Militarization, Space Debris Still among Top Concerns, as Russian Federation Rejects Reported Effort to Bypass Recognized Entity
Acting without a vote, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) approved a draft resolution today, concluding its general debate on international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space.
By the terms of the draft resolution “International cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space” (document A/C.4/74/L.7), the General Assembly urges States that have not yet become parties to the international treaties governing the uses of outer space to ratify or accede to them and to incorporate them into their national laws.
Further by the text, the Assembly urges all States, those with major space capabilities in particular, to contribute to the prevention of an arms race in outer space. It also urges the Inter-Agency Meeting on Outer Space Activities, under the leadership of the United Nations Secretariat’s Office for Outer Space Affairs, to continue to examine how space science and technology and their applications could contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
As the general debate concluded, speakers expressed concern over the risks of space debris, with the Permanent Observer for the Holy See describing it as a major threat to satellites. He cited the important role of satellites in development, saying they are essential for monitoring environmental disasters and useful in helping to provide aid and relief to disaster victims.
Pakistan’s representative expressed concern over reports about space debris created by an irresponsible anti-satellite weapon test conducted earlier in 2019. Criteria and procedures for active removal or international destruction of space objects must be thoroughly deliberated under United Nations auspices, he emphasized.
Russian Federation’s representative said his delegation categorically rejects attempts to replace the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space with informal platforms that lack an intergovernmental mandate. Discussions on its alleged lack of effectiveness are unfounded, he added, emphasizing that effectiveness depends on the willingness of States to cooperate. The Outer Space Committee’s adoption of the Guidelines for the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities are an example of its success, he affirmed.
Israel’s representative recalled that in February, SpaceIL, an Israeli non-profit organization, launched that country’s first privately financed venture into space, making his country the seventh to make lunar orbit and the fourth to attempt a soft landing on the moon.
Egypt launched its first completely home-manufactured satellite in 2017, its representative said, adding that in 2016, his country inaugurated its first national space agency. The latter’s goals include the establishment of a space science academy, a centre for satellite assembly and a centre for receiving and analysing space images, he added.
China’s representative emphasized that there should be no legal or regulatory vacuum in the governance of space-resources exploitation and expressed support for the creation of a working group within the Outer Space Committee’s Legal Subcommittee to gradually develop international rules.
Also speaking today were representatives of Bangladesh, Nigeria, Ukraine, Slovakia, Morocco, Cuba, Cameroon, Malaysia, El Salvador, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Iran, Switzerland, United States and Ecuador.
The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Monday, 4 October, to begin its general debate on the comprehensive review of United Nations peacekeeping.
RAJEEL MOHSIN (Pakistan) expressed deep concern about the sustainability of outer space activities due to the increasing number of objects launched into orbit, noting that risks include collision and operational interference. Such issues are more pronounced in low earth orbit, he added, emphasizing the need to implement the Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines through the appropriate mechanisms and administrative measures. Pakistan is also concerned by reports about space debris created by an irresponsible anti-satellite weapon test conducted earlier this year, he continued, stressing that criteria and procedures for the active removal or destruction of space objects must be thoroughly deliberated under United Nations auspices. Highlighting the urgent need to address gaps in international space law, he pointed out that the Outer Space Treaty prohibits the placement of weapons of mass destruction in outer space but is silent on the placement of others, including conventional weapons. It also does not prohibit the use of force against outer space objects from Earth, he noted. As such, Pakistan and the Russian Federation signed a joint statement on no first placement of weapons in outer space, he reported, encouraging other responsible space-faring nations to follow suit.
TAREQ MOHAMMED ARIFUL ISLAM (Bangladesh) said the benefits of space technology and its applications must be increased in accordance with the sustainable economic growth and sustainable development of all countries. Applications of that technology in such areas as tele-health, tele-education, disaster management, environmental protection and Earth observation could contribute to attainment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, he observed. As a climate-vulnerable delta country exposed to frequent natural disasters, Bangladesh understands the benefits of investing in space research and remote sensing, he said. Recalling that his country launched its first satellite — Bangabandhu I — in May 2018, expanding services to remote areas and improving communications for development, he said it has taken up initiatives to launch its next satellite. He went on to call for the bridging of the technological space divide between developing and developed countries.
