” said the Republic of Korea’s representative.  Outer space was becoming ever more congested, contested and competitive, and a holistic approach was needed in order to effectively counter those risks.  A practical, flexible and integrated approach was crucial in dealing with outer space issues, she stressed.

Sweden’s representative said the international community could no longer make a distinction between civilian and military satellites, and the space debris created by both types of activities.  Most, if not all, space assets had dual-use applications and capabilities.  To mitigate the impact of space debris and keep outer space free of conflict, the United Nations must address military and civilian activities jointly, she emphasized, noting that the Outer Space Committee’s work and its guidelines on long-term sustainability bridged the divide between military and civilian space initiatives.  Similarly, an international code of conduct would circumvent the artificial divide between civil and military definitions of space assets and uses.

However, some delegates saw a need to distinguish between the civilian and scientific aspects of space in the Fourth Committee and those matters relating to the First Committee.  For his part, Israel’s representative emphasized that such a distinction was critical to allowing the fair professional treatment and promotion of the broad spectrum of issues within both committees.  “We can’t afford to delay the advancement of scientific initiatives and the cooperation in research that will allow us to reap the benefits of space to mankind,” he said.

Many speakers addressed the issue of transparency and confidence-building measures as a means of strengthening security and ensuring sustainability in space.  In that vein, the representative of the European Union expressed his support for such measures, saying that the deeply integrated nature of human activity in outer space demanded improved and holistic international governance, as envisaged in the proposed non-legally binding international code of conduct.

Addressing possible negotiations on such a code, South Africa’s representative said a voluntary, non-discriminatory instrument aimed at building confidence in outer space activities should be based on consensus.  While South Africa would support a code of conduct, it should not supplant the work of the Outer Space Committee on legally binding measures to prevent an arms race in outer space.

Also speaking today were representatives of Indonesia (on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement), United States, Australia, Japan, Russian Federation, Switzerland, Brazil, China, Italy, France, Cuba, India, Argentina, Pakistan and Chile.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Friday, 23 October, to begin its general debate on the effects of atomic radiation.

Background

The Fourth (Special Political and Decolonization) and First (Disarmament and International Security) Committees of the General Assembly convened this afternoon for a joint ad hoc meeting on possible challenges to space security and sustainability, pursuant to Assembly resolution 69/38 and as called for by delegates during the sixty-ninth session (see Press Release GA/SPD/561).

Introductory Remarks

Co-Chair BRIAN BOWLER (Malawi) of the Fourth Committee said it was clear that space safety and security concerns must be actively addressed, especially in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  The international community must ensure the future use of space assets in order to guarantee that the use of outer space remained secure while benefiting people and societies.  In doing so, States should bear in mind the role of space operations in various development spheres, including disaster risk reduction, food security, marine resources and biodiversity.

Co-Chair KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) of the First Committee said that advancing transparency and confidence-building measures required coordination and support across all United Nations bodies relating to the security and sustainability of outer space.  Various ongoing initiatives were addressed in the report of the Group of Governmental Experts on Transparency and Confidence‑Building Measures in Outer Space Activities, including the pursuit of political commitments to ensure the peaceful use of outer space.  The meeting would contribute to ensuring space security and sustainability.

VICTOR L. VASILIEV (Russian Federation), Chair of the Group of Governmental Experts on Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space, said the Group’s primary task was to take stock of existing instruments and practices, identify “lacunas” and propose ways to enhance space security and sustainability.  Much was already in place, he said, pointing to the five major international instruments and treaties on outer space containing several transparency and confidence-building measures.  As an outcome of three sessions and extensive inter-session work, the Group had issued a report containing an overview of the general characteristics and basic principles of outer space transparency and confidence-building measures, as well as a series of steps to enhance them (document A/68/189 of July 2013).

He described the basic issues addressed by the report, including the need for the proposed measures to be voluntary and non-legally binding, and emphasized that they should not be a substitute for a legally binding arrangement. While the proposals were ambitious, “we must be realistic”, he said.  The Group had put forward proposals that were practical and did not undermine the sovereign right or security of Member States. “Today’s meeting proves that we were on the right track,” he said, adding that the meeting would add to the synergies among different United Nations bodies dealing with space security and bring more understanding to what was going on in various bodies in Geneva, Vienna and New York.

