Members Begin Annual Debate on Cooperation in Peaceful Uses of Outer Space
Before it began its general debate on outer space issues today, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) concluded its consideration of decolonization questions by approving a draft resolution on implementing the Declaration on Granting Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.
The Committee approved the draft by a recorded vote of 130 in favour to 5 against (Côte d’Ivoire, Israel, Morocco, United Kingdom, United States), with 2 abstentions (Colombia, France). By its terms, the General Assembly would call upon administering Powers of Non-Self-Governing Territories to continue to cooperate with the Special Committee on Decolonization in the discharge of its mandate. The text would also have the Assembly call upon administering Powers to facilitate the Special Committee’s visiting missions to the Territories on a case-by-case basis, and ensure that economic and other activities in the Territories would not adversely affect their peoples’ interests but instead promote development.
Turning its attention to outer space, the Committee then heard from David Kendall (Canada), Chair of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, who noted that the fiftieth anniversary of the first United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer space (UNISPACE), to be observed in 2018, would provide an opportunity to assess the current status and chart the future roles of the Outer Space Committee and the Office for Outer Space Affairs.
He went on to describe outer space as a fragile environment in which steps taken by one actor could often have an impact on others, cautioning in that regard that the broader application of space operations and the increased value of that dimension had resulted in a growing need to enhance the safety and sustainability of space activities.
The Russian Federation’s representative said his country’s proposal to establish an information platform under United Nations auspices served the needs of safety in space operations. The Russian Federation’s military doctrine provided specifically for adherence to the elaboration of a space operations safety regime under United Nations auspices, he said, adding that it would be beneficial for the militaries of other countries also to take such a view of outer space. States should treat consensus on cross-functional proposals addressing important safety issues by 2018 as a means to better understand the feasibility of space traffic management.
Many delegates underlined the international community’s collective responsibility to keep outer space safe and secure, with Pakistan’s representative emphasizing the important issue of mitigating space debris. He said his country opposed the militarization of outer space, waring that such deployments would pose a great threat to the future of space operations and only impede progress towards the long-term sustainability of outer space activities.
Agreeing, Iran’s representative said outer space should remain a non-military and weapon-free zone, but emphasized that the inalienable rights of any State to use and explore outer space exclusively for peaceful purposes must be fully respected.
Indeed, small States could play an important role in promoting the peaceful uses of outer space, Singapore’s representative said, noting that, his country’s Government, in collaboration with local universities and industries, had launched four satellites from India in 2015 to support urban planning and disaster management across South-East Asia.
India’s representative detailed his own country’s recent progress in space exploration, saying it had accomplished six launch-vehicle missions and eight satellite missions meant for earth observation, communications and navigation. India’s “Mars Orbiter Mission” had recently completed two years in orbit, and had provided invaluable data on the atmosphere and surface of Mars from five scientific instruments. In order to integrate advances in space technology into national developmental goals, India’s Research Organization was working with 60 ministries and Government departments to promote space technology tools and applications for good governance and national development, he said.
Also participating in the general debate on the peaceful uses of outer space were representatives of Indonesia (speaking for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Ecuador, Argentina, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Malaysia, Switzerland, Mongolia and Iraq. The Director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs also addressed the Committee.
Representatives of the United Kingdom, Argentina, United States and Spain spoke in explanation of position following the adoption of the decolonization text.
The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 13 October, to continue its consideration of outer space questions.
The Fourth Committee met this morning to conclude its consideration of decolonization questions and take up issues relating to international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space.
Before the Committee was the draft resolution “Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples”, contained in document A/71/23, chapter XIII, p. 56).
Members also had before them the report of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space on its fifty-ninth session (document A/71/20) and the related draft resolution “International cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space” (document A/C.4/71/L.2).
Action on Draft Resolution
Taking up the draft resolution “Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (document A/71/23, chapter XIII, p.56), the Committee approved it by a recorded vote of 130 in favour to 5 against (Côte d’Ivoire, Israel, Morocco, United Kingdom, United States), with 2 abstentions (Colombia, France).