IBRAHIM MODIBBO UMAR (Nigeria) said the “Space2030” Agenda should identify concrete steps and measures to address the space divide between advanced space‑faring nations and emerging ones. “Peaceful uses of outer space should not be a club for a select few,” he added, emphasizing the crucial need for developing countries to participate in space exploration. Recalling that the need to create an inclusive framework informed the decision to establish a time-bound working group tasked with developing the Guidelines for the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities, he pointed out that, today, that working group has ceased to exist. Underlining the importance of continuing where it stopped and avoiding the drawbacks of a time-bound mechanism, he welcomed the proposal to establish a standing, open-ended working group with a mandate to update the Guidelines periodically and to develop new ones, as well. Nigeria remains committed to growing space science capabilities for development and has embarked on a desertification sensitivity index, a population dissymmetric analysis and a carbon emission assessment. He went on to state that the diminishing water levels of Lake Chad have had a negative impact on economic viability, adding that Nigeria is working with partners to revitalize the Lake Chad Basin region’s ecosystem by monitoring the lake and activities by remote sensing.
OLEKSIY ILNYTSKYI (Ukraine), expressing support for the Working Group on a “Space2030” Agenda, emphasized that the Outer Space Committee should not be the forum for dialogue with individuals, businesses or aggressor States that violate international law. Noting that his country lost control of the space facilities located there due to the foreign military occupation of Crimea — including the NIP-16 facility built in the 1960s to track space probes bound for Venus and Mars — he said the aggressor State plans to integrate those operations into its own network by 2020. That aggressor State considers outer space a strategic region to enhance its military capabilities on Earth, he warned.
BEN BOURGEL (Israel) recalled that in February, SpaceIL, an Israeli non-profit organization, launched Beresheet, the first privately financed venture into space, making Israel the seventh country to make lunar orbit and the fourth to attempt a soft landing on the moon. Describing outer space as Israel’s new frontier for innovation and global cooperation, he said there is much room for space exploration to serve as a venue for both bilateral and multilateral cooperation. Expressing support for the “Space2030” Agenda, he underscored the significant contribution of space science and technology in the pursuit of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. He went on to highlight the increased involvement of women in the field of space technology, noting that Israel established and financed platforms, alongside the Office for Outer Space Affairs, to provide girls and women with more opportunities to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics so they can become leaders in those fields.
PETER PINDJÁK (Slovakia) reported that his country created a national registry of space objects noted in its Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport in March 2016. Slovakia’s first satellite, skCUBE, was launched in June 2017, and represented the country’s first entry in that registry, he recalled. In 2018, the Government established an interministerial working group and launched preparations for national legislation on outer space, he said, adding that it adopted its first strategic and conceptual document on outer space in June. It has since mapped relevant activities and set a vision for 2020 and beyond to further develop the sector, in cooperation with the European Space Agency, he said, noting that Slovakia formally initiated the process of accession to that body in 2010. The subsequent bilateral agreement signed in 2015 has brought new opportunities for development and growth in the private sector, academia and research and development institutions, he said, adding that more than 40 companies are participating in the space sector today, generating sales revenue of €100 million.
YOUSSEF EL MEZOUAGHI (Morocco) noted that his country contributes to building capacity in Africa, particularly in terms of international legislation on outer space. As such, Morocco has organized an annual introductory course on international space legislation for 10 years at the Regional African Centre of Space Science and Technology in Rabat. The country will continue to promote knowledge of space technology through the Royal Centre for Remote Sensing, he added. Space technology also plays a significant role in Morocco’s efforts in relation to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, he noted, citing environmental protection, water-resource management and agricultural development.