PETER MARTINEZ (South Africa), Chair of the Working Group on the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, said, via video conference, that challenges to the security of space activities were multilateral in nature, and the international community now had the chance to work together to preserve and protect the space environment for use by future generations.  To that end, the Outer Space Committee’s Scientific and Technical Subcommittee had established the Working Group on the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities, and proposed a set of voluntary, non‑legally binding guidelines for the sustainable long-term use of outer space.  Groups of experts had addressed issues, including regulatory regimes and space debris, and each had provided analyses and identified gaps in existing approaches.  They had also recommended topics for future consideration by the Outer Space Committee.

He said the Working Group recognized that outer space activities were increasingly being undertaken by non-State actors, who were accumulating a great wealth of knowledge.  It had held a workshop in 2013 that had allowed such actors to share their experiences.  The Working Group had been tasked with considering appropriate linkages with the Group of Governmental Experts, and although the draft guidelines were still under consideration within the Long-term Sustainability Working Group, there were synergies between them and the report of the Group of Governmental Experts, including in relation to cooperating on notifications regarding scheduled manoeuvres and capacity-building.  During 2015, the Working Group had worked on the draft guidelines, discussed their structure and format, and considered new substantive proposals by Member States.  At the Working Group’s next session, it would assess the progress made towards completing the draft guidelines.

SIMONETTA DI PIPPO, Director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, said the Outer Space Committee had positioned itself at the forefront of the overarching global sustainable development process, including by addressing challenges to space security and sustainability.  She said the report of the Group of Governmental Experts addressed several concrete measures aimed at ensuring the safety, security and stability of outer space activities.  At its fifty-eighth session in June 2015, the Outer Space Committee had asked the Office for Outer Space Affairs to issue a special report, for consideration at its fifty-ninth session in 2016, on the implementation of the report of the Group of Governmental Experts, as it pertained to the United Nations system.

KIM WON-SOO, Under Secretary-General and Acting High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said there was growing recognition of the need to comprehensively address the cross-cutting aspects of outer space and disarmament.  The Group of Governmental Experts had been able to achieve a consensus on transparency and confidence-building measures as well as increased cooperation among United Nations entities, while Member States had also continued discussions aimed at finding a way forward.  He said that, in order to ensure implementation of transparency and confidence-building measures, the Offices of Disarmament Affairs and Outer Space Affairs were fully prepared to put in place the cooperative mechanisms to proceed when Member States gave the directive.

Statements

KAMAPRADIPTA ISNOMO (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said the group shared the desire of the international community to ensure peaceful uses of outer space.  The Movement emphasized the importance of strict compliance with arms limitation and arms control agreements, including those dealing with outer space.  It also agreed that there was a need to elaborate a multilateral voluntary code of conduct, without prejudice to negotiations on a legally binding agreement, which should remain a priority.  The code of conduct should be based on multilateral negotiations and not discriminate on the basis of levels of development.  It should promote the use of space for peaceful purposes and not institute a threshold to limit the use of space by developing nations.

JACEK BYLICA, European Union, said space activities and technologies were a major driver of economic growth and innovation, boosting the competitiveness of industry well beyond the space sector.  However, the space environment faced significant challenges arising from the proliferation of dangerous orbital debris, which increased the likelihood of destructive collisions; the growing saturation of the radio-frequency spectrum and the threat of deliberate disruption or destruction of satellites.  Therefore, the European Union attached great importance to the development and implementation of transparency and confidence-building measures as a means of strengthening security and ensuring sustainability in space.  The deeply integrated nature of human activity in outer space demanded improved and holistic international governance in outer space, as envisaged in the proposed non-legally binding international code of conduct, he said.

FRANK A. ROSE, Assistant Secretary of State, United States, said more than 60 nations, as well numerous Government consortia, scientists and commercial firms, were operating satellites for countless economic, scientific, educational and social purposes, which had elevated international space systems and activities to a global scale.  Challenges such as orbital congestion, collision avoidance, and the continuing development by some nations of destructive counter-space capabilities, must all be addressed.  “No nation can address these challenges alone,” he said, emphasizing that international cooperation must be carried out through practical means.  The United States had pursued bilateral space security exchanges and offered support to all space-faring nations in order to reduce the chances of accidental satellite collisions.  It also supported the work of the Group of Governmental Experts and the working groups of the Outer Space Committee.  That body remained the primary multilateral forum for the continuing consideration of other forms of international cooperation. It also sought to ensure the sustainable use of outer space in support of sustainable development on Earth, he said.

