U.S. Rejects Europe’s Proposed Space Code of Conduct

By Stew Magnuson
The United States does not intend to endorse a code of conduct for space-faring nations that was first proposed by the Council of the European Union in 2008.
“Too restrictive,” Ellen Tauscher, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said of the 12-page document that seeks to promote the peaceful, safe and “transparent” use of outer space.
Tauscher, speaking to a gathering of Washington, D.C.-based defense reporters on Jan. 12, let slip at the end of her talk that the State Department had rejected the document as it was written. While answering an unrelated question, she mentioned that, “we’re not going to be joining with the Europeans on their [space] treaty.” She did not share any further details as to what parts of the code were “too restrictive.”
The Space Code of Conduct emerged out of the European Union at the end of a tumultuous time in space. China in January 2007 launched an a missile at one of its own defunct weather satellites presumably to test its ability to knock an adversaries’ orbiting spacecraft out of service. The test left a large debris field that continues to circle the planet and create potential hazards to spacecraft to this day.
Thirteen months later, the United States, which had not tested an anti-satellite weapon since 1985, shot a defunct U.S. spy satellite down from a Navy ship. The U.S. government said the satellite posed a hazard. Since it was destroyed at a low altitude, it did not create a debris field. The test led to speculation that it was a response to the Chinese anti-satellite test, although U.S. officials always denied it.  
The Space Code of Conduct calls for nations to have “access to, to explore, and to use outer space and exploit space objects for peaceful purposes without interference, fully respecting the security, safety and integrity of space objects in orbit consistent with international law and security, safety and integrity standards.”
It recognizes “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense in accordance with the United Nations Charter.”
The code has detailed measures on reducing space debris, which is an issue of growing concern as the realm becomes more crowded with so-called space junk and defunct satellites. It also calls for nations to pre-notify others of launch activities, malfunctioning satellites, re-entry events, accidents that may cause debris fields and maneuvers that may result in one spacecraft coming close to another. The code was revised in 2010.
Tauscher denied that the Obama administration ever supported the code. As reported in Feb. 2011 by the DoD Buzz website, 37 Republican senators signed a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking that the Senate be informed of any negotiations and expressing their concerns about the code’s consequences for U.S. national security.
Tauscher when pressed for more details later hinted that there may be some counter-proposal in the future.
“We made it very definitive that we we’re not going to go along with the European code of conduct,” she said. “What we haven’t announced is what we are going to do. But we are going to be doing that soon … We’re still in the ‘not saying no’ part, but we’re not saying ‘yes.’”
The United States still engages Russia bi-laterally on space security issues, she added.
The Defense Department last year released its National Security Space Strategy, which said space was “congested, contested and competitive.” The document recognized the nation and military’s dependence on space assets such as communications, GPS, and remote sensing. Potential adversaries could exploit this dependence in times of conflict, it said.
Then Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn said upon the strategies’ release that proposals in the European code were consistent with U.S. space strategy.
“We think this kind of voluntary code of conduct that promotes responsible behavior … should be viewed positively,” he said in an American Forces Press Service story.
The Air Force since the Chinese anti-satellite test has stepped up its efforts to monitor objects that pose hazards in space. It is improving ground-based radars, and has launched one satellite that monitors objects in orbit.
President Obama in a speech at the Pentagon Jan. 5 singled out space as a realm where the military would be investing more resources, rather than less as budgets grow more austere.
The “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense” document released that day said, “Today space systems and their supporting infrastructure face a range of threats that may degrade, disrupt, or destroy assets. Accordingly, DoD will continue to work with domestic and international allies and partners and invest in advanced capabilities to defend its networks, operational capability, and resiliency in cyberspace and space.”

Topics: International, Space

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