The representative of the United Kingdom, speaking in explanation of position, said his delegation still found some elements of the text unacceptable and had voted against it, adding that the United Kingdom remained committed to modernizing its relationship with its Overseas Territories.
The representative of Argentina pointed out that visiting missions were only conducted in Territories over which there was no sovereignty dispute recognized by the United Nations. The Committee’s doctrine on that matter was clear, he said, emphasizing that each case should be considered individually and in accordance with the relevant resolutions.
The representative of the United States, while voicing her country’s full support for the right to self-determination, reiterated her concern that the Special Committee on Decolonization continued to call for independence in certain Territories, irrespective of the will of their peoples. The United States had joined the consensus on Territory-specific resolutions, as in previous years, but would call upon the Special Committee to respect the right of the Territories’ peoples to choose freely their political status in relation to their administering Power, including when a Territory chose to be in free association or to integrate with its administering Power.
The representative of Spain said he had voted in favour of the text because it supported the principle of self-determination. However, that was not the only principle in issues of decolonization, he said, adding that questions like Gibraltar involved the principle of territorial integrity. He said that his delegation had also indicated that visiting missions could only be undertaken in Territories where the right to self-determination applied, and not where a sovereignty dispute existed, emphasizing that the General Assembly must approve all visiting missions.
The Committee then began its consideration of international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space.
VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia), Committee Chair, said the main pillars of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership – were linked to possible challenges to the security and sustainability of outer space activities. “What do we need to do in a collective manner to secure the future of space assets in order to ensure that operational space activities can continue to be safe and deliver interruptedly for the sustainable development of our societies?” he asked. It was essential to keep in mind the outstanding role of space science and technology applications in areas relating to poverty eradication, food security, health, education, energy, climate change, marine resources and biodiversity. The 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals provided a unique opportunity to discuss the future role of space exploration, science and technology in addressing global challenges.
SIMONETTA DI PIPPO, Director, United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, called attention to an exhibition on the peaceful uses of outer space that had been held at United Nations Headquarters, saying it had been very popular, and had exhibited images from earth and space. “Our planet is beautiful and fragile,” she said, adding that the catalogue before members sought to spread the same message. “We only have one home, and we have to look after it.”
DAVID KENDALL (Canada), Chair, Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, presented the report on that body’s fifty-ninth session (document A/71/20), providing a comprehensive overview of its work during the year. He said General Assembly resolution 1472 remained pertinent because international cooperation in the exploration and peaceful uses of outer space for the benefit of humanity was the focus of the Outer Space Committee’s activities. The use, exploration and exploitation of outer space for peaceful purposes had changed dramatically over the past half-century, adding significant complexity to issues under consideration, he said, noting that, at the same time, the number of Outer Space Committee members had increased. Those developments provided challenges requiring compromise and collegiality in order to make progress.
He went on to note that the fiftieth anniversary of the first United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer space (UNISPACE), to be observed in 2018, would provide an opportunity to assess the current status and chart the future role of the Outer Space Committee and the Office for Outer Space Affairs. Thematic priority areas would range from the legal regime covering outer space to strengthening space cooperation. In that overall context, space exploration and innovation would continue to be essential drivers in opening up new domains in science and technology, spurring other sectors to partner with the space sector in development initiatives. At the same time, outer space was a fragile environment, where steps taken by one actor could often have an impact on others, he cautioned. In that regard, the broader applications of space operations and the increased value of space had resulted in a growing need to enhance the safety of operations and the sustainability of activities.
The unprecedentedly rapid development of space activities had forced the international community to consider the safety of space operations and to protect an already fragile near-Earth space environment, he continued. Furthermore, it had increased the need to expand the role of space science and technology applications in meeting growing challenges to humanity, social development and Planet Earth. In order to meet those challenges, there was a need to study the cross-cutting elements of various parallel initiatives, he stressed. For its own part, the Office for Outer Space Affairs stood ready to work with Member States in building appropriate and robust communications and notification procedures. In order to strengthen common space endeavours, it would be critical to promote the increase in the Outer Space Committee’s membership and to develop dialogue with intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, he said.