JOHN QUINN (Australia) said outer space had become increasingly congested and contested, with risks ranging from orbital debris to anti-satellite weapons.  There were, however, a range of tools available for use by the international community in order to preserve a stable and secure space environment, with a legally binding treaty as the ultimate goal.  Until such a treaty was devised, however, the Outer Space Committee should undertake non‑legally binding confidence-building measures as soon as practicable in order to cover civilian and military uses of outer space.  Turning to space debris, he said its proliferation had become a major concern because it affected not only space-faring States, but also space-enabled services, which depended on satellites.

JUN SAITO (Japan) said the problem of ever-increasing amounts of space debris could not be clearly attributed either to civil or national security activities.  Tackling it required a comprehensive approach, and the development of an international code of conduct was a good example of such an approach.  Such a code would establish an international norm restraining any action, direct or indirect, that caused damage to space objects such as satellites.  It would also contain notification, information-sharing and consultation mechanisms.  Japan would intensify its efforts towards space situational awareness by developing technology for the removal of space debris, and intended to construct related facilities as well as an operational framework, he said.

VLADIMIR YERMAKOV (Russian Federation) said there was an inherent connection linking all questions regarding the use of outer space.  The first question that must be answered was whether weapons would be deployed in space or not.  A growing number of actors were using space for many purposes.  “Up to now, we have been able to keep outer space free of any types of weapons of inter-State military confrontation,” he said.  The Russian Federation supported the prevention of weapons deployment or the use of force in space, but with the development of military aspirations by some Member States, the threat of militarization was growing.  Recalling the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty between the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States, he expressed regret that, in 2001, the latter had unilaterally left the treaty and “freed their hands” regarding possible deployment of weapons in outer space.  The Russian Federation, in order to prevent an arms race in space, had initiated the dialogue on transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space, and had globalized the political commitment not to be the first to deploy space weapons.  Calling on all States to “show sense” and join that international initiative, he declared, “We must not repeat the mistakes of the past.”  The United States was the only country that had said it wished to dominate all others in outer space, and had left the door open to the use of force.

BENNO LAGGNER (Switzerland) said that, as the uses of outer space for development as well as the economic well-being and security of States became more crucial every day, the challenges associated with the sustainable use of outer space were also becoming ever more varied and numerous.  Cooperative approaches were necessary to meet those challenges, and Switzerland believed that it was essential to develop both politically and legally binding norms in order to “sanctuarize” outer space and ensure its stability and utilization over the long term.  As with any process aimed at strengthening the international normative framework, discussions would be required to clarify certain remaining questions and reach a common understanding of the concepts involved in the uses of outer space, as well as the nature of the norms to be developed and the forums in which to develop them.

CARLOS DUARTE (Brazil) stressed the importance of developing countries having full access to the benefits of space technologies through the promotion of the use of open source software applications.  The world depended on space-based resources, which provided essential services for many peaceful activities.  The interruption of satellite services as a result of the deployment or use of weapons in space would have a major global impact, he warned.  Brazil considered any use of force in outer space, including weaponization, as incompatible with the long‑term sustainability of outer space activities.  The Conference on Disarmament should negotiate a legally binding instrument for the prevention of an arms race in outer space, he emphasized, adding that the revised proposal for a treaty on the prohibition of the placement of weapons in outer space, presented by the Russian Federation and China, represented a positive development.

FU CONG (China) said there were currently more than 100 satellites in orbit and more than 60 countries and entities actively engaged in space activities.  As such, the outer space activities carried out by any one country could have an impact on the space assets and space activities of others.  To maintain the safety and security of outer space, it was necessary to implement appropriate and feasible trust- and confidence-building measures, taking national conditions into consideration, he said.  China had always attached importance to the work of the United Nations relating to outer space, and had put forward many constructive proposals.  In-depth discussions on space security and sustainability could only be conducted on the basis of a full and comprehensive understanding of space security threats, and the fundamental guarantee for space security and stability was to negotiate a new legally binding instrument on space arms control.