ANA SILVIA RODRÍGUEZ ABASCAL (Cuba) reiterated her country’s opposition to the militarization of outer space, including by the United States. Emphasizing that space technology must not be used to the detriment of other countries, she said spy satellites are saturating Earth’s orbit with debris. She went on to stress that space governance should be exercised within the legal treaties of the United Nations, underlining the urgent need to strengthen the legal regime with a convention on preventing weapons in space. The Conference on Disarmament has an important role to play in those efforts, she said, describing the recent draft from the Russian Federation and China as a good basis for negotiations. Although space exploration is a shared human right, most developing countries are unable to take advantage of it, she pointed out, emphasizing the need for international cooperation through sharing information to help those countries. She went on to state that despite the blockade imposed on her country, Cuba places growing importance on space science and its applications and continues to research weather-related space technology to manage natural disasters.
JEAN LUC NGOUAMBE WOUAGA (Cameroon) observed that space technology plays a key role in the lives of humankind through telemedicine, satellite navigation, remote sensing, disaster management, weather forecasting, the Internet and more. Indeed, there can be no effective development without access to that technology, he emphasized, noting that its benefits are especially essential in relation to meeting the challenges of climate change and natural disasters. The growing drive to weaponize space and the proliferation of space debris threaten development, he cautioned, stressing that the international community must examine the best way to overcome the challenges and threats to the peaceful uses of outer space. Through international, regional and interregional cooperation, the rule of law will prevail, including through the development of norms relevant to outer space law, he said, emphasizing that the Outer Space Committee is the appropriate platform for that discussion. Space belongs to humanity and all must benefit from exploration of that realm, he stressed.
MUHAMMAD FALAH AZIZAN (Malaysia), associating himself with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), recalled that his country adopted a national space policy in 2017 and aims to reinforce governance in optimizing access to space, focusing on significant technologies, infrastructures and space applications. Malaysia also seeks to accelerate developing space science and the necessary expertise to contribute to the national economy while increasing and strengthening international cooperation and networks, he said. The Government approved the formation of the Malaysia Space Agency in February and is in the process of enacting national space legislation, after which it will proceed to ratify and accede to the relevant international instruments, he reported. Malaysia hosted the thirty-ninth Asian Conference on Remote Sensing in October 2018, attracting more than 800 participants from the region, he added.
EGRISELDA ARACELY GONZÁLEZ LÓPEZ (El Salvador) reiterated her country’s respect for existing agreements governing outer space, emphasizing that activity in that realm must be based on the principles of common, peaceful and equal use. Recalling events surrounding the commemoration of UNISPACE 50, she said the conference raised awareness of the use of space technology for sustainable development. She went on to describe the “Space2030” Agenda as an important landmark in terms of measures to strengthen the roles of the Outer Space Committee and its subsidiaries. Capacity-building and technical assistance are essential in this area, she stressed. As a country vulnerable to climate, El Salvador seeks to prevent, mitigate and eradicate the vulnerabilities of its water resources, agriculture, forests and coastal zones through the benefits of space technology, she said, reporting that the Government has established an inter-agency team to work with the Outer Space Committee in that regard.
ABDULLAH IBRAHIM ABDELHAMID ALSAYED ATTELB (Egypt) recalled that his country began manufacturing satellites in 1998, in cooperation with friendly States. It also established a space research centre and launched subsequent satellites in 2001 and 2007 for peaceful purposes. In 2017, Egypt launched its first completely home-manufactured satellite, and in 2016 inaugurated its first national space agency, he said. The agency’s projects include the establishment of a space science academy, a centre for satellite assembly and a centre to receive and analyse space images. Moreover, the national institute for astronomical and geophysical research has contributed to important findings in the field, he noted, recalling that his country has hosted meetings to discuss Africa’s space strategy since 2014 and is also host to the African Space Agency. Welcoming the mention of that regional initiative in the draft resolution under consideration, he emphasized that the uses of outer space must remain exclusively peaceful, and that any effort to regulate outer space activities must aim to preserve the interests of all States. He went on to join calls for progress towards a binding instrument prohibiting the weaponization of outer space.