INA KRISNAMURTHI (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), emphasized the principle of non-appropriation of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies. Since Southeast Asia faced many natural disasters, she said, ASEAN attached great importance to the use of space-based technologies to enhance disaster risk preparedness, response and mitigation. Data derived from such technologies helped to improve early-warning systems as well as to enable search-and-rescue operations when disaster struck. ASEAN therefore welcomed the adoption of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, she said.
Noting that ASEAN had taken steps to forge closer regional cooperation on such matters, she recalled that in 2015, its sub-committee had endorsed the ASEAN Research Centre for Space Technology and Applications. The Centre’s objectives were to increase space capacity-building among members, share common facilities in relevant technology and applications, and build a platform for transferring technology, enhancing knowledge and developing human resources. ASEAN had hosted a number of relevant conferences and workshops, including the Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum in Bali, held in December 2015, she said, adding that she looked forward to the Regional Forum Workshop, to be held in Singapore on 25-26 October, and the Asia‑Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum meeting to be held in Manila on 15-18 November.
Speaking in her national capacity, she went on to emphasize the importance of General Assembly resolution 70/82, which prioritized peaceful uses of outer space and broader perspectives on space security and related matters. International cooperation on space activities should be inclusive and take the varied technological levels of developing countries into account, she said, recalling that during an ASEAN workshop held in Bogor, Indonesia, in April, participants had shared their experiences of using earth observation data and simulation exercises to strengthen their understanding of existing practices, procedures and needs, and using space-based information in emergency response operations. She announced that Lembaga Penerbangan dan Antariksa Nasional, Indonesia’s space agency, had launched its third low-earth orbit microsatellite on 20 June from the Satish Dawan Space Centre in India.
HELENA YANEZ LOZA (Ecuador) said the overarching goal of the peaceful use of outer space was for all States to reap benefits from that activity. International cooperation was important and industrialized countries should pool resources to help developing countries make greater progress in that field. Ecuador was located in the Americas’ “ring of fire”, facing a high risk of disasters, including volcanic activity and an earthquake that had occurred in April, she said. Other risks, such as climate change, were global. Hurricane Matthew had recently left a trail of devastation including in Haiti, one of the countries most affected. Ecuador therefore continued to support implementation of the Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (SPIDER) system, the timely management of which would facilitate the mitigation and prevention of natural disasters. States must also examine different approaches to strengthening space community initiatives to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Among other measures, Ecuador was modelling different scenarios, such as the impact of climate change on the nutritional requirements of its staple crops, she said.
MARTIN GARCIA MORITAN (Argentina) highlighted the importance of international cooperation in making spatial technology accessible to developing countries through capacity-building programmes and activities in the scientific and technological fields. It was important to respect existing agreements on the limitation of weapons and on disarmament in outer space, as well as the legal regime in force on the uses of outer space. Meanwhile, the use of outer space could be having unexpected impacts, he said, noting that the saturation of geo-stationary orbits, debris management and the use of nuclear energy in low-earth orbits all deserved particular attention. At the same time, there was a growing role for space tools in the prevention and management of natural disasters, as well as in the mitigation of climate change.
RODOLFO DIAZ (Mexico), renewing his call upon the international community to promote and foster international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space, said his country was a State party to various relevant United Nations treaties, and called upon those that had not yet signed them to do so. The use of outer space must be exclusively for peaceful exploration and should benefit societies, he said, adding: “We need to move forward in making progress within the international legal framework.” In that regard, it was essential not to favour the security of one State over that of others, he stressed.