VINICIO MATI (Italy), associating himself with the European Union, said that, since the launch of its first artificial satellite in 1964, his country had been at the forefront of outer space activities.  It continued to develop its space capabilities in several areas, including the development of the International Space Station.  Italy had always promoted the use of space technology as a driver of economic growth and innovation for the benefit of all.  Very aware of society’s increasing reliance on outer space, he underscored the need to guarantee the peaceful use of outer space and to address potential “escalation dynamics” and security risks that they might entail.  A code of conduct would be a useful confidence-building measure, in line with the recommendations of the Group of Governmental Experts, he said.  Faced with the absence of an effective verification system for outer space activities, Italy believed firmly that trust and confidence-building measures provided a first step to ensuring the communications necessary to prevent misunderstanding and avoid unnecessary tensions.

ALICE GUITTON (France), associating herself with the European Union, said the ability to make free and fair use of space had come up against deliberately destructive acts, calling for a global response covering all civilian and military aspects.  Among other things, a code of conduct on space activities would contribute to the prevention of an arms race in outer space, she said, calling for voluntary transparency and confidence-building measures.  The question of the sustainability of space-based activities was also crucial, and as such, the international community must preserve the space environment for future generations.  The inter-linkages of civilian and military uses of outer space called for a cross-cutting approach, and the crucial question of space debris could also be considered in a more cross-cutting manner, she said.

BENJAMIN KRASNA (Israel) said the separation between civilian and scientific aspects of space in the Fourth Committee from those matters relating to the First Committee was critical to allowing the fair professional treatment and promotion of the broad spectrum of issues within both committees.  “We can’t afford to delay the advancement of scientific initiatives and cooperation on research that will allow us to reap the benefits of space to mankind,” he emphasized.  Space must remain accessible and sustainable for the future of all nations.  It was vital that the international community address the issue of space debris and orbital congestion, and Israel supported international efforts to draft a voluntary code of conduct that must remain non-legally binding through all its parts, including the consultation mechanism.

DAVID FORÉS RODRÍGUEZ (Cuba) said all Member States bore the responsibility of preventing space from becoming the next frontier of the arms race.  The only way to curb the threat of militarization was to put in place legal norms to prohibit the deployment of weapons in space, he stressed, calling upon all States to adopt a legal instrument that would strictly limit outer space to peaceful uses.  Confidence-building measures were no substitute for agreements with which all Member States must comply, such as an international treaty that would already contain confidence-building measures.  Cuba was concerned that some States had already adopted space initiatives beyond the United Nations framework, he said, emphasizing that it was only within the General Assembly and the Outer Space Committee that countries should pursue their space ambitions.  A code of conduct must guarantee access by all States and pay particular attention to the needs of developing countries.  In that context, the Outer Space Committee’s Legal Subcommittee must step up and consider the theoretical aspects of such a code that would address gaps in the legal applications of space for all countries; it could not be limited to the practical situations of countries with space programmes already underway.

VENKATESH VARMA (India), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said his country was a major space–faring nation, and was a party to all significant international treaties relating to outer space.  It was therefore unfortunate that India was not included in the report of the Group of Governmental Experts.  While universal and non-discriminatory transparency and confidence-building measures could play a useful complementary role, they could not substitute for legally binding instruments, he emphasized, noting that his delegation had consistently underlined that only by the right process and the right participation could the United Nations produce the right product for universal acceptance.  In July, India had joined other like-minded countries in stating that a code of conduct should be voluntary, non-legally binding, non‑discriminatory and internationally acceptable.  It should also be negotiated on the basis of consensus within the framework of the United Nations, and in an inclusive and transparent manner.  India also supported substantive consideration of the issue of preventing an arms race in outer space within the Conference on Disarmament, which included all militarily significant States.  Since the nature of the threats to space security went beyond space debris, the Conference was ideal for integrating all the concerns into a mandate for addressing them.