XU CHI (China) outlined his country’s substantial progress in peaceful uses of outer space, including the mission by satellite Chang’e 4 to the far side of the moon. The China State Station is scheduled for construction and deployment around 2022, he said, adding that, under a United Nations-China programme, nine projects from 17 Member States and 23 institutions have been selected for the first list of projects. At present, 17 satellites in the Beidou II system and 22 satellites in the Beidou III system are in orbit, he reported, noting that China also successfully carried out its first carrier-launched rocket test. He said that his country has been sharing its achievements with the international community through an open and inclusive approach, promoting and enhancing capacity-building with the United Nations as a platform.
He went on to state that China’s Belt and Road Initiative has become a multi-stakeholder platform for international cooperation and pledged that Beijing will work with participating countries to build a “Belt and Road” spatial information corridor. The Beidou and Fengyun-2H systems have already provided meteorological, navigation and disaster-relief services to the participating countries, he added. Emphasizing that there should be no legal or regulatory vacuum governing the exploitation of space resources, he expressed support for the creation of a working group within the Outer Space Committee’s Legal Subcommittee to gradually develop international rules.
ROWEL GARCIA GARCIA (Philippines), endorsing the statements delivered on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement and ASEAN, said outer space should be dedicated to the benefit and interest of humanity, open to navigation, telecommunications, commerce and finance. It must not be the exclusive domain of a small group of States, he said, emphasizing also the importance of full respect for State sovereignty, territorial integrity and equality. He went on to outline his country’s domestic efforts, such as the enactment of the Philippine Space Act, encompassing the creation of the Philippine Space Agency, while stressing the need to bridge the technological divide between developing and developed countries. He also underlined the importance of ensuring the safety, security and sustainability of outer space, and preventing an arms race through transparent confidence-building measures.
BAEK YONG JIN (Republic of Korea) said the Guidelines for the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities will contribute to equitable access to the benefits of outer space, emphasizing that it is time for the international community to turn its words into actions by implementing them. In 2018, he recalled, the Republic of Korea introduced its third National Space Development Basic Plan, which provides for ways in which to use space technology in addressing natural disasters and climate change while enhancing the quality of life by ensuring a sustainable living environment.
MOHAMMAD REZA SAHRAEI (Iran) said the Iranian Space Agency and the Iranian Space Research Centre as civilian space entities focused on the peaceful exploration and use of outer space, yet on 3 September, the United States imposed illegal sanctions on them in clear contradiction of the principles of international space law. By putting satellites into orbit, Iran wishes to employ space technology to mitigate the impact of natural disasters, he said, adding that due to unlawful sanctions, cooperation with other countries on the design, manufacture, launching and purchase of satellites has failed to materialize. Nevertheless, he emphasized that sanctions will not prevent the progress of Iran’s peaceful space programme.
NATÁLIA ARCHINARD (Switzerland) said the uses of outer space yield information essential to understanding global challenges and tools contributing to their resolution. The “Space2030” Agenda will contribute to international cooperation and must help strengthen global governance of such activities. Welcoming the adoption of the Guidelines for the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities, she said that action represents an important success for the Outer Space Committee. She went on to highlight projects and activities for the removal of space debris, noting that such activities present challenges that must be addressed in a multilateral forum. Emphasizing the importance of exchanging orbital information to space traffic management, she said Switzerland looks forward to playing a leading role in that area.