LIM TONG HAI (Singapore) said that, with growing reliance on the use of space, the international community faced increasing challenges, including space debris, orbital congestion and an arms race in space. Meeting them would require pragmatic measures to ensure responsible behaviour and security in outer space. Outer space must remain a peaceful global commons, he said, noting that many commercial, military and civilian sectors relied on technologically advanced applications in space. Emphasizing the need to build consensus on international norms, he said that, as a State party to the three United Nations treaties on outer space, Singapore welcomed the proposals by the Group of Governmental Experts on transparency and confidence-building measures on outer space activities. Emphasizing that small States could play an important part in promoting the peaceful uses of outer space, he said Singapore had established the Office for Space Technology and Industry in 2013, with a view to developing its space industry. In collaboration with local universities and industries, it had also launched four satellites from India in 2015, to support urban planning and disaster management across South-East Asia.
BENJAMIN STEELE (New Zealand) said while his country was not a space-capable State, its first commercial rocket launches into outer space were expected to take place later this year. They would be conducted by Rocket Lab, a company founded by a New Zealander, he said, noting that the firm would also provide orbital launches for small satellites. As a State party to three United Nations space treaties, New Zealand took its responsibility extremely seriously. The Government had introduced the Outer Space and High Altitude Activities Bill in Parliament, enabling the development of a space industry while ensuring its safe and secure operation. Furthermore, like many other countries, New Zealand relied on assured access to space-based systems to support its economic prosperity and maintain public safety. Expressing interest in working with international partners to promote the responsible and peaceful use of space, he said New Zealand was seeking membership of the Outer Space Committee.
STEPHEN NTSOANE (South Africa) emphasized the immense potential that the peaceful use of outer space held for the broader sustainable development of humankind, in particular economic growth, poverty reduction and the creation of knowledge. South Africa was a participant in the African Resource and Environmental Constellation – alongside Kenya, Nigeria and Algeria – developed under the auspices of the African Leadership Conference on Space Science and Technology for Sustainable Development. Such cooperation was important as the data and information collection would boost Africa’s technological capacity, he said. At the global level, South Africa was committed to working with other countries in developing international norms for the peaceful uses of outer space. “Since outer space is a heritage of all humankind, there should be a possibility for all States to benefit from its use,” he emphasized, adding that such benefits should not be limited to the current space-faring States.
RAMLAN BIN IBRAHIM (Malaysia), associating himself with ASEAN, said that his country’s national space agency was focusing on steps to harness space applications among grassroots communities. It had developed a programme that used Global Positioning System (GPS) signals to manage the movement of autistic children through virtual boundaries. Another location-based project, known as the Rapid Emergency Medical System, used GPS technology to help teams of paramedics to locate patients quickly. Among other projects, the agency was also collaborating with local authorities to develop a smart service delivery engine using geospatial technology to help manage municipalities.
Mr. PERREN (Switzerland) said international cooperation was important in terms of facing potential risks in outer space. The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space played a unique role in that regard and had successfully adopted its first guiding principles, the fruit of long work, due to the willingness to compromise on the part of many Member States. It was a shared success and continuing such efforts in a flexible spirit would guide the Outer Space Committee in making further recommendations to the General Assembly, he said. Switzerland was committed, in particular, to expert groups on space-based meteorology and global health, and hoped that a group of experts on the exchange of information on space events could be established. Echoing calls for coordination between the Scientific and Legal Subcommittees, he commended the cooperation between the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs and the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research.
KAMRAN AHMAD MALIK (Pakistan) said it was the international community’s collective responsibility to keep outer space safe and secure, highlighting the important issue of mitigating space debris. Outlining some of the challenges faced by developing countries, he said advanced space-faring countries should be willing to contribute financially in order to absorb the additional costs incurred through the modification of spacecraft design by developing countries. Research, best practices, technologies and early-warning information should be available to all stakeholders, otherwise the peril of space debris would continue to loom, at the expense of possible gains. Pakistan opposed the militarization of outer space, he said, emphasizing that such installations posed a great threat to the future of space operations and would only impede progress towards the long-term sustainability of outer space activities. Pakistan was also concerned that the current international legal regime did not prohibit the placement of non-nuclear weapons of mass destruction in outer space, he said, stressing the need for a serious, legally-binding treaty on the subject.