HUH YOON JEONG (Republic of Korea) said the safety and security of the space environment had become a global common that must be protected by all States.  Space debris posed one of the main challenges to the safety and security of outer space, which was becoming ever more congested, contested and competitive.  A holistic approach was needed to effectively counter the threat, she said, adding that it was crucial to have a practical, flexible and integrated approach in dealing with outer space issues.  “It is our belief that this joint meeting will serve as a starting point to a more structured discussion on how to respond effectively to space challenges.”  It was in the common interest of all stakeholders to promote their space programmes in a responsible manner.  The elaboration and strengthening of transparency and confidence-building measures was necessary.  An international code of conduct on outer space activities was undoubtedly a project of great importance, and there should also be a continuing informal discussion in the Conference on Disarmament on the prevention of an arms race in outer space so as to promote a better understanding on legal definitions relating to space activities, while facilitating discussions on effective verification measures.

GONZALO SEBASTIÁN MAZZEO (Argentina) said the joint meeting allowed the international community to look at the issues comprehensively.  Argentina supported the sovereign right of States to use outer space for peaceful uses, and the non-militarization of outer space.  Emphasizing the need to prevent an arms race in outer space, he warned that such a race would represent a major threat to international peace and security.  The increasing use of outer space by a growing number of actors could lead to saturation in orbit, space debris or the deployment of nuclear weapons in outer space.  Long-term sustainability was crucial, but it should not be used as an excuse for some States to set out restrictions for other countries on the use of technology in space for the benefit of their peoples, he stressed.

ANNIKA THUNBORG (Sweden) said the international space regime had been able neither to keep pace with the ever-increasing numbers of actors and activities, nor with the growing risk of conflict in the space environment.  The international community could no longer make a distinction between civilian and military satellites, and the space debris created by both types of activities, she said, pointing out that most, if not all, space assets, had dual-use applications and capabilities.  To mitigate the impact of space debris and keep outer space free of conflict, the United Nations musts address military and civilian activities jointly, she emphasized, noting that the Outer Space Committee’s work and its guidelines on long-term sustainability bridged the divide between military and civilian space initiatives.  Similarly, an international code of conduct would circumvent the artificial divide between civil and military definitions of space assets and uses.  Sweden supported such a code, not only because it would provide a good way to deal with space issues jointly, but also because it would focus on actual behaviour in outer space.

TEHMINA JANJUA (Pakistan), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said the development of anti-ballistic missile systems, as well as the threat of weaponization of space, made it apparent that confidence-building measures could not substitute for a legally binding document.  The agreements proposed by China and the Russian Federation, such as a treaty on the prevention of the placement of weapons in outer space, provided a good basis for an international code of conduct, she said.  There was no reason for States not to comply with such an agreement, other than that “some want to protect their monopolies on technologies”.

Ms. ALVAREZ (Chile) said it was essential — and indeed a global responsibility — to address common challenges relating to outer space.  Chile was a member of the Group of Governmental Experts, she said, adding that efforts must be made to implement the recommendations outlined in its report.  Those recommendations could, among other things, mitigate outer space debris and ensure that outer space activities were conducted in a safer manner.  Chile supported an inclusive and non-discriminatory international code of conduct that would strengthen international cooperation for the peaceful uses of outer space, allowing all States to strengthen their capacities.  She said her delegation also supported the creation of a set of voluntary guidelines on the long-term sustainability of outer space that could build confidence towards an international legal regime.  The deployment of weapons in outer space was the main threat, she said, stressing that space should not be used for military purposes.

MICHIEL COMBRINK (South Africa) said all States had an equal stake in outer space activities.  Therefore, all projects of a voluntary nature would require participation by the largest possible number of States.  A voluntary, non‑discriminatory international code of conduct aimed at building confidence in outer space activities should be based on consensus.  Other elements that should be pursued in multilateral negotiations were the promotion of the equal right of space exploration and appropriate capacity-building mechanisms.  As for the modalities of such negotiations, he said they could take place in the Conference on Disarmament, the Outer Space Committee or the Fourth Committee.  The General Assembly plenary might also provide an appropriate platform for carrying such an instrument forward.  While South Africa would support a code of conduct, it should not supplant the work of the Outer Space Committee on legally binding measures to prevent an arms race in outer space, he emphasized.

For information media. Not an official record.