ALEXANDER S. PROSKURYAKOV (Russian Federation) emphasized the imperative of strengthening international cooperation in space and the standing of the Outer Space Committee as the main platform in that regard. Concerned by attempts to replace that body with informal platforms that lack an intergovernmental mandate, the Russian Federation categorically rejects such practices, he said. He went on to note the significant increase in the number of participants in outer space activities, observing that space debris increases the risk of conflict between those actors. The resulting situation requires substantive international dialogue and cooperation, he said. Reiterating that discussions on the Outer Space Committee’s alleged lack of effectiveness are unfounded, he stressed that effectiveness depends on the willingness of States to cooperate, citing the adoption of the Guidelines for the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities as an example of its success.
He went on to express regret at the inability of States to reach a compromise in 2018, recalling that it was only after lengthy negotiations in June that delegations finally adopted the Guidelines and established a new working group. Humanity is standing on the brink of commercial use of space, he said, adding that the Outer Space Committee must work on the requisite oversight mechanism. He went on to state that the challenge of preventing an arms race in space is pressing, but unfortunately, one country’s position prevented the Outer Space Committee from adopting the report of the Group of Governmental Experts on that question. Only a “treaty on the prevention of the placement of weapons in outer space, the threat or use of force against outer space objects” can guarantee the long-term use of outer space for peaceful purposes, he stressed.
DAVID TURNER (United States) highlighted his country’s space policy, including its plans for a return to the moon in 2024 and “ensuring that the next man and the first woman on the moon will both be American astronauts”. He also affirmed its commitment to private enterprise in space. The Outer Space Committee should remain an important multilateral forum that strengthens the safety, stability and sustainability of space activities, he said, applauding the Committee’s efforts in adopting the Guidelines for the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities. He highlighted its importance in advancing transparency- and confidence-building measures that increase predictability in the space environment, as well as security, by reducing the potential for miscommunication and miscalculation. The United States also welcomes progress on the legal regime made by the Legal Subcommittee, noting that under the current legal framework, space exploration by nations, international organizations and private entities has flourished. Space technologies and services contribute to economic growth and improve the quality of life around the world, he said.
HENRY JONATHAN VIERA SALAZAR (Ecuador) reiterated the position of outer space as a driver of sustainable development, and the need for universal and equitable access to it, irrespective of scientific or economic development. There must be equitable use of the geostationary orbit, he added, emphasizing that the Outer Space Committee must continue to be an effective platform for discussion and cooperation in that regard. International space law must be developed to prevent militarization in outer space, to promote peace and to improve life on Earth, he said, concluding that an arms race in outer space would pose a significant threat to global peace and security.
BERNARDITO CLEOPAS AUZA, Permanent Observer for the Holy See, said that, considering humankind’s increasing reliance on space platforms, it is particularly important to prevent space debris – a major threat to satellites. They play an important role in development, are essential in monitoring environmental disasters and useful in helping to provide aid and relief to disaster victims, he pointed out. He went on to express support for a reported initiative by States partners in the International Space Station to establish “international operations standards” for communications equipment, environmental control and rendezvous operations. Noting that the number of orbiting satellites is expected to increase exponentially in the next 10 years, he called for international cooperation to manage that growth.
Action on Draft Resolution
The Committee then took up a draft resolution on outer space (document A/C.4/74/L.7).
ANDRÉ JOÃO RYPL (Brazil), Chair of the Working Group of the Whole, reported on proceedings within that body, recalling that it held two formal meetings, on 30 October and 1 November, as well as extensive informal consultations to consider the draft. The working group agreed on the text as a whole, revising operative paragraph 2 and deleting operative paragraph 3, he reported.
The representative of the United States, citing specific language in the approved text, said the 2030 Agenda is non-binding and does not create or affect rights or obligations under international law, nor create new financial commitments. As such, all countries have a role to play in achieving the respective visions, and each must work towards implementation in accordance with its own national priorities, he emphasized. He also highlighted the mutual recognition that implementation of the 2030 Agenda must respect the independent mandates of other processes and does not serve as a precedent for decisions under way elsewhere. On the Sendai Framework, he reiterated his delegation’s explanation of position, stated in March 2015.
The Committee then approved the draft resolution without a vote.