HOSSEIN MALEKI (Iran) said outer space should remain a non-military and weapon-free zone, adding that the inalienable rights of any State to use and explore outer space exclusively for peaceful purposes should be fully respected. He called for the promotion of non-discriminatory cooperation with developing countries in outer space activities, including the transfer of related science and technology. The geostationary orbit should be considered an inseparable part of outer space use, and its exploitation should be rationalized and made available to all States, irrespective of their technical or economic development. Describing space debris as a common concern, he said that addressing the problem was a differentiated responsibility because it resulted from the space activities of certain States. He went on to express concern that guidelines annexed to the Outer Space Committee’s report were still under discussion by the Committee. Such a hasty and unprofessional action cast doubt on the objectives of its main proponents, he said, emphasizing the right of all members of the Outer Space Committee to present proposals and amendments to draft guidelines before the end of formal negotiations.
SUKHBOLD SUKHEE (Mongolia), reiterating his country’s commitment to promoting the development and peaceful uses of outer space, science and technology, said that his country’s first national space communication station had been established in 1970. In 1981, the first Mongolian astronaut had accomplished a space mission under the Intercosmos cooperation programme, and had conducted 25 experiments prepared by Mongolian scientists. On the basis of those studies, the Government of Mongolia had adopted a national programme in 2012, with a view to developing and localizing aerospace and satellite technology, launching national satellites, and engaging in international cooperation in that field. The first ever satellite owned by Mongolia was expected to be launched into space in 2017, and would contribute to the successful implementation of Action Plan 2016-2020, he said.
MOHAMMED KASEEM KAREEM (Iraq) welcomed the role played by the United Nations in establishing a legal framework covering outer space because it would prevent space collisions and damage by harmful debris. Thanks to multilateral treaties, Member States were striving towards enhanced cooperation, including through the activities launched by the European Union and Viet Nam. Sharing national experiences, he said Iraq had launched its first satellite in 2014, with financial assistance from the Government of Italy, and continued to send experts for training in advanced countries in order to reinforce national development.
SURYANARAYAN SRINIVAS PRASAD (India) said his country had accomplished six launch-vehicle missions and eight satellite missions meant for earth observation, communication and navigation. Furthermore, India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle continued its impressive track record, with five more launches in 2016, including one in September that had injected satellites into two different orbits using the re-start capability of the upper stage. Among other things, India had carried out the first operational flight of its Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle in September, and the Indian Space Research Organization had carried out two technology demonstration missions. He went on to announce that India’s “Mars Orbiter Mission” had recently completed two years in orbit, working beyond its designed life of six months, and had provided invaluable data on the atmosphere and surface of Mars from five scientific instruments. In order to integrate advances in space technology into national developmental goals, India’s Research Organization was working with 60 ministries and Government departments on promoting space technology tools and applications for good governance and national development, he said.
SERGEY A. LEONIDCHENKO (Russian Federation) said the Working Group on the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities had been held in Vienna in September, when his country had introduced updated versions of the draft guidelines. The Russian Federation’s military doctrine specifically provided for adherence to the elaboration of a space operations safety regime under United Nations auspices, and it would be beneficial for the militaries of other countries also to take such a view of outer space. On the management of space traffic, he said the sense of urgency had become widespread, and urged all to avoid letting their “imaginations run wild” on that subject. The Russian Federation’s working paper presented at the fifty-ninth session of the Outer Space Committee contained a pragmatic and impartial examination of current ideas on space traffic management. States should treat consensus on cross-functional proposals addressing important safety issues by 2018 as a means to better understand the feasibility of space traffic management and validate that concept, he said, adding that his country’s proposal to establish an information platform under United Nations auspices served the needs of safety in space operations. The proposed platform would entail a mechanism that would provide for information to be placed in a common data bank and for merging information acquired from different sources through the use of agreed rules in order to provide greater accuracy and reliability, he said.